Celebrate Greenwich

Founders Day, July 18th 1640-2020

Each year on July 18th, we celebrate the founding of the European settlement of Greenwich.
This year, we invite you join us in a virtual celebration of our Town. In an unprecedented year in our history, we take time to reflect on the story of our founding, the interpretations of our history, the landscapes, places and personalities that have, and continue, to shape this place we call “home”.

A Letter from the Director

Debra Mecky

The Official Seal of the 
Greenwich Historical Society

The Official Seal of the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich (as it was then known) was designed at the time of our founding in 1931. In this video, Greenwich Historical Society Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Maggie Dimock delves into the at times complicated historical context of the seal’s creation, and offers a deeper critical reading on the storied event depicted in the seal’s center – the meeting between English colonists Captain Daniel Patrick and Robert Feak and three members of the Weichquaesgeck people on July 18, 1640.

The Original
Town Deed

Connecticut State Representative Livvy Floren, reads the original town deed, signed July 18, 1640.

The Proclamation

Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo presents this year’s official proclamation and a greeting to the community!

What’s your wish for the future of Greenwich?

The Greenwich Historical Society represents Greenwich at its core—a town as firmly rooted in our nation’s past as it is in shaping its future; home to economic leaders from early farmers to Gilded Age barons, local merchants to global business trailblazers; committed to the arts— as the cradle of American Impressionism to the inspiration for artists, writers, designers and architects. With its proximity to rocky coastline and rolling hills, Greenwich is New England village and New York suburb; global and local in its interests, perspectives and influence. 

In our 381st year, and 90th year as a Historical Society committed to interpreting our evolving story, we invite you join us in voicing your hopes and dreams for the future of Greenwich!

I wish Greenwich’s beautiful beaches and parks are preserved and filled with the laughter of our children and grandchildren.
Hector Arzeno
That Greenwich will continue to grow and prosper for centuries to come. May God bless Greenwich.
Dmitri Wright
That Greenwich sets an example for America inaware, constructiv eprogress and a continuation of the wise moves that have made us the community we are today.
isabel

Greenwich Faces

At the Greenwich Historical Society, we preserve and interpret Greenwich history to strengthen the community’s connection to our past, to each other, and to our future.  Curator of Library and Archives, Christopher Shields, with the generosity of community volunteers, works to expand our collections of photographs, documents and artifacts thats tell rich and enduring stories of our town. Greenwich Faces showcases snapshots of the people who have called Greenwich “home” through the decades. Find more on our online image catalogue, and library archive.

Our new self-guided historic Greenwich Point Tour

Greenwich Point, originally Elizabeth Neck, was site of the original deed signing. In the years since, it has been farm land, Great Estate, golf course, veterans refuge, and a public space for recreation for the Greenwich residents to enjoy the beautiful coastline. Life -long resident and Historical Society researcher John Bridge presents a new self-guided online tour. Enjoy!  

This Place Matters! Photo Contest Winners

We are grateful for the many submissions to our annual This Place Matters! photo contest. We received heartwarming images of Greenwich residents coming together in support of each other, rallying, speaking out, pitching in, and offering support, reassurance, serenity and small glimpses of great joy in difficult circumstances. Thanks to Greenwich Magazine for selecting and featuring the winning photos in an upcoming issue!

FIRST PLACE: On the front line

By Tyler Sizemore

SECOND PLACE: Good Question

By David Kaplan

THIRD PLACE: Cos Cob Firehouse

By Sebastian Dostmann

Founders Day Stories

A Letter from Director Debra Mecky

Pride in community, state and nation is codified in stories of origins. In Greenwich we recognize the Town’s beginnings through the annual tradition of Founders Day. This year, during a time of protest and pandemic when we have committed to shine light on our Greenwich stories, the Historical Society invites you to join in a virtual Founders Day to explore places in Greenwich and look at a wide array of stories about our Town. But first, let’s consider how Founders Day began, what it commemorates and how we can do a better job and telling our Greenwich stories.

The first Founders Day was held in 1940, an era when the Town’s population had almost tripled between 1900 and 1940 from 12,000 to 35,500. There were impressive new public buildings, representative town government, a planning commission and a beautiful new parkway. But as forward looking as the Town was at that time, people also looked to the past to mark its importance as among the state’s earliest Colonial towns. Greenwich celebrated the Connecticut Tercentenary in 1935. And although not recognized as a separate town until 1665, Greenwich proudly celebrated its own Tercentenary five years later with great fanfare, adopted an official coat of arms, and established Founders Day.

The original proclamation read “that the eighteenth day of July shall henceforth be known as ‘FOUNDERS DAY’ and shall be recognized as such by the citizens of Greenwich and that the day shall be celebrated in appropriate manner as the Town Council may see fit and that all citizens shall be in attendance.”

July 18 commemorates the day a deed was signed in 1640 by indigenous, Munsee-speaking Indians who traded a parcel of land in southeastern Greenwich (today’s Old Greenwich) for twenty-five “Coates” to four English-born settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Often this story is told as the great bargain made that day at the expense of the native people to acquire Greenwich for bolts of cheap woolen fabric that was woven in England and served as currency for trade in the New World. This story is quickly followed by that of the brave and notorious colonial woman, Elizabeth Feake, who made a separate provision that day to acquire for herself Monakawego (today’s Greenwich Point). What a deal!

While Founders Day has become a civic vehicle to witness the reading of the original deed and to repeat the stories that tie us together as a community, it does not tell the older and longer story of the human occupation of Greenwich to pre-historic times (2500 to 1700 BC) and of the shell-fish gathering groups who camped on Greenwich Point (circa 1300 AD) for a century and later abandoned the site, perhaps giving rise to the name “Siwanoys” inscribed on Nikolaus Visscher’s 1685 map of the Connecticut shore.

The Woodland Indians who signed the deed were what remained of loosely organized local groups of Algonquin peoples descended from the Lenape Indians who occupied what is now New Jersey, southeastern New York State, southwestern Connecticut, eastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, a large geographical area that they later called Lenapehoking (Land of the Lenape). Although they were not united politically and had no written language, the Lenape spoke one of two dialects, “Munsee” in the north, and “Unami” in the south. They had never before seen tools or utensils made from copper, brass, iron or pewter and, once introduced to European textiles, greatly favored them to their native materials.

To shine light on this financial transaction in 1640, we need to reflect upon what we know today. The Native Americans, though distrustful of the English settlers, were unaware of the competition between European maritime powers to claim “Indian” lands. They did not think it was possible to “sell” land that had been created for the use of all creatures. They thought they would continue to have access to its waters and resources, but learned through conflict and violence that they were to be first forced off coastal sites like Greenwich, and ultimately driven from all of Lenapehoking.

Their lives, fortunes and traditional ways would forever be changed. Never a very large population, the estimated 8,000 to 12,000 natives of Lenapehoking declined dramatically after European contact attributable to colonial wars; diseases for which they had no natural immunity, the ill effects of alcohol to which they had no tolerance, and the domination of their territory and economy by the more powerful Susquenannok and Iroquois. By 1640 it is estimated that as few as 2,400 of the original inhabitants of Lenapehoking survived. Dispossessed of their traditional land, they migrated over time to Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

This year we have had our lives disrupted by an imported virus. It is sobering to reflect that that between 1500 and 1800, an estimated fifty million Native Americans died, chiefly of diseases brought by settlers to North America. Let’s recognize Founders Day in all the traditional ways, but let’s also do a better job in the coming years of learning more about the people whose lives were upended.

Note
To learn more about this period of American history, see Herbert Kraft, The Lenape: Archaeology, History and Ethnography (Newark: New Jersey Historical Society, 1986) and Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States (W. W. Norton & Co, 2018), part one.

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