Click on the history links below to explore the various topics relating to Killingworth's History in the State of Connecticut.
Killingworth originally comprised present day Killingworth and the Town of Clinton to the south. Killingworth was first settled in 1663 as the plantation of “Homonoscitt” (Hammonasset). Among the regulations for the ordering of the plantation in October 1663 was that there shall be at least thirty families on the east side of the Hammonasset. The 30 lots were laid out along what is Main Street in Clinton on both sides of the Indian River. Then, at a Court of Election held in Hartford on May 9, 1667, it was ordered that “ye towne of Homonoscit shal for ye future be named Kenilworth, & for yr brand of horses they shal have ye letter V on ye near buttock.” On October 10, 1667, the Court gave permission for the inhabitants of Kenilworth “to gather themselves into church order.” In October 1667, a call to be minister was made to the Rev. John Woodbridge, a graduate of Harvard. He was pastor until 1679 when he resigned and became pastor in Wethersfield. Through corruption of spelling, Kenilworth became Killingworth which was used exclusively after 1707.
At the time of settlement, the Native Americans in this region were the Hammonassets who lived along the shore between the Aigicomock, now East River, and the Connecticut River. They were a peaceful tribe and left behind their burial grounds and large mounds of shells. The name of their Sachem was Sebaquaneh or “the man that weeps.” Uncas, Sachem of the Mohegan, married his daughter and came into possession of the lands of the Hammonassets. On the 26th of November, 1669, Uncas, with Joshuah, his son, sold to the inhabitants of Killingworth all the lands in the township, which he had not sold before to George Fenwick, Esq. of Saybrook. They reserved for themselves “Six acres of Land on the Great Hammock.” An Indian village in present Killingworth was located about 0.4 mile north of Route 80 and in the vicinity of the junction of Roast Meat Hill Road and the abandoned Wolf Meadow Road. There are a few rock shelter sites where Indian artifacts have been found.
The town grew slowly at first. In 1686, there were 36 persons (freemen only were counted) living in town and a list of 2412 pounds. By 1706, there were 63 persons and a list of slightly over 3391 pounds. The descendants of many of the original settlers later moved to the northern part of the town. On several occasions, the Town of Saybrook made claims on land in Killingworth. The dispute was finally settled in 1687/8 when 31 Killingworth planters paid Saybrook £30 for “right of soil.” Finally in 1718, a joint committee of the two towns agreed on a straight line dividing the two towns. In October 1703, a patent or act of incorporation was granted by the General Assembly to the proprietors and inhabitants of “Kilinworth” giving them rights to the land and establishing the bounds of the town.
The Rev. Abraham Pierson was called as pastor in 1694. He was highly respected by the townspeople. He also holds the distinction of being the first Rector or president of what was to become Yale College and held the first classes in Killingworth. His house was located in Clinton where the Stanton house now stands. Pierson was one of ten prominent ministers in Connecticut who were named to stand as Trustees or Undertakers to found, erect, and govern a College in the Colony of Connecticut. On October 9, 1701, the General Assembly granted unto the undertakers “full Liberty, Right, and Privilege” to erect and form a Collegiate School. The Trustees then chose the Rev. Mr. Abraham Pierson “to take the Care of Instructing and Governing the Collegiate School; under the Title and Character of RECTOR.” They also chose Saybrook as the most convenient place to “erect and fix the Collegiate School.” They desired the Rector to move to Saybrook but until that could be accomplished ordered that the Scholars should be instructed at or near the Rector’s house in Killingworth. Eight students, some of whom had been studying privately with one or another of the Trustees, were admitted. The first Commencement was held at the house of the Rev. Mr. Thomas Buckingham at Saybrook on September 13, 1702. The Trustees continued in their efforts to remove the Rev. Pierson to Saybrook and offered significant financial inducements. However, the people of Killingworth strongly opposed this so that the students continued to study with the Rev. Pierson in Killingworth until his death in 1707. Mr. Pierson on his deathbed advised those present to select Mr. Jared Eliot, one of his students, as his successor as pastor.
The Rev. Jared Eliot, one of Pierson’s pupils and a graduate of the Collegiate School in 1706, preached for about two years and was called as pastor and ordained on October 26, 1709. He was the son of the Rev. Joseph Eliot, pastor in Guilford, and a grandson of John Eliot, the celebrated apostle to the Indians of New England. He served as minister for 54 years. In addition, he was a distinguished physician and scientist. He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin who visited him occasionally. He was also a botanist and agriculturist, and introduced the white mulberry tree and the silkworm to Connecticut. He operated the iron forge off Ironworks Road in present Killingworth, an important forge in colonial times. He developed a method for making iron from black sand that was located on the shore. He was elected to the Royal Society of London and received a medal from the London Society of Arts.
Settlers began moving into the northern part of town shortly after 1700. Those residents living near the shore were merchants, tradesmen, fishermen, shipbuilders, and sailors, as well as farmers, while those in the north were almost exclusively farmers and referred to themselves as such. The northern residents became concerned because it was very difficult for them to regularly make the trip south to church and town meetings in a time when it was almost mandatory to attend. The northern settlers had to travel five to eight miles on foot, on horseback, or in wagons over poorly maintained muddy roads and the trip was especially difficult in winter. At some point, they decided there was a need to form their own parish or Second Ecclesiastical Society.
In 1734, the northern inhabitants petitioned the General Assembly to form a new society. On May 8, 1735, an Act of Organization was passed by the General Assembly. ”Att a Generall Assembly Holden at Hartford May: 8 : 1 An act Dividing the Town of Killingworth in the Coun[ty] of Newlondon into two Distinct Ecclesiastical Societies.” The act stated where the division line would be and made the northern part of town a separate ecclesiastical society. This line would be the boundary between Clinton and Killingworth. The new society is referred to in the records variously as the Second Ecclesiastical Society, North Society, North Parish, or North Killingworth. The ecclesiastical society held responsibility within its boundaries for religious affairs, schools, and the burying grounds.” Property within the limit of a society was taxable, on vote of the society, for the support of the gospels and for the schools.
At the first meeting of the new society in 1735, it was decided to build a meetinghouse. On September 25, 1735 . “it twas voted that it twas necessary to Buld a meeting hous.” A tax was set at a “Rate of a penc half pen[ ] upon ye pound to defrae the Society Charges.” The General Assembly appointed a committee to set the place for the meetinghouse. It reported on May 13, 1736, that they “have pitched upon a place upon a stony hill northerly from the new bridge over the Bare-Swamp brook, where we marked a walnut tree with the letter M, and laid some stones at the root of said staddle, which stands about forty or fifty rods from said bridge.” The report was accepted and approved by the Assembly and “said society is ordered to proceed to build their meeting house upon the place pitched upon by said committee.”
The building, however, became a society house or town hall instead of a meetinghouse as indicated by the following vote. “At a meeting of ye north Society in Killingworth ¼ March : ye 25th : Day AD: 1736 : ¼ it was voted that ye Society hous agreed to be bult Shall be Set up about eight or ten rods northeast from ye place afixed for ye Seting of ye meeting hous.” The society house was 30 feet long and 22 feet wide. It was one story high and had a chimney at one end. This building was built in 1736, but probably because of delays in hiring a minister and establishing a church, and a “misunderstanding” concerning funds due the Second Society from the First Society for building a meetinghouse in the First Society, the building of the meetinghouse was delayed, and it was not until 1743 that the meetinghouse was completed. The society house was used for town and public meetings and stood for a considerable period of time. The site of the society house and meetinghouse is south of the Route 80 and 81 traffic circle and west of Route 81.
The new society established its own church and chose a minister. A committee was formed to learn whether Mr. Samuel Eliot intended to enter the ministry. Samuel Eliot was the eldest son of Jared Eliot and graduated from Yale College in 1735. Sadly, he was in poor health and died at age 26 on a voyage to Africa taken to improve his health. It was then voted to hire Mr. William Seward to preach for several months and in 1737 he was called to be pastor. He was ordained on January 18, 1738 at the meetinghouse in the First Society. The General Assembly gave permission for the formation of a church on May 12, 1737. “Upon the memorial of the north society of Killingsworth: This Assembly grants liberty to the inhabitants of said society to imbody into church estate, with the approbation of their neighboring churches.” Part of the agreement with Mr. Seward was that the Society would provide him with a house. A house 34 feet long and 28 feet wide was built. It was located at the present intersection of Routes 80 and 81. It burned after the Rev. Seward’s death after which the existing center hall colonial house was built on the foundation. This house is now the Killingworth Inn.
After obtaining a minister and establishing the church, the society resumed plans for building a meetinghouse. On November 5, 1739, “it twas voted that we will go about building a meeting house for the worship of God this year _ at the same meeting it was voted that wee will build sd house fifty Eight feet in Length & thurty Eight feet in bredth.” This building was considerably larger than the society house. The meetinghouse was completed in 1743 and was used until 1820 when the second meetinghouse was completed and dedicated.
Present Killingworth did not become fully separated from Clinton as a Town until 1838. At that time, the two societies were nearly equal in population. The formation of the Second Ecclesiastical Society solved the problem of the northern farmers having a more convenient place of worship. However, they still had to travel south to attend town meetings. A compromise was reached whereby town meetings were held alternately in the southern and northern parts of town. This was probably not satisfactory to anyone and it became inevitable that the complete severance of North Killingworth from the southern section would have to take place. In addition, there were political differences. The northern section was strongly Democratic while the southern section was strongly Whig. The town also had a large debt, possibly for educational expenses or maintaining roads in the northern section. The northern residents favored a special tax to cover the debt while the southern residents opposed it. The southerners called for partition while the northerners opposed it. When the split occurred by an act of the Legislature in May, 1838, it was highly favorable to North Killingworth which retained the name Killingworth, the original town records, rights to the town dock and beach, and two representatives to the General Assembly.