The territory embraced in the boundaries of the original Town of Stonington was included in the first patent of Connecticut, granted by Robert, Earl of Warwick in 1631 acting with authority by Lord Charles, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland.
The colony of Massachusetts conquered the Pequot Indians in 1637 and claimed interest in all the lands they held, which included some outlined in the original Connecticut territories.
Mr. John Winthrop, Jr., already settled on Pequot land, was granted a commission for a plantation by Massachusetts General court. Connecticut resisted their claims and referred the matter to the Commissioners of the United Colonies who ultimately decided in favor of Connecticut.
Mr. Winthrop’s plantation at Pequot (now known as New London) was the first settlement in Eastern Connecticut. He became acquainted with William Chesebrough and invited him to join his settlement. Mr. Chesebrough, while traveling back to the Plymouth Colony after a visit, decided to establish a residence in the wilderness at Pequot assuming it was within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.
Summoned before the General Court of Connecticut to explain his intentions on what they considered Connecticut property, Mr. Chesebrough proclaimed his desire to engage his friends and establish a new township.
With a license from the General Court, Thomas Stanton erected a trading-house at Pawcatuck in 1650. In January 1652, the town of New London granted confirmation of all the land Mr. Chesebrough claimed in Stonington. Soon, others began to arrive: Thomas Miner, Governor Haynes, Walter Palmer, Capt. George Denison, Capt. John Gallup and Robert Park along with their families.
In 1654 they applied to the Connecticut General Court for corporate powers but were opposed by New London and defeated. Massachusetts had previously claimed the Pequot territory which included Groton, Stonington and Westerly. With this in mind, Chesebrough, Stanton and Palmer on behalf of the planters, petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to overrule the decision. The matter was then referred to the Commissioners of the United Colonies who in 1658, rendered a decision that all the Pequot territory west of Mystic River belonged to Connecticut, and all the territory east of it, including Stonington, North Stonington and part of the town of Westerly, belonged to Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts General Court then passed an act that the English plantation between Mystic and Pawcatuck Rivers should be named Southerton and belong to the county of Suffolk, Massachusetts, and appointed Capt. George Denison and others to manage the affairs until the court provided further orders.
In 1662, Governor Winthrop succeeded in obtaining a new Connecticut charter from King Charles II. The eastern boundary of the colony was fixed at Pawcatuck River, placing a large part of the town of Southerton under the jurisdiction of Connecticut. Massachusetts gracefully yielded obedience to the new charter.
In 1665 the General Court changed the name of Southerton to Mystic and in May 1666, an act was passed to change the name to Stonington.
*Adapted from History of the Town of Stonington by Richard Anson Wheeler.
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
The people of the town of Stonington were sympathetic to the struggles of the colonies leading up to the Revolutionary War. They passed patriotic resolutions and provided men and supplies to the cause. After the battle of Bunker Hill in Boston, the American army cut off British supplies forcing them to move south along the coast of New England. When Com. James Wallace of the British navy came to Long Point (now Stonington Borough) in the frigate “Rose” on August 30, 1775 demanding food and livestock, the inhabitants of the village and a large number of men from the country under the command of Capt. William Stanton marched to the Point and joined the command of Capt. Oliver Smith, opening fire on the enemy and successfully thwarting an attack.
THE WAR OF 1812
The British government was determined to force American seamen into their service which led to several confrontations, finally culminating in a declaration of war by the United States government against Great Britain on June 18, 1812.
During the war in the spring of 1813, England sent a formidable fleet to blockade Long Island Sound. Stonington received two 18 pound cannons from the general government for defense and a battery dating back to the Revolution had to be rebuilt and reestablished.
On August 9, 1814 when Commodore T. M. Hardy, commanding a portion of the British fleet, entered Fisher’s Island Sound and gave notice to the inhabitants of the Town of Stonington to move out within the hour, the people of Stonington rushed to defend their home. Little had been done to protect the coast and Long Point since the Revolution. Ammunition and defenses were limited but with volunteers, some of whom belonged to the militia, sea-faring men of Mystic and residents of Groton, Lieut. Col. William Randall defended the town for three days until the enemy ceased firing and sailed away after suffering many dead and wounded.
Since the close of the Revolution, Stonington prospered and the population grew. The General Assembly incorporated Long Point into a Borough in 1801. Stonington was trading almost exclusively with the West Indies when the harbor was home to a fleet engaged in the seal trade. There was also a small fishing and whaling fleet.
Built in 1840, the Stonington Harbor Light was the first lighthouse established by the federal government. It consists of a tower with a circular glass lantern and the keeper's house. It's now operated by the Stonington Historical Society and serves as the Old Lighthouse Museum, documenting the area's maritime and agricultural history. On display is the Stonington Battle Flag — a proud relic of the War of 1812 and the Battle of Stonington. It pre-dates the Great Garrison Flag (Star Spangled Banner flag) and it's perhaps the only example of a 16-star and 16-stripe flag that reflects the statehood of Tennessee (although never an official flag of the United States). Visitors can climb the 29 circular steps and a short ladder to reach the top of the tower for a stunning vista of three states that stretches to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Customs House, a granite Greek Revival building facing Main Street just north of Cannon Square, was built around 1827 and originally served as a bank, operating until the end of the Civil War. It was probably in 1842 when Stonington was made a port of entry, that the building was converted into a Custom House.
The Groton and Stonington Street Railway was a trolley line created in 1904 that serviced Groton, Connecticut to Westerly, Rhode Island. Service was extended to New London, through Old Mystic and Stonington Borough — with rails that went all the way to Stonington Point. In 1928, the line was dismantled and replaced by buses.
In the last thirty years, Stonington's historic houses have undergone intensive restorations, serving a small but enthusiastic community, and providing second homes for visitors who didn't really want to leave.