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).

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

A Farmhouse Fashioned of Fieldstone

What is the oldest (still-standing) stone home in the United States? In a state-by-state series, we’ll explore that very topic while highlighting some of the country’s most magnificent structures. Delaware and a little stone farmhouse lovingly referred to as the “Old Swedes House” is the first stop in our tour.

Hendrickson House Delaware

Photos, clockwise from left: Crum Creek by Thomas, Hendrickson House, Iron Lettering on Old Swedes Church

Hendrickson House, Wilmington, DE, circa 1690
This 1 1/2-story farmhouse was built by Swedish settler Hendrick Johansson as a wedding present for his son Anders. Originally nestled along the bank of Crum Creek (from the Dutch, meaning “crooked creek”) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the home was dismantled in 1958 and rebuilt on its present site at Old Swedes Church.

Although Swedish settlers (the first to establish themselves in Pennsylvania) were credited with introducing the log cabin to America, this home was constructed of fieldstone, which would have been plentiful in and around the homesite. Hendrickson House is a fine example of Swedish Colonial style and originally featured one large room on the first floor and one large bedroom above. The home was owned by four generations of the Hendrickson family before it was sold in 1788 for use as housing for tenant farmers.

“The Crum Creek history reports that the stone house measured 30 by 20 feet and faced southwest overlooking Crum Creek and the Delaware River across to New Jersey. In the center of each of the two longer walls, front and back, was a door, flanked by a window on either side. The gambrel roof was supported by the end walls and by heavy, hand-hewn pine beams which extended two feet beyond the face of the front and rear walls to form protective eaves over the first floor doors and windows. Inside, the northwest wall was completely filled by a huge fireplace, an adjacent wood closet (fed by a hatchway to the outside), and in the right-hand corner, a narrow, winding stair leading to the second floor. The large upstairs room was used for sleeping quarters and was heated by a second fireplace.” Source: Genealogy.com