Jack Delano took this haunting photo of Stonington, Conn., in 1940 for the Farm Security Administration, one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. The photo caption reads, “A square with old houses in an old fishing village.”
Stonington, which lies in southeastern Connecticut, is indeed old. The first English settlers arrived in 1649 and set up a trading post. The town was named Souther Town by Massachusetts in 1658. Then it became part of Connecticut in 1662. It was renamed Mistick in 1665 and renamed Stonington in 1666.
The town flourished, starting in the 1790s, when it was home to a fleet of ships that killed seals off South America’s coast and then sold their skins to merchants in China. One of the most prominent sealers, Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer, later helped to develop the clipper ship.
Stonington in the Revolution
On Aug. 30, 1775, the British frigate HMS Rose half-heartedly bombed the town. Four British ships launched a more damaging attack in 1814, during the War of 1812. At first the British demanded unconditional surrender. They received a note from the townspeople that read,
We shall defend the place to the last extremity; should it be destroyed, we shall perish in its ruins.
Despite a three-day bombardment, only one resident died: an elderly woman who was already quite ill. The British sustained serious casualties and sailed away.
Philip Freneau wrote a poem about the failed attack, which read, in part:
The bombardiers with bomb and ball
Soon made a farmer’s barrack fall,
And did a cow-house badly maul
That stood a mile from Stonington.
They kill’d a goose, they kill’d a hen
Three hogs they wounded in a pen—
They dashed away and pray what then?
This was not taking Stonington.
But some assert, on certain grounds,
(Beside the damage and the wounds),
It cost the king ten thousand pounds
To have a dash at Stonington.
Image: Delano, J., photographer. (1940) A square with old houses in an old fishing village, Stonington, Conn. United States Town Connecticut Stonington Town Stonington, 1940. Nov. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017877381/. This story updated in 2022.