Turning Pages

Turning Pages

Published 15 years after the tercentenary for which it was commissioned, Rollin G. Osterweis’s Three Centuries of New Haven (1953)—which you can access at local libraries or buy from indie booksellers—is broad enough to be the starting point of choice for local history research. It’s also deep enough to enlighten us directly, as I reconfirmed yesterday while flipping through my copy:

Page 28
It’s 1641, just three years after the founding, and an expedition from New Haven claims “nearly the whole southwestern coast of New Jersey and a tract of the present site of Philadelphia”—and provokes a war with Dutch and Swedish settlers.

Pages 73-4
It’s 1680, and “the people of Connecticut,” now including New Haveners, “enjoy ‘neighborly correspondence’ with Massachusetts but not with Rhode Island.” New Haven, meanwhile, appears to be struggling—“a poor seaport town in a rather dull colony.”

Page 101
It’s 1715 or so, and a “thriving” barter trade emerges over sea between New Haven and Boston. New Haven’s offerings are basic: “farm products, furs, lumber, and sail cloth.” Boston’s are advanced: “books, hardware, weaving implements, dishes, clothing, drugs, instruments for navigation, and agricultural tools.”

Page 152
It’s 1775, at the onset of the American Revolution, and Yale’s 200 students make it the largest of America’s nine colleges. War causes enrollment to plunge to 125 by 1777, though it would balloon to 270 by the war’s official end in 1783.

Page 196
It’s 1800, and the populist spirit of the French Revolution and the election of Thomas Jefferson is reflected in New Haven’s fashion sense. Men of high status wear “the same workmen’s pantaloons as the man on the street,” while women shed the “elaborate silks” prized not long before in favor of “light muslin dresses, low-necked and sleeveless and draping naturally over the figure.”

Pages 251-2
It’s 1832, and New Haven is renowned for its fine carriages, especially those made by Brewster and Company, whose recent customers include President Andrew Jackson and his incoming vice president, Martin Van Buren.

Page 288
It’s the first half of the 19th century, and black New Haveners are “so completely separated from the rest of the community,” including by being barred from participation in the political process, that they begin to hold their own elections—replete with “parades, speeches, and lavish entertainment”—for “‘African Governors,’ who were accorded a certain amount of unofficial power and prestige.”

Page 332
It’s 1867, and the city’s Court of Common Council is thanking a councilman named Henry G. Lewis, who would go on to be mayor, for “introducing the squirrel to our parks.”

Page 399
It’s 1908, and New Havener Clifford W. Beers has just “inaugurated the Mental Hygiene Movement… Improved care of emotionally disturbed patients, all over the world, thus began in the Elm City.”

Page 424
It’s 1938, and tercentenary celebrations are giving New Haveners “a sense of achievement reaching back into the distant dawn of American history.”

And thanks, in part, to Three Centuries of New Haven, it’s 2021, and we can still sense it.

Written by Dan Mims. Image sourced from Three Centuries of New Haven (1953).

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