At the mouth of the Thames River in South Eastern Connecticut are two distinct towns. New London first called Pequot 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.
New London included much of modern day Waterford and a small portion of East Lyme and Montville. Surrounding towns to New London in the 18th century included "Lyme" to the immediate west and Norwich to the north. The Outskirts of New London stretched westward to the Niantic River where a small rope ferry had operated since the start of the 1700s. Groton had Ledyard (Gales Ferry) to the North as well as Preston and Stonington the east.
New London had a population of about 6000 inhabitants at the start of hostilities in 1775 and was a major shipbuilding and merchant trade port. During the war (1775-1783) dozens of privateers left the "den of serpents" wreaking havoc on the British shipping in the Long Island Sound and Atlantic Ocean. Hundreds of "prizes" were taken by the New London privateers and hundreds of its men went off to war participating in virtually every major battle from Bunker Hill to Saratoga, Invasion of Canada, New York, Philadelphia campaigns and to Yorktown.
Many young men from Lyme and other neighboring towns ventured to New London for adventure and fortune.
Some of the wealthiest citizens were among some of the wealthiest in the colony if not all of America including the Shaws, Richards,. Saltonstalls, Parsons, McCurdy and more.
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.
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.