The Influence American Indian Pathways had on Connecticut Transportation Systems & Settlements


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The Influence American Indian Pathways had on Connecticut Transportation Systems & Settlements


How this all got started…

  • “For many years before Connecticut was settled, there was a traveled way leading up from the shores of the sound east of the Norwalk River. Passing through Georgetown then heading due North to the land of Pah-quio-que (Danbury) the dwelling place of the southern tribe of the Schaticoke Indians…”

  • ~Wilbur F. Thompson, April 1919 “The Old Indian Trail”







How this all got started… Looking deeper

  • “The first Connecticut highway was, so far as we know, the Indian Trail…” ~Lewis E. Stanton, “History of Highways in Connecticut”

  • “While the water courses may be aptly termed the primary Indian Highways in New England, there were also many economically important overland trails throughout the area.”

  • ~Leaman F. Hallett, “Indian Trails and Their Importance to Early Colonists”





Indian Foot Paths

  • Laid & developed through ages of Indian use with an eye to the easiest & quickest topographical [route], many of these ancient Indian foot paths were [later] adopted and enlarged into the bridle paths [by] the early pioneers, and eventually [became] the modern highways of today.

  • ~Leaman F. Hallett, “Indian Trails and Their Importance to Early Colonists



Indian Foot Paths

  • Seasonal rotations from planting grounds to fishing & hunting grounds were made over these paths … with inter-tribal communication along the way. Ordinarily there were two main paths running perpendicular to each other: North-South, East-West, quartering each tract. ~Leaman F. Hallett, “Indian Trails and Their Importance to Early Colonists





Access to our State… Englishmen of Boston Asked to Travel to Connecticut via Indian Pathways



Paths to Connecticut

  • On April 4, 1631, John Winthrop, Jr. recorded in his Journal that “Wahginnacut, a Podunk Sachem on the River Quonehtacut…came to Boston with John Sagamore and Jack Straw (his interpreter) and said he was very desirous to have some Englishmen come plant (settle) in his country…which is not above 5 days journey from us by land.”

  • ~Winthrop Journal, I: 223



Roger Ludlow Settles the CT River Valley

  • In 1633 trader John Oldham & three companions traveled to CT and came home to MA with a positive report:

  • “The Sachem used them kindly…they traded for beaver, hemp and black lead (graphite)…they lodged in Indian towns the whole way.”







Pequot War Results in Coastal Settlements



Pequot War opens Coastal Settlements

  • In 1636 trader John Oldham was killed on Block Island. To avenge his death the Bay Colony set out to attack the Narragansetts for the murder and the Pequots for their lands. The Pequots had nothing to do with the murder.





Pequot War opens Coastal Settlements

  • Ludlow declared an “offensive war” on the Pequots & with the help of Uncas’ Mohegans and soldiers from Massachusetts Bay they chased the Pequots all over CT, until they finally cornered them in a swamp at modern day Southport where it all ended horribly for the Pequot tribe.







Land Sales… Oversight or Misunderstanding?

  • European settlers continually ignored important text in the Indian‘s portion of the deeds:

  • "Reserving in the whole of the same, liberty for myself and my heirs to hunt, fish, and fowl upon the land and in the waters, and further reserving for myself, my children, and grand children…the use of so much land by my present dwelling house or wigwam as the General Assembly of the Colony … shall judge necessary for my or their personal improvement...”



Different Viewpoints

  • Indians did not understand land ownership the way the English and their future generations viewed it: in their culture, no tribe nor Indian had exclusive, permanent rights to specific parcels of land, "different groups of people could have different claims on the same tract of land depending on how they used it." By ignoring the Indian’s provisions within the land deeds, the settlers were exceeding the usage rights the Indians were granting them.



Different Viewpoints

  • “What the Indians owned or had claim to- was not the land but the things that were on the land during various seasons of the year…In nothing is this more clear than in the names they attached to their landscape, the great bulk of which related to usage not possession.” ~William Cronon, Changes in the Land



Meanings of Indian Names

  • Pok-a-no-ket: “at or near the cleared lands.”

  • A-bess-ah: “clam bake place”

  • Mitt-in-eag: “abandoned fields”

  • Eack-honk: “the end of the fishing place”

  • Simpaug: “beaver pond”

  • Aspetuck: “at the high place.”

  • Ousatonic: “land beyond the mountains”

  • Waramaug: “good fishing place”

  • Pequonnock: “a small plantation”

  • Mash-an-tucket: “in the little place of much wood”





American Indian Pathways & Early Access to the Interior Lands



Early Interior Settlement

  • Derby is settled in 1651. Indian Trails and a Ford where the Naugatuck meets the Housatonic.

  • Woodbury is settled in 1672. Indian Trails lead these coastal settlers to the interior.

  • Settlers make their way from Norwalk to Danbury in 1684 to establish a town. Indian Trails lead these coastal settlers to the interior.







Indian Guides Were Essential

  • In finding their way inland, settlers needed Indian guides to find where the Indian paths were and where they went. One writer noted: “they (the English) sadly search up and down for a known way, the Indian paths not being above a one foot road. So that a man may travel many days and never find one.” The use of guides would continue into the 1800’s. i.e. Lewis and Clark Expedition.















From these Pathways Begins the Progression of our Transportation Systems



The simplest early roads were described as “paths cut out” i.e. brush was cut out along the Indian pathways and trees were marked with an ax…





Later these paths were made “passable for horses” by cutting tree limbs high enough to permit the passage of a horse and rider. For many years this was the method of travel throughout our state. Pack horses became common and goods were often transported by packhorse trains…





The next progression, which proves to be an important one, was the widening of bridle paths to accommodate Ox Carts. Oxen were strong and capable of travel over terrain that would be impassable for a horse-drawn cart…





Packhorse lobbyists protested heavily, claiming the construction of wider roads was a waste of taxpayers’ money but they lost and as a direct result of these new Ox Cart paths, inland settlements in our State increased quickly.









American Indian Pathways as Post Roads



Colonial Postal Route

  • Indian Paths played a major role in the establishment of the postal system in this country. The first colonial postal route was started by a single rider, in the winter of 1673, who rode between New York and Boston with a horse change in Hartford, his route traveled was over the old Indian trails between these points. Travel time? 3 weeks!



Colonial Postal Route

  • The three major alignments of this “The Boston Post Road” were the Lower Post Road (now U.S. Route 1 along the shore and through Providence, Rhode Island), the Upper Post Road (now US 5 and US 20 from New Haven, Connecticut via Springfield, Massachusetts), and the Middle Post Road (now Route 44 which split from Hartford, Connecticut, and ran diagonally to Boston via Pomfret, Connecticut).





The Early Postal System

  • In 1692 an attempt was made to establish postal service to Virginia which failed.

  • By 1717 mail was being carried from Boston to Virginia. Travel time? One month in Summer; Two months in Winter.

  • Philadelphia was added in 1720, receiving mail from New York once a week.

  • 1754- Benjamin Franklin named Colonial Postmaster. Reduces trip from New York to Philly from 3 days to a day and a half.



The Early Postal System

  • By 1765 the postal system of the colonies had grown from a single post rider to about 60 post offices, almost all of which were on the coasts or not more than 60 miles inland.

  • Ben Franklin stated: "...The posts only go along the sea coasts; they do not, except in a few instances, go back into the country..."



Colonial Postal Route

  • Franklin likely noted this because Inland roads in the colonial period were poor, as colonists did not have modern conveniences such as bulldozers and excavators to clear pathways for their travels. Trees and bushes were cut back with hand-tools and oxen teams were harnessed to remove stumps and boulders in order to widen the existing footpaths.



Colonial Postal Route

  • Once mail reached a point on the "coastal" Post Road close to its destination, it would be sent inland via post rider, or it would wait for someone who was traveling in the direction of the addressee to pick it up and carry it the rest of the way inland.







The Post Rider

  • The Post Rider was a man of importance in our rural communities, delivering the weekly newspaper and some letters. He traveled on horseback, with his saddle bags filled and often accompanied by one or two pack horses. He acted as a middleman between local farmers and city dealers, taking the smaller products of the farms - butter, cheese, honey, beeswax, woolens, yarn, flax, etc., to the larger towns - selling them, and bringing back dyestuffs, calicos, needles, pins and other articles used in the rural homes of that day.



The Post Rider

  • Postmasters and post riders were exempt from military duties so as not to interrupt service. These post-riders were allowed the exclusive privilege of carrying letters, papers and packages on their respective routes, and any person who infringed upon their rights was subject to a fine. So in addition to their $100 a year salary, many Post Riders operated side-businesses along their “exclusive routes.”



Many of these Post Roads were used during the American Revolution







After the Revolution Turnpikes Replace Existing Cart Paths & Horse Paths



Apparently Our Roads Were in Need of Some Improvement…

  • In 1760, citizens of Hartford petitioned the Assembly to raise 6000 pounds to repair Main Street because it was the “worst road in the Colony”

  • Speaking of Hartford roads, Prof. Alexander Johnson noted: “…the roads of Hartford and its neighborhood had a certain evil preeminence.” A Good number of wagons had been sunk to the hub in the native clay of Pearl Street.



Apparently Our Roads Were in Need of Some Improvement…

  • Dr. Samuel Holton in June, 1778, went from Boston to Philadelphia. The only route he describes as “very good,” was the one from Springfield to Hartford. From Hartford to Litchfield the roads were “very bad,” while the roads from Litchfield to the New York Line were the “worst he had ever seen!”

  • Count Chastellux who went through Connecticut in 1780 remarked that in going from Canaan to Norfolk “you mount for 4 or 5 miles continually bounding from one large stone to another, which cross the road & give it a resemblance of stairs.”





The Turnpikes

  • Turnpikes came into Connecticut in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period a large number of turnpike companies were being chartered by the General Assembly in towns and cities throughout Connecticut. The turnpikes were very superior to the old cart paths, generally having straighter alignments, lesser grades, bridges instead of fords, and graveled surfaces.



The Turnpikes

  • Most turnpikes were two-way thorough-fares, about twenty-four feet wide and relatively straight. In New England, in order to avoid muddiness and road erosion, drainage was provided by giving the road a convex surface to shed the water. Connecticut companies tended to spend less money for turnpikes than those in states such as Massachusetts, since many turnpike corporations simply improved existing public roads and therefore avoided heavy expenditures for rights of way.



Early Turnpikes of Connecticut

  • One of the first highways to come into general use was known as the “high road to Albany”, this ran from Hartford to Farmington, Harwinton, Litchfield, Goshen, Cornwall, Canaan, Salisbury and on into New York. Another East-West route ran from Waterbury, Woodbury, through New Milford and on into New York. These highways pushed Connecticut products to the Hudson River and diminished trade within our State.



Derby Becomes Seaport

  • To keep trade local- a cart part was built in 1761 from Canaan to Derby and a petition was issued to make the Housatonic navigable for two-ton loads. As a result, Derby developed into an important seaport for most of Western Connecticut. In the trade expansion following the Revolution, it was common to see a string of wagons loaded with country produce, waiting hours for their turn at the docks to reach worldwide markets. For Example: The Derby Fishing Co. was carrying on an extensive commerce with the north shore of the Mediterranean.



N.H. Turnpike Hurts Derby

  • In 1798 a turnpike to New Haven was promoted by local business men to improve this trade route, however…instead of helping Derby it diverted many suppliers to New Haven’s harbor, which was larger. A second Turnpike from Bridgeport to Newtown in 1801 cut off trade goods that had been coming down from the towns above Derby on the Housatonic River.



Early Turnpikes of Connecticut

  • To touch on some other Turnpikes of interest… Running North-South was the Hartford & New Haven Turnpike running down though Farmington, Southington, Cheshire. Hamden and on into New Haven. James Hillhouse directed the building of this road and later was the superintendent of the Farmington Canal project.



Early Turnpikes of Connecticut

  • Other Turnpikes of interest… Running North-South, The Waterbury River Turnpike was chartered in 1801-02. It ran from Naugatuck to Waterbury, then north through- Thomaston, Torrington, Winchester, West Windsor, Colebrook and then crossed the border to connect to the Massachusetts 15th Turnpike



Stage Coaches

  • With the *improvement of roads, stage coaches appear in the early 1800s. Advertisement by the New Post-Coach Line Dispatch: “6 hours from Hartford to New Haven, leave Hartford at 11am and arrive in New Haven at 5pm.” …and you thought your commute was bad!



Stage Coaches

  • *Road Improvement wasn’t always a given… “In some of these ancient roads the passenger was jolted and distressed going down hill as well as up. In one case an occupant of the Stage Coach called out to the driver- ‘Are you going down any further? For if you are…I must get out, for I do want to remain on this earth a little longer.’





Taverns & Postmasters











Turnpikes & Milestones

  • In the summer of 1763, Ben Franklin completed a five-month carriage tour to inspect post offices. On that tour, he utilized an odometer. The Institute News describing the action of his odometer noted: "When actuated from a carriage wheel having a circumference of thirteen and one-fifth feet, a mile was registered in each four hundred revolutions. If wired to the top of the front axle at the right hand side it was easily set in operation by a hub-type projection on a hub or spoke and the dials were readily visible to both driver and rider."







Too Slow and Too Expensive

  • Average freight costs in 1820 were about 15 cents a mile per ton, more than twice as much as water transportation. By 1825 more than half of the turnpike ventures in the country had been either partially or totally abandoned. A contributing factor to the failure of these internal overland routes was the emergence of the canal.



Canals… “a method of transportation superior to any previously known.” ~Charles R. Harte, Connecticut’s Canals







































Railroads Replace Turnpikes/Stage Routes and Canals



















Railroad Workers Pay- 1851

















The Progression…















The Influence American Indians had on Connecticut is Extensive & Deserves Recognition



It has been my pleasure to share this with you today. Thank you all for coming.




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