A Writer's Life: Research Weekend in New London County, CT
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
*Originally posted September 23rd 2019*
Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Norwich, CT area–a place I have been to a few times over the past 20 years. My visits always have a well-planned agenda and revolve around the research and writing I have been doing on historical topics of New London county–particularly Norwich.
View of Norwich, CT by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1849. Private Collection
The Norwich area was first inhabited by Mohegan and Pequot Native Americans who had to move away from the area after it was settled by Puritans who had originally migrated from East Anglia, England. Norwich quickly became an important mercantile center by the early 18th century. Its variety of architecture is evidence of its wealth accumulated over time–most critically through the Atlantic Trade which was enabled by enslaved African Americans. If you are into American architecture, from most periods (except for the 17th c.), this is a city to study. Its wealthy merchants would build “mansions” of their day–everything from Georgian to fancy Painted-lady homes.
Lithograph of Norwich, CT 1849 by Fitz Hugh Lane. Courtesy of the Boston Atheneum.
Today the city is struggling to meet the needs of its working class population. The days of extreme wealth are gone but the promise of a new rising class is there. The three rivers that meet at Norwich (Shetucket, Yantic, and Thames) are a short boat ride to Long Island Sound (today, as well as when the first part of Norwich was founded in 1659). Chances are, you probably have an ancestor (or two) who came from this town.
21st Century view of the City of Norwich, CT. I tried to get the exact prospect that Lane
painted so many years ago. It’s a bit off. What can I say, I’m a writer not a photographer.
The Jedediah Huntington House (c.1765) in Norwichtown, CT. A superb example of late Georgian colonial American architecture. Had a tour of it from historian Damien Cregeau and his wife Pamela. Cregeau also has a keen interest in all-things Revolutionary War. Huntington was the son of wealthy merchant Jabez Huntington and would take on the family business, along with his many brothers, during the Revolutionary-War era and its aftermath.
An hour or so (18th century carriage ride) north from Norwichtown would take you up to Lebanon, CT, another 18th century mercantile town. I recently wrote a lengthy article on one of Lebanon’s 18th century inhabitants. It was published in the Connecticut History Review (Spring 2019), and is entitled, “Faith Trumbull Huntington: An 18th Century Woman Encounters War.” Faith was from Lebanon (1742-1775). She was the daughter of the Revolutionary War Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull and his wife, Faith Robinson Trumbull. She was one of the best educated women of her time (see my previous post on Faith).
Governor Trumbull House, Lebanon, CT. Built in the 1730s. Birthplace of Faith Trumbull
First Congregational Church, Lebanon, CT (1804). Based on design by John Trumbull,
Revolutionary War-era painter, and brother of Faith Trumbull Huntington. The church was
almost completely destroyed by the hurricane of 1938 and then rebuilt. The clock is by
The Lebanon Historical Society and Museum https://historyoflebanon.org/ is located in a beautiful new building on the very large town green (largest in New England). It highlights the people and events o f the town’s long history. It has a strong team running it, led by Museum Director Donna Baron. It is the place to go, to get a professional account of the history of the area.
A rear view of the Lebanon Historical Society and Museum. They have an impressive local
history collection and archives. Call ahead if you plan to do research there.
On Sunday, September 15, I was fortunate to be able to give a presentation, based on my article on Faith, at the LHS. There was a full crowd and I did my best to inform them on their famous townsperson and her 18th century life well lived. The talk was co-sponsored by the Governor Jonathan Trumbull House Committee and the local DAR chapters. The Governor Jonathan Trumbull house is going through an exciting restoration. Stay tuned for more on that!