Are children better prepared for adulthood by working or by going to school?
April 27, 2017
My Town: Danbury
April 28, 2017

My Town: Middletown

Middletown, 1874. Middlesex County Historical Society

Middletown is in the middle of the state. It is on the Connecticut River where there is a big bend in the river.

Mount Higby is in the western part of Middletown. It is part of a traprock ridge. The Metacomet Ridge runs from New Haven to Massachusetts. From the top of Mount Higby, hikers can see all the way to Long Island Sound.

How was it founded?

Middletown and the towns that later separated from it.

The Wangunks lived there. They called the area Mattabeseck. The first English settlers arrived in 1650. Many of them came from Hartford. Sowheag, the Wangunk sachem, sold the land to the settlers. The town was incorporated in 1651.

In 1653, Mattabeseck was renamed Middletown. The new name may have been chosen because of the town’s location between Hartford and Saybrook.

How do its residents make a living?
Early residents farmed the fertile land along the river. People worked as blacksmiths, stonecutters, millers, carpenters, and shipbuilders.

The Mercury, c. 1790. Her captain was Daniel Butler. He shipped goods in and out of Middletown. He was lost at sea in 1813. Middlesex County Historical Society

Middletown is far from the coast. But its economy depended on shipping. Merchants and ship captains made their fortunes from the cargoes they sold.

Ships left Middletown carrying grain, vegetables, livestock, and other products. The cargo was sold in coastal towns and as far as the West Indies. The ships returned with goods for sale. They came back with rum, sugar, molasses, coffee, salt, nutmeg—and enslaved Africans. Middletown, like many towns in Connecticut, was part of the international slave economy.

How did it grow?
By 1750, Middletown was one of the wealthiest towns in Connecticut. It became a city in 1784.

Middletown also was a center of pewter manufacturing. More manufacturing came to Middletown in the 1800s. Factories made textiles, hardware for ships, typewriters, sewing machines, bicycles, swords, and firearms.

Wesleyan University was founded in 1831. It became an important university and employer.

Immigrants from Ireland came in the 1840s. They worked in the brownstone quarries. In the late 19th century, more immigrants came. They came from Sweden, Germany, Poland, and Italy. Jews from Poland and Russia came, too.

Corner of Main and Washington streets, 1950s. Middlesex County Historical Society

Who are its notable people?

Commodore Thomas Macdonough of Middletown. Library of Congress

Thomas Macdonough was a commodore in the U.S. Navy. His defeat of the British on Lake Champlain helped win the War of 1812.

The Bemans were important leaders in the black community. They fought for civil rights and an end to slavery. Read about Leverett Beman and the neighborhood he created HERE.

Dean Acheson was Secretary of State under President Harry Truman.


Written with the assistance of the Middlesex County Historical Society.

Visit the Middlesex County Historical Society HERE