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The History and People of Connecticut
© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

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Historical Review 1.12   
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Connecticut During the Early 19th Century

          Connecticut faced many changes to its population, economy, and government during the first half of the 19th century. The new state quickly faced trouble with the embargo that preceded the War of 1812. Without trade with Europe, Connecticut's economy floundered. Anti-Jefferson sentiment ran high and most of Connecticut's citizens did not support the second war with England and then Governor, Roger Griswold, refused to supply his militia to the United States Government. Political matters were soon complicated when the British attacked Connecticut at Essex and Stonington. Despite their resentment towards the war and refusal to participate, the people of Connecticut complained that they were abandoned by the government and left undefended. Men representing the New England states met in Hartford and created a set of amendments to protect themselves against the federal government, but the end of the war put a stop to any ideas of leaving the union.

          Connecticut's government witnessed a major shift in power during this time. The Constitution of 1818 ended the Puritan Commonwealth and terminated the established church. This took the power away from the religious elite and distributed it to the individual towns. Established towns were allowed two representatives in the lower house of the General Assembly; new towns were allowed only one. This gradually led to the domination of the state government by the older, established parts of the state.





          The economy was responsible for other significant changes in the course of Connecticut's 19th century existence. The decline of agriculture forced the creation of a diverse manufacturing economy. The state's industrial economy was based on many different products, ranging from clock manufacturing to medicine production. Between 1790 and 1930, Connecticut ranked at, or near, the top for the number of patents granted per state.(5) This "Yankee ingenuity" created diversity that helped to solidify the economy and secure it from recessions and declines. During mid-century, the availability of easy transportation helped Connecticut's manufacturers reach even bigger and more stable markets.

          One of the less fortunate events that Connecticut experienced during this time was a rapid out-migration of citizens. This out-migration was triggered by a combination of political and economical factors. One of the earliest causes of migration was the Revolution. Some, such as the Loyalists, were forced out during the war. Others settled in Vermont during the Revolution because Vermont did not levy taxes on land. The people from the upland counties of Tolland and Windham and from the hill towns of Litchfield County formed two major waves of Vermont settlers.

          A much stronger cause for migration was the state's stagnant agricultural economy. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it became apparent that Connecticut could not compete in the larger agricultural economy because of the environment and primitive farming techniques. Connecticut was limited by its size and short growing season, leaving little room for the younger generations to obtain their own farmland. Many young people left Connecticut for the west, where land was plentiful. Between 1780 and 1840, nearly 750,000 people left Connecticut. Early western migrants from Connecticut went to Iroquois land in New York. Connecticut migrants founded Kirkland, New York. The majority of Connecticut's migrants settled in the Midwest. The Western Reserve, an area of land bordering Lake Erie and Pennsylvania, was governed by Connecticut until 1800. Small numbers of Connecticut citizens migrated there during the 1790s and 1800s. Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan also drew significant numbers of settlers from Connecticut. These migrants used their agricultural and inventive traditions to help build the new cities of the west.

Anti-Slavery and the Civil War

          Although far removed from the physical battleground of the Civil War, Connecticut was on the frontlines of the political battlefield. Many of Connecticut's citizens were anti-slavery advocates, participating in abolitionist societies and political groups. The Amistad incident brought the anti-slavery issue to Connecticut's foreground in 1839. The Amistad was a Cuban slave ship that had been taken over by the slaves. It was captured by a United States naval vessel and escorted to New Haven. The Spanish government wanted the slaves returned, but the slaves fought for their freedom. Connecticut citizens helped the slaves find legal representation, which was essential to their quest for freedom. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held the Connecticut judicial decision that the slaves should go free.

          Although Connecticut had a strong abolitionist movement, Connecticut's blacks were not treated as equal citizens. Prejudice and discrimination abounded in employment and educational opportunities. Nonetheless, Connecticut remained active in the anti-slavery movement and was staunchly pro-Union during the war.

          Connecticut took a similar role during the Civil War as they did during the Revolution. The state provided many supplies for the troops. Uniforms and other clothing, including textiles, brass buttons, rubber blankets, ponchos and boots were manufactured in Connecticut. Arms, ammunition, steamships, and cavalry equipment were also supplied by the "Provisions State." In addition to equipment, Connecticut supplied over 55,000 men. Over 20,000 of them suffered casualties.

Late 19th Century Connecticut

          The two major developments that characterized Connecticut's history during the second half of the 19th century were immigration and industrialization. The manufacturing economy that emerged during the first half of the century blossomed during the second half. Between 1870 and 1900, the number of manufacturers in Connecticut nearly doubled, as did the state's gross product.(6) Textiles and hardware were the leading industries, but smaller manufacturing endeavors prospered as well, such as typewriter and bell production.

          The workforce that fueled the industrialization was drawn from the thousands of immigrants who flooded Connecticut during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the first half of the century, Connecticut received only small numbers of immigrants. In 1850, only about ten percent of the state's population was foreign born. This changed dramatically during the second half of the century. Millions of immigrants came to the United States during this time. Most were from Europe, and many were from the southern and eastern European countries. Connecticut appealed to many immigrants because of the ample industrial opportunities. Most of the immigrants had limited skills and were willing to do factory work. The factories drew thousands of immigrants, and by 1930, seventy-five percent of Connecticut's population was foreign born.(7)


Connecticut's
Leading Industries, 1900
(Roth, 149)

  • Textiles ($50 million)
  • Hardware ($25 million)
  • Machine Tools ($20 million)
  • Hats ($7 million)
  • Electrical Supplies ($3 million)
  • Typewriters ($750,000)
          
           The largest immigrant groups in Connecticut were the Italians, Irish, Poles, and French Canadians. Italian immigration began somewhat later than other groups, such as the Irish and Germans. Italians arrived in Connecticut in large numbers during the first decade of the 20th century. By 1910, over 60,000 Italians had settled in the state.(8)


Table 1: Connecticut's Major Immigrant Groups, 1860-1930(9)
Country of Origin
1860
1870
1880
1890
1900
1910
1920
1930
England
8,875
12,992
15,543
20,572
21,569
22,465
22,708
22,063
Scotland
2,546
3,238
4,157
5,992
6,175
6,750
7,487
10,013
Ireland
55,445
70,630
70,638
77,880
70,994
58,458
45,464
38,418
Norway
22
72
168
523
709
1,265
1,414
1,806
Sweden
42
323
2,066
10,021
16,164
18,208
17,697
18,453
Denmark
91
116
428
1,474
2,249
2,724
3,040
3,129
Switzerland
275
492
680
998
1,499
1,806
1,863
1,774
France
549
820
1,079
2,048
2,427
2,619
3,326
2,889
Germany
8,353
12,443
15,627
28,176
31,892
31,127
22,614
23,465
Poland
73
0
0
0
0
0
46,623
49,367
Czechoslavakia
0
0
0
0
0
0
6,558
12,220
Austria
172
154
287
1,187
5,330
23,642
12,699
6,306
Hungary
0
30
76
1,146
5,692
13,855
13,222
9,836
Russia
46
34
65
3,027
11,404
54,121
38,719
25,769
Lithuania
0
0
0
0
0
0
11,662
13,347
Greece
6
4
1
5
121
1,074
3,851
3,337
Italy
61
117
879
5,282
19,105
56,954
80,322
87,123
Portugal
265
48
165
230
568
707
1,200
2,345
Canada
3,145
10,840
16,444
21,232
27,035
28,686
24,631
37,808

          The earliest Italian immigrants were largely from the provinces of Potenza, Calabria, Salerno, and Abruzzi, but the immigrations soon included large numbers from the southern regions, especially Sicily. Italians were most prevalent in Hartford, where they settled on the east side, in what became known as Little Italy. The Italian community of New Haven was centered in Wooster Square, an area previously inhabited by Irish. This shift in enclave dominance shows the change in immigration patterns during the late 19th century. The Irish, Connecticut's second largest immigrant group, began migration to the United States long before the Italians. The legendary Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s spurred an emigration of Irish that numbered into the millions. Irish people continued to immigrate to the United States throughout the 19th century, and became one of the largest ethnic groups in the country.

          Most of the immigrants who came to Connecticut during this time were in search of better economic opportunities. Whether fleeing crop failures, such as the Irish and the Italians, or escaping religious and political persecution, such as the Russians, Jews, and Poles, these people looked to America for sanctuary and opportunity. They fueled the growing industrial economy and solidified Connecticut's move from a rural to an urban state. Almost all of the immigrants settled in cities. Each city drew different immigrant groups depending on the factories the town had. Hartford and New Haven were the two cities with the largest immigrant populations, but enclaves existed in many other cities. New Britain housed large Armenian, Swedish, and Polish populations, and Torrington had more French and Swiss immigrants than any other town in Connecticut.

Nationality
Place of Highest Concentration (1930)(10)
Italians
New Haven
Jews
Hartford
Irish
Hartford
Poles
New Britain
Russians
New Haven
Czechs
Bridgeport
Canadians
Hartford
Hungarians
Bridgeport
Germans
New Haven
English
Bridgeport
Lithuanians
Waterbury
Swedes
New Britain
Scotch
Hartford
Ukrainians
New Britain
Austrians
Bridgeport
Danes
Hartford
French
Torrington
Greeks
Bridgeport
Portuguese
Hartford
Swiss
Torrington
Armenians
New Britain
          The earliest Italian immigrants were largely from the provinces of Potenza, Calabria, Salerno, and Abruzzi, but the immigrations soon included large numbers from the southern regions, especially Sicily. Italians were most prevalent in Hartford, where they settled on the east side, in what became known as Little Italy. The Italian community of New Haven was centered in Wooster Square, an area previously inhabited by Irish. This shift in enclave dominance shows the change in immigration patterns during the late 19th century. The Irish, Connecticut's second largest immigrant group, began migration to the United States long before the Italians. The legendary Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s spurred an emigration of Irish that numbered into the millions. Irish people continued to immigrate to the United States throughout the 19th century, and became one of the largest ethnic groups in the country.

          Most of the immigrants who came to Connecticut during this time were in search of better economic opportunities. Whether fleeing crop failures, such as the Irish and the Italians, or escaping religious and political persecution, such as the Russians, Jews, and Poles, these people looked to America for sanctuary and opportunity. They fueled the growing industrial economy and solidified Connecticut's move from a rural to an urban state. Almost all of the immigrants settled in cities. Each city drew different immigrant groups depending on the factories the town had. Hartford and New Haven were the two cities with the largest immigrant populations, but enclaves existed in many other cities. New Britain housed large Armenian, Swedish, and Polish populations, and Torrington had more French and Swiss immigrants than any other town in Connecticut.

Religion In Connecticut

          Connecticut has a fabulously rich religious history. Puritans founded the state, the Great Awakening diversified the people's beliefs, and mass immigration brought a whole new population of religious adherents. The Puritan base remained strong in Connecticut throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, dominating the citizens' personal and political lives. The Puritan (Congregational) Church was Connecticut's established church until 1818. During that time, church attendance was mandatory. They believed that harmony in life was found through work, family, isolation, and purity. Needless to say, their religion shaped their everyday lives. During the 17th century, dissenters, such as the Quakers, faced discrimination and harsh punishment for not belonging to the established church. Quakers could be deported, whipped, and branded for their beliefs. The turn of the 18th century brought some relief to non-Puritans, but those who did not attend the established church had to pay extra fees.

          The Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept through the colonies during the early 1700s, dramatically changed Connecticut's religious scene. During this time, new sects, such as the Baptists and Methodists, became popular. Itinerate preachers toured the area, giving outdoor sermons and holding revivals throughout New England. Between 1740 and 1820, the number of Baptist churches rose from four to seventy-three.(11) The Congregational Church, which was Connecticut's established church, split into two sects; the Old Lights and the New Lights. The New Lights were open to the religious changes brought by the Great Awakening; the Old Lights were traditional and skeptical of the new sects. The Old Lights, who controlled the Assembly, reacted to the revival by creating laws against the itinerant preachers. A law was passed that prohibited preachers to speak outside of their parish. The Old Lights gradually realized that the new sects were going to be permanent fixtures in their society, and that tolerance was necessary.

     The religious scene changed again in Connecticut with the arrival of new immigrants. Irish immigrants, who were present in Connecticut in small numbers during the 18th century, received a huge population boom during the 1830s and 1840s, which dramatically increased the Roman Catholic presence in Connecticut. The Catholic population increased again with the influx of Italians at the turn of the 20th century. Lutheran, Jewish, and Christian Orthodox populations also grew during the 19th century, bringing a level of religious diversity never before seen in Connecticut.

Religion (2000)
Percentage
  Christian
83%
          Protestant
48%
          Baptist
10%
          Episcopal
6%
          Methodist
4%
          Lutheran
4%
          Congregationalist
2%
          Other Protestant
22%
          Roman Catholic
34%
          Other Christian
1%
  Jewish
3%
  Other Religion
1%
  Non-Religious
13%














 

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(5)
Fraser.
(6) Roth, 151.
(7) Thomas R. Lewis and John, E. Harmon. Connecticut, A Geography, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1986), 64.
(8) Samuel Koeing. Immigrant Settlements in Connecticut: Their Growth and Characteristics, (Hartford, Connecticut: Connecticut State Department of Education, 1938), 17.
(10) Koenig, 27.
(11) Dusen, 340.



By Rickie Lazzerini
Historian

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.


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