History of New Haven

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Some four hundred years ago, a small tribe of Native Americans, the Quinnipiacks, lived in the area of present day New Haven. They lived along Long Island Sound, catching seafood and local game and growing corn, the staple of their diet.

On April 24, 1638, 500 settlers arrived from England. They were led by Theophilus Eaton, a wealthy merchant, and his boyhood friend, the Rev. John Davenport, a British cleric who had left his pulpit and his country to more freely pursue his Puritanism. The settlers had two dreams: to create a Christian utopia and to establish a thriving commercial center. They thought they had found both when they sailed into New Havens natural harbor, and found a tribe of native Americans willing to sell their land in exchange for protection from raiding bands of Mohawks and Pequots.

The new colony was named Quinnipiac; Eaton became its first governor and Davenport its first pastor. In 1640, they changed the name to New Haven and laid out a town plan with a central green and nine squares, making New Haven the first planned community in the American colonies. By 1641, the growing town had 800 residents.

Boston and New Amsterdam (New York) proved stiff competitors in the contest to be the dominant port on the Atlantic seaboard. In 1646, in a dramatic attempt to build the image of the fledgling port, a large ship filled with local produce set sail from New Haven for England. The crew and vessel were never heard from again, and the disaster ended the dream of seafaring dominance.

One of New Havens most famous landmarks is Judges Cave in West Rock Ridge State Park. Here, in 1661, Davenport hid three of the signers of the death warrant that had led to the beheading of King Charles I of England. Edward Whalley, William Goffe and John Dixwell fled England and the vengeance of King Charles II. Not only did the three survive royal bounty hunters, they live on in the names of three New Haven streets.

Learning and invention
Another of Davenport and Eatons dreams died in 1664, when New Haven relinquished its independence and became part of the Connecticut Colony. But if New Haven took several blows to its ego, other things were happening in these early years that would lead to later glory. One was the relocation of the Collegiate School from Saybrook to New Haven in 1716; it would be renamed Yale two years later in exchange for a donation of books, a portrait of King George I, and assorted goods from wealthy London merchant Elihu Yale. The other portent of grander things to come was the fledgling growth of small workshops as craftsmen took advantage of the areas abundant water power.

By the time the Revolutionary War began, New Haven had a population of around 3,500. The town was raided and sacked by the British on July 5, 1779, but recovered quickly enough to incorporate as a city in 1784. Its first mayor was Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In the 19th century, New Havens small workshops developed into centers of entrepreneurial and technological innovation. This star of this movement was Eli Whitney, a graduate of Yale, the citys other major claim to fame. Whitney is best-remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin, a machine that revolutionized the cotton industry, but he also built the countrys first factory, The Whitney Arms Company, based on principles of mass production. The factory would eventually become the Winchester Arms Company. Winchester and rival Colt would make New Haven one of the worlds centers of small arms manufacture. Other local developments included vulcanized rubber, sulfur matches, and, not to be sniffed at, model trains and erector sets.

By the Civil War, New Haven, with a population of 40,000 had become a center for the manufacture of carriages, rubber goods, clocks, beer, pianos and, of course, weapons.

The Amistad
One of the most famous episodes in the citys history actually began thousands of miles to the south, in Cuba. On June 28, 1839, the Spanish ship Amistad left Havana with 53 Africans who had been kidnapped from their homeland. They were being sent to another part of the island, destined for a lifetime of slavery. Before the Amistad reached its new destination, the Africans, led by Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinque), seized control of the ship and demanded that the surviving crew set sail for Africa, using the sun as their guide. But, at night, the navigator would sail northward, hoping to reach a Southern port where slavery was legal. Instead, the ship entered Long Island Sound and was taken into custody by the U.S. Navy.

The Africans were incarcerated in New Haven, but their cause was taken up by the nations abolitionist movement. At trials in Hartford and New Haven, and eventually before the U.S. Supreme Court, former U.S. president John Quincy Adams argued that the Africans should be set free rather than returned to Cuba. The Africans were finally granted their freedom in February, 1841 and, in March, were sent to live in Farmington, Connecticut, while funds were raised by private benefactors to send them back to Africa. In November, the 37 surviving freed slaves set sail, arriving in what is now Sierra Leone in January, 1842.

The Amistad Memorial, dedicated in 1992, stands at the site in downtown New Haven of the jail in which the slave were held. A reconstruction of the Amistad can be seen at Mystic Seaport, not far from New Haven.

Decline and growth
By the end of the 19th century, New Havens population of 108,000 was 28 percent foreign born. The many thousands of immigrants drawn by the citys burgeoning industries would leave their mark in many significant ways, not the least of which include such landmark eateries as Frank Pepes, which introduced the pizza to America, and Louis' Lunch, home of the countrys first hamburger. After World War I, with the passage of restrictive immigration laws, most newcomers were African Americans from Southern states and Hispanics from Puerto Rico.

After World War II, New Havens economy began a long slow decline, thanks to automobiles and superhighways. Shops and factories followed the mass movement of the middle class to the suburbs. Deprived of their economic base, once thriving neighborhoods turned into slums. In 1957, under eight-term mayor Richard Lee, New Haven launched one of the countrys first attempts at urban renewal, but the forces working against it were too great. The The Shubert Theatre shut down, major chains like Macys and Malleys shuttered their downtown flagships, and several hotels closed, leaving the core of the city barren and depressed.

Revitalization has come slowly. Wooster Square, formerly a slum, is now home to a thriving Little Italy, where hoards of patrons wait in long lines to sample the neighborhoods world-famous pizza. Restaurants and shopping have returned to many other parts of the city. Areas like Science Park, the East Shore, the Harborfront and Upper State Street are being rejuvenated. New Haven now calls itself the "Livable City," and is taking the initiative to restore historic neighborhoods and buildings. The beautiful Shubert is now a performing arts center, there is a new Audubon Arts Center downtown, a new American Hockey League franchise, and a restored Union Station. And, of course, a city could ask for few better anchors than Yale University, alma mater of the nations last three presidents.