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Learning Through Places
Maritime Village: Stonington Borough
This lesson plan features the maritime village of Stonington Borough. It touches on the theme of immigration. Stonington has a community of Portuguese immigrants and their descendants who worked in the fishing industry. Stonington remains a working fishing port today.
Recommended Student Reading
Where I Live: Connecticut, Chapter 1: Geography, pages 5 – 11
Chapter 3: Quinnetukut Becomes Connecticut, pages 21 – 25
Also recommended: “The State Animal: The Sperm Whale,” whereilivect.org/the-state-animal-the-sperm-whale.
Recommended Teacher Reading
See Additional Resources Below
Components of the Lesson Plan
- Connections to the state’s social studies frameworks.
- Classroom discussion questions and additional resources. At the end of the lesson, your students should be able to engage in a discussion about maritime villages that were founded along Connecticut’s coastline such as Stonington Borough, Mystic, Noank, Essex, and Old Saybrook.
- Lesson Plan – Maritime Village: Stonington Borough
State Frameworks Connections
The Influence of Geography on the Social, Political, and Economic Development of Towns and the State
- How does the geography of Connecticut affect the social, political, and economic development in local communities?
- In what ways do the rivers in Connecticut influence economic development?
- Why is your town/city/state shaped the way it is?
The Impact of Geography on Population Patterns and Economic Development
- Identify how various groups and industry controlled the use of land and resources in Connecticut and/or your town.
- How did various groups use the rivers and other geographic features in Connecticut to develop communities and economic systems?
- How has geography affected the growth and development of your own town and of Connecticut in general? Overall, have geographic factors aided or hindered economic growth in Connecticut and your town?
HIST 3.4, 3.5. Supporting question:
- How did industries such as whaling, manufacturing, and technology create Connecticut’s history and contribute to America’s story?
Causation and Argumentation
HIST 3.11Supporting question:
- What events occurred in our local community and how did they shape our community?
- How have science, technology, and innovation affected the development of towns and cities in Connecticut (aerospace, insurance, manufacturing, etc.)?
Exchanges and Markets
ECO 3.2, 3.3 Supporting question:
- In what ways have the rivers and waterways in Connecticut influenced economic development?
Human Population: Spatial Patterns and Movement
GEO 3.7, 3.8, 3.9 Supporting questions:
- Who controls the use of land and resources?
- How are rivers and resources in Connecticut used to develop communities and economic systems?
- What attracts a person to a town or city today? How is that different from what may have attracted them there in 1800?
Additional Resources for Teachers
“Two If By Sea: New London’s Harbor Light & Stonington’s Old Lighthouse Museum”
“They Came Here as Fishermen…” –about Stonington’s Portuguese fishing community. This story has quotes from Portuguese immigrants that are a primary source students can use to explore why they immigrated to Stonington to become fishermen, what it was like being a fisherman, and what the Portuguese community was like in Stonington.
“Why the Sperm Whale is Our State Animal”—about the whaling industry in Connecticut
“Destination: Discoverer of Antarctica” –About Stonington’s Nathaniel Palmer, a sea captain
The Old Lighthouse Museum of the Stonington Historical Society, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
Nomination, National Register of Historic Places, Bruce Clouette, Ph.D., 1976.
The Stonington Historical Society https://www.stoningtonhistory.org/
More about Connecticut Lighthouses
Maritime Museums to Visit
Fishing Villages Worldwide
Lesson Plans for Educators on Maritime History by the Mystic Seaport Museum
Maritime Village: Stonington Borough
Partially adapted from “They Came Here as Fishermen…” by Fred Calabretta, Connecticut Explored, Fall, 2013.
and “Borough of Stonington” by Edward T. Howe, Connecticut History.org
Discussion about towns and villages in our state
that grew from maritime settlements
Begin with an in-class conversation about how early settlements were maritime communities driven by maritime activities such as shipbuilding, fishing, whaling, and international shipping and trade. Using Stonington Borough as an example of a maritime village, discuss Stonington’s lighthouse, Portuguese immigration, and the last commercial fishing fleet in Connecticut.
Here are some questions to help guide the discussion.
- How were Connecticut’s coastal villages founded? Connecticut’s coastal shoreline borders Long Island Sound. It is rocky and has with many small coves and inlets. Native Americans had seasonal villages along the coastline in the summer to take advantage of fishing and collecting shellfish. Dutch traders set up trading bases along the coast and were followed by English settlers who built permanent settlements.
- What is a peninsula? A piece of land surrounded by water on three sides and projecting out into a body of water.
- What is a borough? Why is part of the Town of Stonington a borough? In Connecticut, a portion of a town can incorporate as a borough: usually a small village area. In 2016 there were 9 boroughs in Connecticut. They are all part of a larger town, but they can provide their own police and fire services, street lighting, garbage pickup, and building code enforcement as well as levy taxes. The southern portion of the Town of Stonington, the peninsula, was incorporated as a borough in 1801. They then elected a warden, six burgesses, a clerk, a treasurer and a bailiff.
- What is a lighthouse? Why were they built? A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and to serve as a navigational aid for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways. Lighthouses were built with funding from the federal government, a sign of how important coastal shipping was to the young nation. There are 22 lighthouses in Connecticut in 2018.
- What does immigrate mean? To move permanently to a foreign country. Two families of Portuguese descent settled in Stonington in the 1850s. Portuguese-speaking people also came to southeastern Connecticut as sailors on whaling ships. Many members of the Portuguese community were employed in the commercial fishing industry joining local fishermen of various ethnic backgrounds.
- Why would people want to go to a new country? For religious freedom, for jobs, to escape a war or disaster like famine, or to be able to build a better life for their family.
- Where did your family immigrate from? Was it recent or a long time ago?
- What types of historic buildings do you find in a maritime village that you wouldn’t find in a mill village or farming town? Lighthouses, beaches, docks, wharves, fish packing plants, fishing boats, sea captain’s homes, and customs houses.
- What would it be like to work as fisherman on a fishing boat? What are the pluses and the minuses of being a fisherman? Pluses include being outdoors, setting your own schedule, possibly working with your family, and learning on the job. Minuses include the cold weather, danger, boat maintenance, and sometimes you don’t catch fish, so you don’t have anything to sell.
Next, show the students the For Students Lesson Maritime Village: Stonington Borough materials provided. Have them look closely and answer the questions provided in the classroom discussion. Some prompts are provided below.
Learning Through Places – Maritime Village: Stonington Borough
What do you see in the photograph?
What type of building is this?
How was it used when it was new?
Is it near the water or not?
How did it help people?
In addition to the activities offered at the end of the student materials lesson, Mystic Seaport has a fully-developed role-playing classroom activity about a whaling ship that comes in to port to sell its wares. It is designed for grades 4 – 8 but could be revised for third grade. In this activity, students roleplay the captain and crew of a whaling ship that has just come into port (one student is designated the caption and the others are crew) and others play shopkeepers, reporters, and town leaders. All roles should be assigned gender-blind. Consider eliminating the “Fashionable Ladies” roles unless you feel you can assign them gender-blind. Alternately, these roles could be changed to women’s clothing shop owner and staff salespeople, seamstresses/tailors.