American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of New England

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press


THE main incidents in the history of New Haven have a flavor of romance. Even the original settlement, usually a prosy affair, was brought about by the chance letter of a victorious soldier. On the 26th of June, 1637, a company of wealthy English immigrants sailed into Boston harbor, undecided as to its final destination. It was led and directed by Reverend John Davenport, a Non conformist clergyman of London, and Theophilus Eaton, a retired merchant of the same town, who had once represented the British crown at the court of Denmark. The company had thought to settle near Boston, but a theological controversy that threatened to envelop the whole jurisdiction led to a change of plan, and for several months the party remained at Boston in a state of indecision.

Meanwhile, the Pequod war was raging along the coast of Long Island Sound, and as the beaten braves were being driven westward toward the valley of the Hudson, their pursuers came upon a spot of surprising beauty. Its charms detained them long enough to note its details. There was a broad wooded plain skirted with green and fertile meadows, bounded on either side by a gently flowing river, and guarded on the north by giant cliffs. Here and there the smoke of Indian camp fires curled gracefully above the tree tops, and bark canoes darted swiftly about in the placid waters of the bay. The place was occupied by friendly natives, anxious for protection against their tribal enemies. Game abounded in the forests; the streams were alive with fish; and the piles of oyster shells along the shore told of bivalvian riches beneath the glistening waves. The English officers, elated with victory and delighted with the newly discovered land, wrote enthusiastic descriptions to their friends at Boston. As one with an eye to the material advantages expressed it: "It hath a fair river, fit for harboring of ships, and abounds with rich and goodly meadows."

The immigrants at once determined to investigate, and Eaton, taking a small vessel, sailed down the coast and into the harbor of Quinnipiac. He and his companions lost no time in deciding as to their future home. He left seven men to spend the winter with the Indians, and returned to Boston. Those who 'remained lived in a but near the shore, and before spring came, one of them died. His name was Beecher, and he has been claimed as the ancestor of the Beecher family in this country. His wife and children came with the main party when the cold weather had passed. A few rods to the west of this first but stood, in after years, the forge of Lyman Beecher's father.

It is uncertain just what name the Indians applied to the town. The early spelling varied so much that nearly forty different combinations of letters have come down to us, as representing it. It is apparent that the settlers were unable to acquire the aboriginal pronunciation, or to correctly express it in English. They finally adopted "Quinnipiac" as being more euphonious than "Quilillioak" "Quillipiage" and "Queenapiok."

It was with feelings not easily described that the newcomers sailed into the harbor and looked upon their future home. There they were to spend the rest of their lives, there they would be laid to rest when their earthly labors were done, and there would dwell their posterity, to represent the principles for which they had sought a new world. In the land of their birth they could not worship as they chose. Unless they followed the rule set down by others, they were not only called heretics and emissaries of the devil, but were imprisoned and fined, and subjected to great personal indignity. They felt that they were being deprived of a natural right, and despairing of better times at home, came to find a place where they could enjoy uninterrupted the free exercise of conscience.

They were obliged for a time to live on the boat in which the voyage had been made. The first Sunday morning all came ashore to worship under the branches of an oak tree which stood on the bank of a small stream that emptied into the bay. It was in the month of April, 1638, and the leaves were not far forth, but under that canopy the first sermon ever heard in that region was preached. This famous tree stood for more than a hundred years after, and when it fell a tablet was placed on a near by building to show succeeding generations where the forefathers first met for public worship.

A compact was made with the Indians, and the town was laid out by John Brockett, a civil engineer, whose love of a Puritan maiden had led him to abandon brilliant prospects of preferment and cross the seas First, a large tract was apportioned for a market place, then the streets were plotted in regular squares surrounding it. The dwellings ranged from mere huts to mansions of grand proportions. Eaton's house contained nineteen fireplaces, and was one of the few houses in the country where sufficient books were found to form a library.

Romance soon gave place to tragedy. An Englishman was found murdered in the neighboring woods, and an Indian so near as to invite suspicion. He was arrested and brought to the market place. No laws had been framed, but an agreement had been made soon after landing, that all disputes should be settled according to Scripture. An inquiry established the Indian's guilt, but there was doubt as to the Scriptural text to apply. The Old Testament rule, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," made the outlook gloomy for the prisoner, while he saw hope in the more recent dispensation, "Go and sin no more." The Puritan forefathers leaned to the conservative view of the case, laid the Indian over a log, chopped off his head, and "pitched it upon a pole in the market place."

The first public building to be erected, as might have been expected, was a meetinghouse. This was built near the centre of the market place, and the present edifice stands today on nearly the same spot. The meetinghouse was not merely a place for public worship, but town hall, voting booth, court room and forum as well. In summer it was a pleasant place in which to sit, with bird songs and odor laden breezes floating in through the open windows, and the long drawn, monotonous drone of the parson's voice lulling to dreamy drowsiness. But in winter, with the mercury twenty degrees below zero; with tingling ears and aching nose; with shivering frames and feet like cakes of ice, and every man's breath showing white on the frosty air, hell fire seemed less terrible than the preacher would have it appear.

There were means, however, of getting periodically thawed. Those who lived in town could repair to their homes at the intermission, while the farmers sought their "sabbada housen" (Sabbath day houses). These were small huts, each containing a chimney and rude fireplace, and were grouped irregularly about the meeting house. Here the stiffened limbs were rubbed and toasted, and the creature comforts of pies and cakes and home brewed ale were enjoyed. Stern times were those, and many a mother saw her tender child laid away in the little burying ground, chilled to death by the bitter cold of the meeting house.

While the hearts of these early Puritans beat warmly, their rigid views of life and duty sometimes led to acts of great severity. Public whipping was resorted to, not only as a punishment supposed to be fit for the culprit, but as a warning and a deterrent. It is hard to imagine a father handing a child over to the courts for public humiliation, yet Richard Malbon, a magistrate, sat at the trial of his daughter Martha, and condemned her to be flogged at the whipping post. The shameful performance took place on the northwest corner of the market place, close by the schoolhouse, so that the youthful mind need not fail to understand that the way of the transgressor was hard.

The "Witch Trial" created some excitement in the early days. Elizabeth Godman was the town scold, and kept her neighbors in a state of perpetual worry. Her chief delight was in creating and perpetuating feuds. She had been warned by the magistrates that her way of life was objectionable and might lead to trouble. One day, in spite of the judicial warning, she called at Mistress Hooke's and asked for home brewed beer. A mug was given her, but she used only part of it. The next day the whole barrel of "beare" was found to be sour. Here were symptoms of witchcraft! Soon after one of Goody Thorpe's chickens died, and when they opened it they found its gizzard full of water and worms! Suspicion began to turn to certainty. This led to a quarrel between Elizabeth Godman and Mistress Bishop, and in consequence the latter's baby was born dead. To cap the climax, Mr. Nash's boy had a fit of sickness that puzzled the doctors, and it was thought best, in order to prevent further calamities, to have Elizabeth Godman arrested and tried as a witch. In good old Salem her chances of escape might have been narrow; but while her judges believed in witchcraft and were ready to punish it by death, she was triumphantly acquitted, and wagged her spiteful tongue unmolested the rest of her life.

The most dramatic event in the early history of the colony was the coming of the regicides. Major Generals Edward Whalley and William Goffe, distinguished leaders in the parliamentary army, had sat on the commission that had condemned Charles I. to the block. Both men stood close to Cromwell during the period of the protectorate, Whalley being Cromwell's cousin, and Goffe a son in law of Whalley. Both acted as shire governors and were close personal advisers of the Lord Protector. At Cromwell's death Goffe was considered a probable successor, but the monarchy was restored in the person of Charles II., and all who had been connected with the trial and execution of the late king were obliged to flee for their lives. Whalley and Goffe sailed for Boston and for a time lived there openly, but a royal warrant for their arrest finally came, and Governor Endicott issued orders for their apprehension. The only men in the country to whom they could look for protection were Mr. Davenport, a known sympathizer and a friend of Cromwell, and William Jones, whose father had been taken as a regicide and executed in London. The hunted men accordingly started for New Haven on horseback, arriving on the 7th of March, 1661. They went to the house of Mr. Davenport and for the next three weeks were concealed there, or across the street by William Jones. On the 27th, the news of a proclamation for their arrest reached New Haven, and the two generals proposed some military tactics to throw possible pursuers off the scent. They accordingly appeared upon the street the next morning as travellers just arrived from the north, let their identity be known, made various inquiries concerning the town, and asked the way to Manhattan. They departed to the southward and disappeared; but on arriving at Milford, ten miles below, they entered the woods and returned quietly to the house of Mr. Davenport. Two weeks later, Kellond and Kirke, two officers commissioned by Governor Endicott, arrived with a warrant and called upon Deputy Governor Leete at Guilford. There were several men in the Governor's office when the officers presented their credentials. The Governor took the papers and began to read aloud, letting out the whole secret, as he doubtless intended, so that the generals might receive warning and escape. The officers soon found that both the magistrates and the people were inclined to shield the regicides, but made desperate efforts to effect a capture. The fugitives, however, assisted by Davenport, Jones and others, eluded them at every point. Finally, after exhausting their patience and ingenuity, the officers gave up the chase and returned to Massachusetts; but offered large rewards for the apprehension of the regicides. These rewards stimulated the ambition of certain persons, and it was even more dangerous for the hunted men to appear in public, or to let their hiding place be known. Those who were befriending them were in equal danger; for by aiding and comforting "traitors" they were liable to arrest and execution for the crime of high treason.

The regicides remained in the colony about two years, hiding in the houses of their friends; in an old mill just outside the boundaries of the town; in a cave on the side of West Rock; in a pile of rocks on the top; in a Milford cellar; and other places of more or less doubtful identity. The best known of these places is the pile of boulders on the extreme top of West Rock known as "Judges Cave." It is visited every year by thousands of people, who regard it as a connecting link between New Haven and the great tragedy of English history.

About the year 1670 a mysterious gentleman about sixty years old, calling himself "James Davids," came to New Haven with the evident intention of spending the rest of his days in the town. He appeared to be wealthy, but no one knew anything of his past. He claimed to be a retired merchant. It is said that one Sunday while Sir Edmund Andros was attending church on the Green, he noticed a tall, soldierly looking man in a neighboring pew, and inquired who he was. "He is a merchant residing here," was the reply. "I know he is not a merchant," said Sir Edmund; "he has filled a more responsible position than that!" Governor Andros had not time to follow up his suspicions, but after the mysterious stranger's death, twenty years later, it came to be known that he was Colonel John Dixwell, another regicide, who had fled from England to escape execution. A century and a half afterwards, his descendants erected a monument to his memory behind Center Church on the Green, where it is still an object of interest to visitors.

New Haven received her baptism of fire during the Revolution in the form of an invasion by a detachment of the British army, July 5, 1779. The apparent purpose of this act was to cause Washington to weaken his force at West Point in order to defend the Connecticut coast. Washington attacked Stony Point as a counter irritant, but this did not affect the British until after they were through with New Haven, which was then a village of about eighteen hundred inhabitants. The evening previous (Sunday), arrangements had been made for a celebration of the third anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, but at ten o'clock the town was startled by the boom of a signal gun in the harbor. All was confusion during the night, and about five o'clock Monday morning President Stiles, from the steeple of the college chapel, saw, by the aid of a spy glass, the British fleet embarking at West Haven. A company of students formed and marched to hinder the invaders, while the beacon fires that had been lighted during the night on the neighboring hilltops brought bodies of armed patriots from the surrounding towns. In spite of determined opposition, the enemy, led by General Garth, entered the town at noon and proceeded to plunder and destroy. A pitched battle was fought on the northwest corner of Broadway, but the defenders were overpowered by superior numbers. The intention of the enemy was to burn the town, but it was found that this could not be done without endangering the property of the numerous Tories. An equal number of troops (1500) landed at Lighthouse Point and approached the town from the east, the intention being to crush all opposition by a junction of the two armies, while Sir George Collier was to bombard the town from his war ships in the harbor. It having been decided not to apply the torch, those who had entered from the west slept on the Green during the night, and toward morning embarked on the boats at the wharf, after burning much shipping. The eastern division, under General Tryon, captured Rock Fort (afterwards named Fort Hale), but were unable to enter the town. The next day they found the patriots collecting in such numbers that they decided to withdraw and bestow their attentions upon the little town of Fairfield, which they burned.

A house still standing on the north side of the Green was used by the British as a hospital. Under a tree in front, Whitefield once preached to the multitude, and Jonathan Edwards used to court the daughter of the house.

Colonel Aaron Burr, then twenty three years old, took an active part in defending the town.

Out on the Allingtown heights, to the southwest of the town, stands a monument to the memory of Adjutant General Campbell of the British army. This officer showed such a noble spirit of humanity in the discharge of a disagreeable duty, protecting the helpless and preventing needless destruction, that the citizens of New Haven erected this stone to perpetuate his virtues. While on an errand of mercy he was shot by a young man, and on his monument are inscribed the words:

"Blessed are the Merciful."

The Dark Day, immortalized by Whittier, was the 19th of May, 1780. The Legislature was in session in the old State House on the Green when a sudden darkness fell. Many believed the Judgment Day was at hand. In the midst of the excitement a motion was made to adjourn, when Colonel Abraham Davenport, great grandson of John Davenport, rose and said: "I am against an adjournment. The Day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that the candles may be brought, and we proceed to business."

"And there he stands in memory this day, Erect, self poised, a rugged face, half seen Against the background of unnatural dark, A witness to the ages as they pass, That simple duty hath no place for fear."

The foundation of Yale, the "Mother of Colleges," dates back to the colonial period, and was due to the foresight of John Davenport. Within ten years of the settlement of the town, a parcel of land was set aside and known as "college land," and as early as 1654 the records of the General Court show "that there was some notion againe on foote concerning the setting vp of a Colledg here at Newhaven, Wch, if attayned, will in all likely hood prove verey beneficiall to this place." In spite of Davenport's efforts, the project was not carried out during his lifetime, but in 1664, the Hopkins Grammar School, named in honor of Governor Hopkins, was organized as a collegiate school. The work of this school being chiefly of a preparatory nature, ten Congregational ministers organized a society for the conducting of a college, and, in 170o, this was chartered as "A Collegiate School in his Majesty's Colony of Connecticut." The first rector, or president, was Reverend Abraham Pierson of Killingworth, and the first student was Jacob Hemingway. For a time the college was settled at Saybrook, but in 1716 it was removed to New Haven. Two years later the name Yale College was adopted in honor of Elihu Yale, at that time its largest benefactor.

The college library had a unique origin. In 170o, the ten ministers forming the society met at Branford, and each donated a few volumes, saying as he laid them down: "I give these books for the founding of a college hi this colony." Forty books were given, forming the nucleus of the great University Library.

The first public commencement occurred in 1718, the first building having been erected the year previous. For nearly a century and a half the college had to endure a hard struggle for existence, but at the present day, owing to the donations of its graduates and friends, it ranks as one of the richest colleges in the country, and possesses some of the finest and best equipped buildings in the world. Vanderbilt Hall, given by Cornelius Vanderbilt; Phelps Hall, in honor of William Walter Phelps; and Osborn Hall, in memory of Charles J. Osborn, are notable illustrations of combined utility and art. Vanderbilt Hall is not only the costliest but the most complete college dormitory in America.

The rare opportunities now offered at Yale for a wide range of study and original investigation are too well understood to need mention. In 1887, it was resolved that the college had, in view of the establishment of the various departments comprised in a university, attained to that dignity; and since that time it has been known as Yale University.

The Theological Department may be said to have existed from the beginning, theology having been one of the chief studies for a hundred years. It has existed as a separate department since 1822, and the Law Department was established the same year. The Medical Department was organized in 1812. The Scientific Department originated in 1846 in a professorship in agricultural chemistry and another in analytical chemistry, and since 1859 has occupied separate buildings as a distinct department.

Yale has always been progressive in respect to the Fine Arts. On receiving the collection of Colonel Trumbull, embracing many pictures of scenes and participators in the Revolutionary War, a building was erected for their exhibition on the campus. Lecture courses were given and interest so far developed that later a large and beautiful building was erected for the purposes of an art school, which has attained great success.

Yale shows that she well deserves her reputation by more than doubling the number of her students within twenty years. The present attendance is upwards of twenty five hundred, drawn from all parts of the world. The only aristocracy at Yale is that of brains and character, and it is a significant comment on this state of affairs to note that the sons of millionaires frequently do without the luxuries to which they are accustomed, to avoid being classed merely as rich men's sons. The Yale spirit recognizes manliness and industry as paramount qualities, and none stands higher among his fellows than the poor boy who courageously works his way through college, overcoming the obstacles that lie in his way, and maintaining an honorable rank in his class.

New Haven has sought to preserve memories and mementoes of her historic existence, and the Historical Society building, at the foot of Hillhouse Avenue, never fails to quicken the pulses of the antiquary. Here he finds one of Benjamin Franklin's Leyden jars; Benedict Arnold's badly punctuated sign, his account book, medicine chest, mortar and pestle; the table on which Noah Webster wrote the Dictionary; a silver spoon that once belonged to Commodore Isaac Hull (said to have been in his mouth when he was born): and an almost endless collection of relics, rare portraits and books.

Of famous houses, many are still standing: two of Benedict Arnold's; the dwelling of Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence, the city's first mayor and a United States Senator; the Trowbridge house, built in 1642 by an original settler; the Noah Webster house and others of less interest. One of the "famous spots" is the northwest corner of Union and Fair Streets, where once stood the house of Isaac Allerton, a Pilgrim of the Mayflower. A tablet has been placed on the present building bearing the following inscription:

"Isaac Allerton, a Pilgrim of the Mayflower, and the Father of New England Commerce, lived on this Ground from 1646 till 1659."

Across the way, on the southeast corner, stands an old house bearing the announcement that this was the birthplace of Andrew Hull Foote, Rear Admiral of the United States Navy.

Center Church, near the centre of the Green on Temple Street, stands over what was formerly a portion of the original burying ground, and but a few feet from the site of the first meeting house. From its historic associations it is one of the most interesting churches in the country. Over the principal entrance are these inscriptions:



BUILT A.D. 1639.


Dr. Leonard Bacon was for many years pastor of this church. Underneath is a crypt containing the remains and tombstones of many of the Puritan fathers and their families; and here lies the body of Abigail Pierson, sister of the first president of Yale, and wife of John Davenport, Jr.

While around and beneath Center Church "the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep," the oldest cemetery now existing is that on Grove Street. Many distinguished sons of New Haven are buried there, among them Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote, General Amos B. Eaton, Admiral Francis H. Gregory, General Alfred H. Terry, Noah Webster, Lyman Beecher, Benjamin Silliman, Theodore Winthrop, Jedediah Morse (father of American geography), the elder President Dwight and President Day, Colonel David Humphreys, aide on the staff of General Washington, Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, Jehudi Ashmun, first colonial agent at Liberia, Governors Ingersoll, Baldwin, Edwards, and many others eminent in business and professional life.

Tottering old men sometimes point to places where Nathan Hale made his great leap, where John C. Calhoun got his boots made, where Joel Barlow ate his hasty pudding, the porch where Commodore Hull liked to sit; and tell no end of stories about visits of Lafayette, James Monroe and "Old Hickory." These are innocent chroniclers, forgetting the present in the glorious past, and we must allow a little for the play of the imagination; but when they aver that Noah Webster, as a lieutenant commanding a company of Yale students, once escorted General Washington through the town and received a compliment therefor, an approving nod is in order, for the great lexicographer recorded the incident in his diary "at the day and time of it."

Visitors frequently refer to the city as an overgrown village. It is hard for a New York man to realize as he strolls through the ample grounds of his New Haven friends, that he is in a city of more than one hundred thousand inhabitants. The value put upon breathing places is shown in the large tracts of land devoted to public purposes. One walks hardly ten minutes in any direction without coming upon a square shaded by graceful elms and carpeted by a cleanly shaven lawn; while the margins of the city by river and sound abound in tastefully arranged parks. The transformation of the two great wooded ridges beyond the dwelling line into well graded drives, art vying with nature to please the eye and win the soul to beauty, completes the impression sometimes expressed, that New Haven is an immense village encircled by gardens.

But while all this may suggest a condition of dreamy repose, the city is by no means given over to dolce far Niente. The University with its manifold departments is a veritable hive of industry; the scales of Justice at the County Court House are tipping endlessly in favor of right against wrong; while the busy hum of the Winchester Arms and a hundred other mills, makes a music that dies not out.

Altogether, historic New Haven is a pleasant place in which to live, and its hospitality is as generous as are its gardens and its parks.

Historic towns of New England

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