The Battle of Groton Heights & The Burning of New London -- September 6, 1781
"We shall not surrender, let the consequences by what they may"-Col.Wm. Ledyard --Commander of Ft.Griswold

New London & Groton

 Mouth of The Thames River  Waterfront

At the mouth of the Thames River in South Eastern Connecticut are two distinct towns. New London being the mother of Groton or as it was called Groton Bank was first settled in 1646 by Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop. Groton grew out of necessity as the town lines of New London became too small, thus in the early part of the 1700s Groton Bank was founded.

John Winthrop  Statue in New London

New London
New London, originally called Pequot after the local tribesmen (Pequot) that inhabited the area is located on the western bank of the Thames River. From its earliest years New London grew based on its deep water port and that fact that it was protected from most major Atlantic Storms by Long Island, Fisher's Island and Block Island. During the early Colonial era ships from throughout the Indies and Europe made stops on a regular basis in New London. The town itself grew substantially from a few hundred residents in the late 1680s to nearly 5 times that in 1730. The town itself consisted of two main streets. One called "The Bank" or where modern day Bank Street that runs along the river front and the other Main Street or modern day State Street that runs from the waterfront up the center and due west.

Most of the settlement was along these two streets. Wharf houses and warehouses dotted the Bank Street side, piers jutted out into the Thames River allowing easy offloading and loading of cargo to and from ports of the world. Along the "bank" were many stately houses, ships chandleries and taverns supplying the ships and sailors with all that they needed. Up along Main Street were other businesses including printing shops, residences, supply stores, blacksmiths, stables and of course government offices, a jail, courthouse and none the less at least one house of "ill repute" that was frequented by sailors and others searching for a nights entertainment.

The "Bank" street headed due west and followed the riverfront passing in front of the ca.1750 Shaw Mansion on modern day Blinman Street past the Coit ShipYard (Beam Cove) where modern day Coit Street and wrapping around in front of the stately and already ancient Hempstead House & Hugeneot House and then became known as Lyme-New London road.

Shaw Mansion ca. 1750                        Hugenot House ca. 1756                  Hempstead House ca. 1676

1763 Coit House

The Outskirts of New London stretched westward to the Niantic River where a small rope ferry had operated since the start of the 1700s. This area was the former home of the Nehantic Indians and during the 1700s was the home to several farms, a shipbuilding village called Jordan in modern day Waterford and the summer retreats of some of New London's wealthiest residents.

New London stretched North along the Thames River to Norwich and west to the Golden Spur area of Lyme to Chesterfield.

Ye Olde Golden Spur Inn. ca.1750 - Lyme (East Lyme) on the New London - Lyme Road.

On the docks ca. 1776 - Continental Officers Discussing the movement and loading of troops and supplies from New London, CT. - Possibly General Nathanael Greene, General Joseph Spencer and either Thomas Shaw or Brig.General Samuel H. Parsons.

New London Harbor as seen in 1777

Defending the town during the colonial period were Fort's Trumbull, Nonsense and Town Hill with the latter two being more of a battery with cannon than a fort. Trumbull was erected during the war to stop any raiding ships coming up the River and was actually more of a blockhouse than fort. It's lack of defensive position against land attack proved to be costly. Town Hill and Nonsense were two "forts" that were high above New London and could provide a good view of ships on the Long Island Sound and to provide support fire in case of attack. A battery was established early on in 1775 at the foot of State Street facing the Thames River and was manned by a dozen men or so. Another was at Winthrop Cove near the modern day Gold Star Bridge to protect an important wharf and shipyard owned by Guy Richards. Otherwise defensive positions or watch posts were set up along the Connecticut coast under the watchful eye of the Sea Coast Guard manned by units of 5-20 men. It is known that there were such at points near modern day Waterford Beach /Harkness/Great Neck, Millstone Point and into Lyme at Black Point and near the Nehantic Village at current day Crescent Beach. These posts would alarm each other in case there was any threat of attack.

A series of signals were established to notify the countryside of:

2 Consecutive Shots by Cannon -Alarm for Help (Militia)
3 Consecutive Shots by Cannon -A prize has been taken (Privateer) & has arrived in New London

In addition each of the guard posts would use fires to signal the call to arms.

The Shaw Mansion built by Nathaniel Shaw and later "run" by his son Thomas Shaw would become the naval office of Connecticut and has been regarded as the start of the US Navy. Nathaniel then in his early 70s had handed the business over to his son Thomas. Thomas a trader, ship builder, farmstead owner, and merchant made a vast fortune in shipping during the colonial times leading to the American Revolution. At the start of hostilities in 1775 the Shaw began to outfit under the permission of the Governor of Connecticut Johnathan Trumbull, ships of line to wreak havoc on British supply ships. This type of legal piracy was an extremely effective tool for the colonies as there was not any serious American navy at this point. The ship owner and his investors would share in the profis of the goods that were taken and resold usually at the docks at escalated prices. A share would then go to the coiffures of the state and everyone was happy. New London was a leader in this and later the home of the Shaw family would become the Naval Office for the State of Connecticut.

Groton was settled and originally called East New London or Groton Bank. Settled by Nehemiah Smith and Capt. James Avery in 1656 nearly 20 years after the devasting attack on Mystic fort to the east of Groton Bank, home of the feared Pequot Indian Nation. Groton in the late 1690s petitioned for their own church or "society" as the trek over the Thames River was often hard and dangerous. With the formation of their own town in the very early 1700s Groton Bank was made up of modern day Thames Street that ran along the river. Here a handful of homes were neatly nestled along the river bank with piers and wharfhouses jetting outward. While maritime and Indies trade was popular here as well New London with it's easy access and coves offered a better suit for larger ships. Groton bank had its share but also focused very much on more local trade and fishing.

Groton itself ran northward through a small village called Gales Ferry where a handful of homes and a wharf stood then onto Norwich. Eastward through mostly farm plantations and a few small villages near Poquonnock the site of the Capt. Avery house.

ca. 1656 Capt.James Avery House

Groton ran eastward to the Mystic River and the town of Stonington. At the head of the Mystic River was a small ship building and fishing village known as Portersville (Old Mystic). Other sparely populated areas included a fishing village of Noank and a handful of settlements northeastward into modern day Ledyard near the Indian Reservation lands and the Denison and Lester Homesteads.

ca. 1717 Denison House

Offering protection to Groton Bank and again the Thames River was a fort built and named after Governon Matthew Griswold of Lyme--Fort Griswold. A relatively impressive fort built in european star style with a "V" shape works created to protect the entry. Barracks for up to 300 men were also built. Walls built of stone and earth nearly 9 feet tall Fort Griswold was an impressive site especially for potential raiders coming up the river. Its cannon could reach ships in the Long Island sound and was built high enough above any invading landforce coming from the river to give it the advantage. However as early as 1776 the fort almost new was already in disrepair as noted by several men who manned the fort. Once Colonel Ledyard, Capt.Shapely and Coit of New London noticed this funds were demanded and the fort "somewhat" repaired.


Ft.Griswold & Ft.Griswold Design Plan

Also supporting Groton Bank were a series of Sea Coast Guard posts that ran from Noank and Portersville (Mystic) to Gales Ferry, again manned by 5-20 men they were designed to give warning of potential danger and to eventually limit the smugling of goods to and from Long Island a Tory stronghold.

Although several alarms were sounded during the war and other than the odd "probing" effort usually by Long Island Tories to steal cattle and supplies the area was spared the wrath of war. It is said that Sir Henry Clinton called the Thames River area "The Den of Serpents" as the various privateers that came out of New London took hundreds of prizes and there were was little the King's Navy and Army could do to prevent it.
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