(c) Connecticut Explored, Summer, 2023
By Kathy Hermes
Back in 2010 I had the great fortune to join a National Endowment of the Humanities summer institute called “The American Maritime People” at Mystic Seaport’s Munson Institute. For five weeks a group of professors, professional sailors (including a sea captain), musicians, and writers studied maritime history with a variety of maritime experts. We got to go out on Long Island Sound on a whaling boat and climb the rigging of one of Mystic’s old ships. At the research center, I read journals of sea captains headed to the West Indies, Hawaii, and the Pacific. It was there in Mystic that I began thinking about how much islands mattered to the history of Connecticut.
In this issue we’ll read about islands (including Pine Island, Outer Island, and Thirty Mile Island, also known as Haddam Island) that once bustled with inhabitants and visitors and now lie devoid of residents as well as those far distant from Connecticut, like the West Indies and Puerto Rico.
The sea and rivers were once the superhighways of commerce and culture. If one wanted to travel quickly and carry lots of goods from place to place, ships were the means to do so. Islands were essential to the mainland. They could provide refuge for people, or sequester some people away from others. They could house industries that provided work for fishermen, laborers, and domestic workers.
Yet islands are not just physical plots of land surrounded by water. They are also conceptual. Enclaves and neighborhoods can all become symbolic islands, separated from symbolic mainlands. As people from the island of Puerto Rico migrated to the Willimantic area of Windham, they were determined to be part of the larger community. Although it took several decades, Puerto Ricans have been able to become part of the fabric of their new home there. Like most immigrants, theirs is a story of perseverance against obstacles as well as one of cultural and economic contributions. LGBTQ+ visitors to East Haddam, on the other hand, sought a sanctuary, another kind of island. These stories remind us that in the land of steady habits, there always was more complexity and change than often met the eye.
We have a new feature in the magazine called Snapshots! Don’t forget to take our quiz! Our Spotlight section always provides information about the many wonderful things happening in Connecticut. Enjoy the summer, and be sure to take time to visit some of the islands in our beautiful state!
Connecticut Explored Board of Directors:
Ken Wiggin, President. Olivia White, Secretary
Edward Spinella, Treasurer Clarissa Ceglio
Darlene Kascak Michael Markowicz
Answers to quiz on Snapshots page: A, C, C, A