A Connecticut Home With a Native American Connection


Henry Whitfield House Guilford CT

Henry Whitfield House by Jerry Dougherty

The Henry Whitfield House, located in the village of Guilford, is said to be the oldest dwelling in Connecticut and the oldest stone home in New England. It served as the family residence of Reverend Henry Whitfield, who, along with a group of Puritans fleeing religious persecution in England, founded the plantation of Menunkatuck (later, Guilford) in 1639.

Henry Whitfield House Guilford CT Early Illustration

Whitfield’s home is impressive for its time and location. The two-story structure (one of four stone homes that served as community leaders’ residences) doubled as a fort, a church and a gathering place for settlers. Fashioned in the post-medieval domestic style popular in England at the time, the home features 3-foot-thick battered stone walls, massive stone chimneys, a steeply pitched wood-shingled roof and casement windows.

What often goes untold is the story of the home’s connection to Native Americans. The land that comprises the original portion of the settlement was purchased from a female chief named Shaumpishuh. Her small band of 47 people, the Menunkatuck, derived from the larger Quinnipiac tribe; she sought to sell her tribal land in an effort to escape persecution from bands of warring Pequot and Mohawks.

Example of Hand Barrow

And although carpenters, masons and home builders from neighboring settlements were called on to assist in the construction of Whitfield’s home, Native Americans who chose to remain behind after the land transfer bore the burden of hauling the heavy fieldstones to the home site. They managed this job by first gathering stones from a ledge called Griswold’s Rocks, piling them atop hand-barrows (example shown above) and carrying the heavy loads along an ancient causeway cut through a swamp to the home site, nearly 1/4 mile away.

We might conjecture that these native peoples also contributed to the home’s construction, as the majority of early settlers in Guilford were farmers (coined “planters” in early documents).

Resources:
The History of Guilford, Connecticut
A History of the Plantation of Menunkatuck
The Henry Whitfield State Museum
Henry Whitfield House Inventory of Records
Henry Whitfield House
Rev. Henry Whitfield
Oldest Stone House in New England: Henry Whitfield Museum

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