Join  |  Official Historian, City of Stamford  |  Blog  |  About Us
Jewish Historical Society  |  Civil War Roundtable  |  Contact Us


A Condensed History of Stamford, Connecticut
researched and written by a summer intern some years back

From the Beginnings to the End of the 18th Century
The 19th Century
Revonah Manor
Into the 20th Century
The Most Exciting Parts of Stamford's History

See also: Stamford, Connecticut, 1641-1893, The first two-and-a-half centuries, a 1999 presentation by Estelle Feinstein.

From the Beginnings to the End of the 18th Century

The original name of Stamford was Rippowam, that's what the original inhabitants called it and the first European settlers continued the tradition.

The name was later changed to Stamford after a town in Lincolnshire, England. What does the word Stamford mean? In old English Stamford means stony ford, and why was the town named for a community in Lincolnshire?

Lincolnshire furnished more than eighty percent of the original settlers in New England and a greater number of old English names to New England towns and counties than all the other sections of the mother country combined.

Anglo-Saxons are great believers in established titles. They have always been anxious to set up records of their transfers of land.

Possessed of this instinct the New England settlers usually began their settlements with the purchase from the original occupants.

The native inhabitants had no concept of private land ownership. It never occurred to them that people would put up fences, record deeds, and presume that the land belonged to them in perpetuity.

On the first of July 1640 one Capt. Turner for the New Haven colony signed a parchment that is considered the deed to Stamford. Signing for the native inhabitants was Chief Ponus, in return for a tract of land that extended from the Mianus River on the west to Bedford and Pound Ridge on the North, Five Mile River on the East and Long Island Sound on the South. Payment for this land was to be twelve coats, twelve hoes, twelve hatchets, twelve glasses, twelve knives, four kettles, and four fathoms of white wampum.

Ponus appears to have been the overlord of the entire region. But it wasn't just Ponus who made the deal. Four family groups dwelt on the land and they all agreed to the terms of the land purchase. It is however very doubtful that they fully understood the terms of the deed that they were signing.

This deed was renegotiated a number of times and it wasn't until 1700 that Catoona and Coee, who are believed to be lineal descendants of Ponus and his family, confirmed all previous grants of territory to the settlers for considerable and valuable sums of money.

None of this stopped the native inhabitants from attacking the settlers, for it would appear that their the culture was quite different than that of the settlers and they truly believed that they had been swindled.

Captain John Underhill was the Miles Standish of the Stamford colony. Underhill was a broadminded thinker who was not afraid to adopt new ideas and opinions. He was also a bit of a wanderer and moved to Oyster Bay Long Island where he died in 1672. His eldest son John, by his first wife, Helena Kruger, who came with him from Holland, inherited the lands on the bay, and from him were descended the Underhills of Long Island. His son Nathaniel, by his second wife, a daughter of Robert Feeks the Greenwich pioneer, inherited the Underhill's Connecticut and New York lands, and from him were descended the Underhills of Westchester and New York City.

Whittier commenting on Underhill's friendship with Anne Hutchinson wrote this verse:

With Vane the younger, in counsel sweet
he had sat at Anne Hutchinson's feet,
And when the bolt of banishment fell
On the head of this saintly oracle,
He had shared her ill as her good report,
And braved the wrath of the General Court.

In 1704 a woman by the name of Madame Knight wrote a journal describing her horseback ride from Boston to New York. Her comments about Stamford are of interest:. Stamford was a well compact town with a miserable meeting house.

One of the major businesses carried on in Stamford, besides agriculture and fishing, was that of merchandising by water. The proximity of Stamford to New York has always worked to its benefit.

The Earl of Bellmont, in a report to the English Lords of Trade, said of Stamford. “There is a town called Stamford in Connecticut colony, on the border of this province, where one Major Selleck lives. He has a warehouse close to the sea, that runs between the Mainland (Long Island). That man does great mischief with his warehouse, for he receives abundance of goods from our vessels, and the merchants afterwards take their opportunity of running them into this town. Major Selleck receives at least ten thousand pounds worth of treasure and East India goods, brought by one Clarke of this town from Kidd's sloop and lodged with Selleck.”

And, there lies the seeds of the Capt. Kidd legend. Many people have looked for pirate treasure in Stamford, but none have found any.

Selleck was evading English taxes even before it was a political statement.

Stamford in the 18th century was an insular community, but no matter how insular a community was during that time, the crisis of the revolution intruded upon the consciousness of its citizens.

Between 1756 and 1790, France lost virtually all of her North American empire to Great Britain; and Britain lost a substantial portion of her empire to the upstart United States. The United States in turn transformed itself from a loose confederation into a sovereign nation.

Stamford made only a marginal contribution to the French and Indian War. Four area militia companies were called up in 1758. On the night of July 8,1758, some 500 recruits under the command of Captain David Waterbury of Stamford participated in an ill planned assault on Fort Ticonderoga. Seven men died during the raid and 400 disappeared from the ranks during the attack. By November the much reduced company returned home to Stamford.

Local businesses, however, prospered during the era. The Lloyds, and the Davenports and other Stamford entrepreneurs supplied Colonel Fraser's British Highland Battalion forces with billets, bedding, firewood and candles. The community had invited the British units and in turn was well compensated for its hospitality.

From early 1774 to July 4, 1776, frictions between Patriots and Tories mounted in Stamford. The fiercest critics of Britain tended to be Congregationalists; the staunchest apologists, Anglicans. Patriots increasingly suspected a British plot to thwart Congregationalism, home rule, and colonial growth. The Patriot faction in Stamford and Connecticut argued that British dominion, once successful in Massachusetts, would stifle colonial expansion. The leading Patriot voice in Stamford was the Honorable Abraham Davenport. Davenport was quite remarkable. He held a dazzling array of offices from the mid 1740s to his death in 1789. On the local level he served as selectman for 31 years, moderator of town meetings, town treasurer, and member of every important committee in town. On the colony level, he was an elected deputy from 1747 to 1766, and served as clerk of the House 13 times and was speaker four times. Throughout the Revolutionary period he was a member of the Council of Assistants and the powerful Council of Safety. Davenport was part of the inner circle of Governor Jonathan Trumbull and undoubtedly gave Stamford a distinct voice in state affairs during the period. Davenport also was justice of the peace for Fairfield County, and judge of the Fairfield County Court, judge of probate court in Stamford and judge of the special Maritime Court of Fairfield County. And in addition he was deacon of the First Church, member of the First Society committee and a colonel in the militia. He did all of this while accumulating considerable possessions. By 1775 he was the wealthiest property owner in Stamford. During the war of Independence he was able to increase his holdings appreciably. It didn't hurt that he was Judge of the Probate Court which ordered confiscation of Loyalists estates, and judge of the Maritime Court, which condemned prizes taken at sea.

Beyond his wealth and power, Davenport left a legacy to history. The episode is known as “The Dark Day.” On May 19, 1780, the day turned dark at noon in Hartford. Members of the House of Representatives fell on their knees and clamored for adjournment. They thought that the day of judgment was approaching. Davenport rose to his feet and declared “I am against adjournment, The day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.” So, as the poet John Greenleaf Whittier later declaimed, Davenport had stood “A witness to the ages as they pass, That simple duty hath no place for fear.”

In opposition to the Patriot establishment were the local Loyalists, or Tories. Though the definition of who constituted a Tory is not clear, scholars have found Stamford and Western Fairfield County a hotbed of Loyalists.

There were many reasons for support of the Crown; class background, however, did not play a significant role, since the majority of Loyalists, like the majority of Patriots, were middle class farmers. The critical factors were probable allegiance to the Church of England and a pro British kinship and neighborhood network.

With the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Loyalists confronted an agonizing decision. Families and neighborhoods were set against each other. In Springdale, for example, 16 landowners opted for the Loyalist side and 11 for the Patriot side. Almost all the families in the Loyalist camp were Anglican.

During the first year of the war, 40 householders, including Samuel Jarvis, the long time town clerk, departed for British held Long Island. Many later moved to friendly New York City, and at the close of the war they took ships to New Brunswick, where the British government allotted them land grants.

Following the legislative mandate to confiscate the properties of departed Loyalists, a little over 1000 acres or about 1.5 percent of the town's area was sold at auction.

The Tory problem was only one of the dilemmas posed for Stamford during the War of Independence. When the state required that each freeman take an Oath of Fidelity, 288 men stepped forward on September 16th, 1777 and swore fealty, although only 101 names had been registered on the 1777 freemen list.

The number of Stamford men who served as soldiers may have been about 420, but the precise figure is not known. Approximately 165 men saw Continental service; over 200 served only in the militia. Official archives record the deaths of at least 22 in the field, in hospitals, and in prison.

Many Stamford area men who volunteered for the 5th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel David Waterbury opposed the adoption of the regiment by the Continental Army, organized in May of 1775. They were sent on an ill fated and miserable campaign to take Canada under General Richard Montgomery, and many men deserted in October and November.

One of Colonel Waterbury's claims to fame was that he was second in command to General Benedict Arnold at the disastrous battle of Valcour Bay.

With provisions of all kinds at a premium for both the Loyalists and the Patriots, Stamford lay at the center of a web of schemes and plots and of incursions and raids, by sea and land, during all the nine years of fighting.

By 1790, Stamford was an agricultural and market town of 4,051 inhabitants. It had grown 11 percent since 1774. The residents were largely farmers who raised potatoes, wheat, corn, rye and oats as well as livestock, and exported their surpluses to the New York market.

The typical family was descended from early settlers. As late as 1831, over one third of the town registry list was made up of Scofields, Smiths, Lockwoods, Weeds, Hoyts, and Junes. The black minority included 46 slaves and 27 free persons.

When George Washington had breakfast at Webb's Tavern, he found it a tolerable good house. Webb's Tavern stood on Bank Street until 1868.

Mural: Dark Day
Abraham Davenport & The Dark Day

Next chapter: The 19th Century
With the advance of the nineteenth century, the face of America changed, and the Eastern seaboard became industrialized and populous.