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Before Ledyard

 
 

History of the Town of Ledyard

Before Ledyard

Named for Colonel William Ledyard, slain commander of Colonial forces in the Battle of Groton Heights in September 1781, the town was set off from Groton in 1836 by an act of the Connecticut Legislature. The western section, on the east bank of the Thames River, had been settled in the mid-seventeenth century by Thomas Bayley, John Gager, Robert Allyn and Robert Stoddard. The settlers were farmers, and the river their transportation. A ferry was instituted from the landing on Ralph Stoddard’s farm to Montville on west bank, and soon a community developed around the ferry slip. Ferry masters over the years included Stoddards, Hurlbutts, Allyns and Ledyards, but it was Roger Gale, proprietor from 1759-1764, whose name remained with the village, the apostrophe most likely lost in the spelling simplification programs of the U.S. Post Office in the nineteenth century. The business district of Gales Ferry lay alongside the river, and a tree-lined residential lane led eastward to the Hurlbutt farm on what is now Route 12.

Transportation routes also influenced the establishment of a commercial center in the eastern section of Ledyard. There the Mohegan Trail, now part of Colonel Ledyard Highway and Spicer Hill Road, intersected a road from New London to Preston (now Church Hill Road and a southerly portion of Colonel Ledyard Highway). At this location, between 1730 and 1800 were constructed nine houses, two stores, a tannery, and several shops. Nearby were a schoolhouse and, unusually for colonial Connecticut, an Episcopal church. Residing in this area were Silas Dean (later Silas Deane), a member of the Continental Congress, and Samuel Seabury, Jr., the first Episcopal bishop in America. Seabury, son of a Congregational minister, converted to Anglicanism circa 1730, was educated at Yale and ordained in 1753. After the American Revolution it became impossible for the Episcopal Church, whose spiritual head was the King of England, to consecrate bishops in the United States, so Seabury, elected by his peers, traveled to Aberdeen, Scotland, to be consecrated by Scottish bishops who did not recognize the authority of the monarch.

Colonial Connecticut did not separate church and state, and so the perimeters of the Ecclesiastical Societies of the Congregational Church, the established religion, also served as municipal boundaries. In 1725, the North Parish was set off from Groton, because the inhabitants wished to worship closer to home. Construction of a meeting house began in 1727 at the geographic center of the parish, location of the present Congregational Church, but since the commercial settlement was growing at the crossroads about a mile to the north it was many years before the present Ledyard Center developed.

The community’s brief military history took place during the War of 1812. Commodore Stephen Decatur, a rising star in the United States Navy, sailed his small fleet into New London Harbor in 1813, to escape British warships. Failing to raise reinforcements there, he weighed anchor and sailed the ships up river to Allyn’s Point. What was then known as Allyn’s Mountain offered an unobstructed view all the way to New London, and he erected breastworks on the summit, armed with cannon from the ships. Local tradition has it that a chain was stretched across the river to prevent enemy ships from entering the anchorage, and that Decatur conducted a maritime school in the village during his winter in Gales Ferry. Unable to get out of the river, the fleet remained at anchor while the Commodore escaped over land to New York. Not until word reached the region in 1815 that the Treaty of Ghent had ended the war were the ships able to set sail.