Connecticut’s coastal topography was created more than 20 thousand years ago when the land lay beneath a glacial shield that reached to what is today Long Island. As the ice melted, ridges known as terminal moraines, formed the island as well as Block, Fisher’s, Menunketesuck and Duck Islands.
The first native Americans began migrating to the area more than 5,000 years ago. By the early 1600s there were 6,000 Indians living in Southern Connecticut. In the 1630’s, Uncas, a Mohegan sachem, married a Hammonnasset princess and was the leader of the tribe when 30 English families came to settle. A formal deed was executed in 1663. The land was paid for in trinkets and promises of fishing and hunting rights.
For centuries before the settlers arrived, many fine native-built war vessels were floated along the Indian River. With abundant fishing grounds, tidewater rivers and protected harbors as well as an unlimited supply of oak, pine, chestnut and spruce, it was natural that the area would spawn a lively and profitable maritime industry for the colonists.
The settlers and natives lived in relative harmony for 170 years, until the last of the Hammonasset Indians died in 1802 at her camp on The Big Hammock, what is now Shore Road.
New England Maritime Heritage
In 1669 the settlement was known as Kenilworth, named after an English village, and was given final legal approval by the Colonial Assembly. Through local usage the town’s name evolved to Killingworth. (In 1838 the town was divided into Killingworth in the north and Clinton in the south.)
The settlers raised crops and hunted for food and built their own homes. Mills were established for grinding corn and wheat. Sawmills provided lumber. Later an oil works on Hammock Point processed fish oil. There was also a clothes pin factory, a tin shop, iron works, a brick yard. But, by far, the most important industry for many years was the maritime trade.
Three shipyards were engaged in building vessels, the largest of which were launched in the Indian River on barrel pontoons and floated to the harbor. At times the entire hillside from the church to river was covered in timbers. Many fearless captains continued to ply the waters of Long Island Sound during the Revolutionary War.
Soon lumber was being exported to the West Indies for sugar, salt, molasses and rum. Later larger schooners were launched at Waterside.
One of the most prominent figures in American Maritime history, Charles Morgan, was born in Clinton in 1795. His first ship, the Franklin, completed its first Charleston Packet in 1820 to become the forerunner of the many packet and coastal steamship lines. He also built a railroad system of more than 100 miles and by his death in 1878 was one of the richest men in the country.
A Seaside Paradise
In the late 1800s and early 1900s improved transportation made it easier for heat-weary visitors to make the journey to country and shore. Smaller steamers and the railroad made stops in Clinton and summer colonies began to flourish. Casinos, not the gambling kind, but a “static cousin of the popular traveling Chatauqua” provided large halls for dances, concerts, “magic lantern” shows and refreshments. Later, during prohibition, many tales were told of bootleggers who ran their rumrunners from Duck Island, just off the coast.Clinton Fish House
Over the years, Clinton has sustained its reputation as a coastal village that retains much of its unspoiled charm. Generations continue to enjoy idyllic summers of sailing, fishing, beach side lobster fests and all that New England has to offer.