Early History of Canterbury
Before Canterbury was officially incorporated as Connecticut’s 38th town, it, along with neighboring Plainfield, was part of the “Quinebaug Plantation.” Named for the Quinebaug River (meaning “long-pond” in the language of the Nipmuc tribe that lived alongside it), the area was claimed by two powerful parties – Fitz-John Winthrop and his brother Wait who represented their deceased father former Connecticut Governor John Winthrop, and Major James Fitch of Norwich who was the agent and guardian of Owaneco, a son of the great Mohegan Sachem Uncas.
Major property disputes occurred between the two factions due to the fact the Court of Connecticut “allowed the governor his Indian purchase at Quinebaug and gave him liberty to erect thereon a plantation” while at the same time allowing Uncas to dispose of Quinebaug lands to Owaneco, who in turn sold or gave the land away. The Winthrop brothers founded their claim on a 1653 deed from Allumps (also known as “Hyem” but named in the deed as “James of Quinebaug) and his brother Massashowett, renegade Narragansetts with no legal title to the land, while Major Fitch founded his claim on Owaneco’s hereditary title of the Mohegan sachems.
In 1680, Owaneco granted title to Major Fitch several tracts of rich farmland on both sides of the Quinebaug River along with a neck of land “below the river island, Peagscomsuck” – an old Indian fort in the Quinebaug River whose name meant “a great brook.” In 1697, Major Fitch relocated with his second wife Alice and nine of their children to his land grant where he dug the first cellar and erected the first permanent house in what would eventually become Canterbury. For a long time, the estate that Fitch named “Kent” was the only settlement between Norwich and Woodstock making it a popular place for weary travelers to stop during their journeys.
For years, land squabbles and disputes continued between the settlers on the east side of the Quinebaug River and those on the west. In an effort to finally end them, when Fitz-John Winthrop, the son of John Winthrop II, Governor of the Colony of Connecticut for 18 years, was elected as governor himself in 1698, he petitioned the General Court for confirmation of the boundaries of his father’s land claims. Though several surveys followed, nothing was settled and the disputes continued.
Finally on May 9, 1699, settlers on both the east and west sides of the Quinebaug Plantation petitioned the General Court to be designated as a town while also asking for “a righteous laying out of lots and divisions of lands and meadows as … it is well known that this place lyeth under many pretended claims besides our honorable Governor’s claim …” When the petition was finally granted, the town was organized and officially incorporated. In October 1700 the Quinebaug Plantation was renamed “Plainfield” by Governor Fitz-John Winthrop in tribute to its fertile fields.
Though now officially Connecticut’s 35th town, disputes over property boundaries raged on with no relief in sight until settlers on the western side of the Quinebaug River took charge of their own affairs and petitioned to become a town of their own. The petition was granted, town lines were drawn following the river from north to south, and on October 14, 1703, the Connecticut General Assembly granted that “the inhabitants on the west side of the river shall have the privileges of a township, and that the name of the town shall be Canterbury.”
Source: History of Windham County,Connecticut:1600-1702 by Ellen D. Larned
Canterbury’s favorite fall festival - Old Home Day - will be returning to the Canterbury Green after several years hiatus and we’ve got a long list of vendors and exhibitors who will be joining us on Saturday, September 30th from 10 am to 3 pm. With over 50...