New Haven is a port city located in New Haven County, in southern Connecticut, where the Quinnipiac River and other small rivers flow into Long Island Sound. When the first Europeans arrived in the seventeenth century, the Quinnipiack Indians were inhabiting the area. They were semi-sedentary, hunting wild animals such as deer and fowl, harvesting shellfish and scaled fish, and collecting roots, nuts, and fruits. They also cultivated corn, beans, and squash to supplement their diet.
In 1638, Theophilus Eaton and the Reverend John Davenport left Boston with a company of about 500 Puritans and sailed into New Haven harbor. After learning that the Mohawk and Pequot tribes were threatening the Quinnipiack and other tribes in the area, the Puritan colonists purchased land from Momauguin, the leader of the Quinnipiack, offering a small assortment of European goods and protection against raids by other native peoples. The colony had no official charter, so the colonists met on June 4, 1639, to establish a government and church polity similar to the Massachusetts model. The following year, they renamed the settlement New Haven, and, by 1641, the town had grown to about 800 settlers. Built on a grid of nine squares, the central grid was designated the market place, a public area now called The Green. The colony soon expanded to include a series of detached settlements along Long Island Sound, such as Guilford, Branford, Milford, and Stamford; Southold, on the eastern end of Long Island; and settlements as far away as present-day Salem, New Jersey.
With New Haven’s fine natural harbor, the first settlers had predicted that their town would grow into a prosperous, commercial seaport. The sudden decline in the number of new immigrants coming to New England and Boston’s predominance in commercial trade with Britain, however, hampered any prospect of New Haven becoming a commercial hub in the Atlantic world. After failing to establish a direct trade route to England in 1646, the settlement evolved into a small agricultural seaport town, overshadowed by the commercial seaports of Boston and New Amsterdam. During the British Civil Wars, New Haven supported the parliamentary side; after the restoration of Charles II, it became the refuge of three regicide judges, Edward Whalley, William Goffe, and John Dixwell. John Davenport, as it was later revealed, hid the regicides in a cave on West Rock, where they eluded the king’s officials. After changing their identities, Whalley and Goffe settled in Hartford and then Massachusetts, and Dixwell settled in New Haven.
It was around this time that Charles II gave his brother James, the Duke of York, the lands between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers. After James seized New Amsterdam in 1664, the New Haven Colony, fearing a union with New York under the rule of a Catholic regent, reluctantly agreed to merge with the colony of Connecticut under the Charter of 1662. With the establishment of the Dominion of New England in 1688, James annulled the colony’s charter, but it was reinstated by William and Mary following the Glorious Revolution in 1689.
At the turn of the century, a small group of Puritan congregationalists founded a college for training the ministry. Having opened its doors at Killingsworth (now Clinton) in 1702 as the Collegiate School, five years later, the college moved to Saybrook (now Old Saybrook). In 1716, the college was relocated to New Haven. After receiving a large benefaction from Elihu Yale in 1718, it was renamed Yale College. During the colonial period, Yale expanded its studies and eventually gained recognition as one of the world’s leading universities.
Although New Haven was not as prosperous or as strategic as the seaports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charles Town, it was nonetheless raided by British and Hessian forces during the American Revolution and occupied for a brief period. The patriots of New Haven, including the old Reverend Naphtali Daggett, put up a brave fight, but they were overwhelmed by the strength of the British, who routed them and left the town partially burnt. After the Revolution, the Connecticut Assembly appointed Roger Sherman, New Haven’s mayor, to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. As one of the framers of the U.S. Constitution, Sherman was the delegate who put forth the Connecticut Compromise, an alternative to the Virginia Plan, whereby smaller states were to receive equal representation in the upper house. The proposal was accepted, and the idea of unicameral legislature was abandoned in favor of a bicameral congressional government.
As a commercial and agricultural center during the eighteenth century, New Haven grew into a relatively prosperous town. By the end of the colonial period, it had about 3,500 inhabitants and was, together with Hartford, the co-capital of Connecticut, a position it maintained until the second half of the nineteenth century.
With Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793, and with his firearms and ammunition company, the city emerged as a leading manufacturing center during the early republic. In 1808, James Brewster introduced the first assembly line at his famous New Haven carriage factory, and other industries and businesses flourished in the area.
The city, moreover, took a leading role in the abolition movement. It is well known for the Amistad incident of 1839, in which nearly fifty African Mendi slaves, captured by the Spanish, were given safe passage back to Africa by the Federal District Court in New Haven. Michael Sletcher See also: Connecticut; Connecticut (Chronology); Yale College. Bibliography Atwater, Edward Elias, ed. History of the City of New Haven to the Present Time. 2 vols. New York: W. W. Munsell, 1887. Atwater, Edward Elias, ed. History of the Colony of New Haven to Its Absorption into Connecticut. Meriden, CT: Journal, 1902. Calder, Isabel MacBeath. The New Haven Colony. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934. Osterweis, Rollin Gustav. Three Centuries of New Haven, 16381938. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953. Shumway, Floyd, and Richard Hegel. New Haven: An Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1987.
American New Haven Photo Gallery