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A mariner's compass from the collectionsHighlights of Fairfield History

Fairfield is one of the oldest towns in Connecticut, founded in 1639 by immigrants from England who wanted to build a farming village based on Puritan religious values. Their community was organized around the church, and had clear roles for all its members, in order to create an orderly, disciplined society. Fairfield’s original boundaries covered a large area, including what are now the towns of Westport, Redding, Easton, Weston, and parts of Bridgeport.

Paugussett Indians (including the Unquowa, Sasqua, and Pequonnock bands) created summer villages along the coast and cleared hundreds of acres for farming alongside rivers and streams. In the winter months, they moved inland, where forests provided shelter, hunting, and wood. Moving back and forth allowed them to fish and plant crops during the warmer weather and hunt game during the colder weather.

Fairfield prospered during the 1700s, as farmers found markets for their goods in the West Indies, New York, and Boston. Lawyers and others from around the region came to do business at the Fairfield County courthouse (on the site of today’s Old Town Hall), and Fairfield’s affluence attracted skilled craftsmen and laborers who produced goods and services for the townspeople. The Revolutionary War proved to be a turning point, especially the British attack in 1779 that left much of the town of Fairfield in ashes.

In the 1800s, Fairfield remained a fairly quiet farming community while Bridgeport’s industries boomed. As they looked for a way to make a living, Fairfield’s sons and daughters had to decide whether to stay in place and farm the land, or find opportunities by going west, going to sea, or starting a business.  And the arrival of the railroad in 1848 it created stronger links between this area and New York City.

At the turn of the 20th century, immigrants from Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Ireland came to the area looking for opportunity in area factories and shops, which produced everything from sewing machines to ammunition. At the same time, well-off people from New York City came to find relaxation in a country atmosphere. Fairfield’s beautiful beaches, its large estates and fancy hotels, and the easy train ride from New York City made it an attractive spot to spend a weekend, a summer, or to establish a home.

This pattern continued after WWII, when Fairfield’s population grew faster than ever. Families from Bridgeport and elsewhere (many the children and grandchildren of the immigrants who moved and worked in the area earlier) sought to move to the suburbs. From a tiny homogeneous village of English Puritans, Fairfield gradually became a vibrant and diverse community .

Learn more about selected themes in the history of Fairfield and its region.

Click on the links below to view a PDF on the following topics:

The American Revolution – Patriots & Loyalists

Early Agriculture & Maritime Commerce

English Settlements

Immigration in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries: New Neighbors

Native Americans, Colonial Contact and The Great Swamp Fight

Slavery in Fairfield County

Transportation: The Arrival of the Railroad and Modern Highways

 

To learn more about Connecticut history, visit

Connecticut History:  CT Humanities offers stories about the people, traditions, innovations, and events that make up the rich history of the Nutmeg State. Short articles and entries highlight important objects and documents from around the state.

Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame: Information about women reformers, artists, political leaders, scientists, and educators, from the early 1800s to the present. The site includes a curriculum guide and selected primary documents.

ConneCTkids: Very brief overview of state history for children

Connecticut History Illustrated: Find primary sources among these items from Connecticut’s historical organizations, museums, and archives (including the Fairfield Museum).

Colonial Connecticut records: The public records of the colony of Connecticut, 1636-1776.

American Voices – Historical Scene Investigations: See “Connecticut” section for lessons based on student investigations of Connecticut history, intended for elementary and middle school students.

 

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