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Dark Day Mural, thumbnail image, click here for larger size
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The Stamford Historical Society Presents

Portrait of a Family: Stamford through the Legacy of the Davenports

Abraham Davenport & The Dark Day

John Greenleaf Whittier 1868:
“Abraham Davenport” from
Tent On The Beach
In the old days (a custom laid aside
With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent
Their wisest men to make the public laws.
And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound
Drinks the small tribute of the Mianus,
Waved over by the woods of Rippowams,
And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths,
Stamford sent up to the councils of the State
Wisdom and grace in Abraham Davenport.

'Twas on a May-day of the far old year
Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell
Over the bloom and sweet life of the Spring
Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon,
A horror of great darkness, like the night
In day of which the Norland sagas tell,
The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky
Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim
Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs
The crater's sides from the red hell below.
Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls
Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars
Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings
Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died;
Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp
To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter
The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ
Might look from the rent clouds, not as He looked
A loving guest at Bethany, but stern
As Justice and inexorable Law.

Meanwhile in the old State House, dim as ghosts,
Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut,
Trembling beneath their legislative robes.
"It is the Lord's Great Day! Let us adjourn,"
Some said; and then, as if with one accord,
All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport.
He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice
The intolerable hush. "This well may be
The Day of Judgment which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty, and my Lord's command
To occupy till He come. So at the post
Where He hast set me in His providence,
I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face,
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do His work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the candles." And they brought them in.

Then by the flaring lights the Speaker read,
Albeit with husky voice and shaking hands,
An act to amend an act to regulate
The shad and alewive fisheries, Whereupon
Wisely and well spake Abraham Davenport,
Straight to the question, with no figures of speech
Save the ten Arab signs, yet not without
The shrewd dry humor natural to the man:
His awe-struck colleagues listening all the while,
Between the pauses of his argument,
To hear the thunder of the wrath of God
Break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud.

And there he stands in memory to 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.

On display in the exhibit:

Tent on the Beach, and other poemsTent on the Beach, and other poems
John Greenleaf Whittier, 1868 Second edition

Blanck (No. 21866)

The poem Abraham Davenport was first published in The Atlantic Monthly, May 1866. Printed in book form the following year, bearing the title Tent on the Beach, and other poems, the poem appears on pp. 98-102.

Private Collection

Mural “Dark Day”
Delos Palmer

Dark Day Mural, Old Town Hall, Stamford

Digital Photograph. Steve Castagneto, Academy of Information Technology, Stamford

Digital reproduction of a section of the mural painted in 1934 by Delos Palmer, a prolific Stamford artist, depicting Abraham Davenport standing before Governor Jonathan Trumbull on the famous Dark Day, the 19th of May, 1870. The nationally funded W.P.A. Federal Arts Project in Connecticut commissioned the mural during the Great Depression, as part of an effort to put artists to work embellishing public buildings.

The Dark Day mural was painted for the city courtroom in the Old Town Hall on Atlantic Street. Louis A. Clapes later reinstalled it in the Town Clerk’s office.

Palmer painted other murals, among them the three murals hanging in this museum’s entry. Palmer’s first love was portraiture and he returned to that art form in the late 1930s.

A few lines composed on the dark day. May 19, 1780

back to Abraham Davenport


Stamford’s Colonial Period 1641-1783
The Later 18th Century and Stamford’s American Revolution
The Coming of the Railroad, Immigrants and Industrialization

John Davenport:
The American Career of an International Puritan
(Francis J. Bremer)

Davenports gather to launch exhibit at Historical Society

Elizabeth Davenport Spence 1907-1998
(The Benefactress)

John Davenport 1597-1669/70
(The Founder)
John Davenport 1669-1730/31
Abraham Davenport 1715-1789
James Davenport 1716-1755
John Davenport 1752-1830
James Davenport 1758-1797
Theodore Davenport 1792-1884
Theodore Davenport Jr. 1834-1913
John Davenport 1840-1910
Abraham Davenport 1767-1837
Amzi Benedict Davenport 1817-1894
Benjamin Butler Davenport 1871-1958
Noah Welles 1718-1776
Galen Carter 1832-1893
Samuel Fessenden 1847-1908
Charles Henry Crandall 1858-1923
Charles Davenport Lockwood 1877-1949

Davenport Coat of Arms
Davenport Homestead

The Dark Day