The New England state of Connecticut is a vital part of the industrial and transportation corridor of the northeastern United States. One of the smallest U.S. states, it is bordered by Massachusetts on the north, Rhode Island on the east, Long Island Sound (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean) on the south, and New York on the west. Connecticut was first explored by Europeans in 1614, and the earliest white settlements were established in the 1630s. Manufacturing and service industries are the chief economic sectors in the state. Connecticut is the chief producer of submarines, aircraft engines, and helicopters in the United States. Several major insurance companies are headquartered in the state, mainly in and around Hartford, the state capital. The word Connecticut is derived from the Algonquian Indian quinnehtukqut, meaning “beside the long tidal river.”
Land & Resources
Connecticut is a scenic state, with many streams and extensive woodlands. It has 994 km (618 mi) of tidal shoreline. Only 0.3% of Connecticut’s land area is owned by the federal government.
Almost all of Connecticut lies within the geomorphic region known as the New England Upland (a low, dissected plateau sloping southward from Maine to Long Island Sound). It may be divided into three major physiographic regions–the Western Highlands, the Central Lowland, and the Eastern Highlands.
The Western Highlands, a rugged region of strong relief, rises to 598 m (1,962 ft) at Haystack Mountain and has the state’s highest point at Mount Frissell (725 m/2,380 ft) in the Taconic section of the northwest. The Central Lowlands, about 32 km (20 mi) wide, are fertile. The Eastern Highlands are less elevated than their western counterpart; the greatest elevation is nearly 400 m (1,300 ft), and most of the region consists of rolling terrain.
The Coastal Lowlands, a narrow strip along Long Island Sound, includes an indented shoreline where low, rocky headlands alternate with smooth, sandy beaches and broad, flat tidal marshes. Several small islands lie off the coast, among which Masons Island, near Mystic, is the largest.
Rivers and Lakes
The valleys of Connecticut contain more than 13,000 km (8,075 mi) of rivers and streams; most flow in a generally north-south direction. The state’s principal waterway is the CONNECTICUT RIVER, which flows through parts of the Central Lowlands and the Eastern Highlands before entering Long Island Sound; its chief tributary in the state is the Farmington River.
The major stream in western Connecticut is the HOUSATONIC RIVER, which receives the Naugatuck River shortly before flowing into the Sound. The Eastern Highlands are drained by the extensive network of the Shetucket and Quinebaug rivers, whose waters combine a short distance before joining with the Yantic River to form the Thames, a broad river that empties into Long Island Sound.
Connecticut has numerous small natural lakes, the largest of which is Bantam Lake, near Litchfield. The state also has numerous artificial lakes, which are used for power production, flood control, and irrigation. The largest, Lake Candlewood, is near DANBURY.
Connecticut has a moderate climate, with four well-defined seasons and considerable diversity of weather over short time periods. The state as a whole receives ample precipitation, which is distributed more or less evenly throughout the year. Hurricanes occasionally strike along the shore, usually during August or September. BRIDGEPORT, on the coast, has a mean January temperature of -1 deg C (30 deg F) and an average July temperature of 23 deg C (74 deg F); it receives about 991 mm (39 in) of precipitation per year. HARTFORD, in the central part of the state, has a mean January temperature of -4 deg C (25 deg F) and an average July temperature of 23 deg C (74 deg F); it receives about 1,092 mm (43 in) of precipitation yearly.
Vegetation and Animal Life
Approximately 65% of Connecticut’s total area is covered by forestland, almost all of which is privately owned. Of relatively low commercial value, the forests are densest in the highland regions. Most of the trees are hardwoods, including white oak, hickory, ash, maple, beech, birch, and elm; softwoods include such evergreens as white pine, red pine, and hemlock. Among the numerous flowering plants found are mountain laurel, pink dogwood, white dogwood, azaleas, hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpits, and cowslips.
Connecticut has few large animals other than the white-tailed deer. Wild animals commonly found include rabbits, skunks, opossums, raccoons, beavers, squirrels, and foxes. Large numbers of game birds, such as ducks, ruffed grouse, pheasants, and quail, are found. The state’s many streams and lakes harbor large numbers of fish, notably bass, perch, pickerel, trout, and shad. Although the marine life in Long Island Sound near the shoreline has suffered because of pollution, flounder, smelt, porgy, clams, and mussels are still found.
Notable among Connecticut’s colonial structures are the Henry Whitfield house (built in 1639, now containing a museum) in Guilford, one of the oldest stone dwellings in New England. The Old State House (built in 1796 and now including a museum) is located in Hartford, along with the Mark Twain Memorial (the writer’s residence during the 1870s). Mystic Seaport, in Mystic, has been rebuilt as a facsimile of a 19th-century whaling town. In Groton a granite obelisk commemorates the battle of Fort Griswold in 1781. The town of Litchfield has many well-preserved colonial buildings.
Connecticut has a sizable tourist industry, and attracts vacationers both to its varied beaches and to the wooded hills in the western regions. More than 100 state parks and state forests are open to visitors.
When, early in the 17th century, the first Europeans arrived in present-day Connecticut, the area was sparsely inhabited by 6,000 Algonquian-speaking Indians, most of whom lived near the coast. Other Indian groups were the PEQUOT, who lived near the Thames River, and the closely related MOHEGAN (written about by James Fenimore COOPER in The Last of the Mohicans); the Niantic; the Quinnipiac; and the Wangunk.
Adriaen BLOCK, a Dutch navigator, discovered the Connecticut River in 1614 and claimed the region for the Dutch. A small Dutch trading fort, named the House of Hope, was built in 1633 on the site of modern Hartford, but was soon abandoned. Meanwhile, English settlers from the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony established settlements at Wethersfield, Hartford, New Haven, New London, Guilford, Milford, Saybrook, Windsor, and other places. The Pequot Indians tried to prevent white settlement, but they were soundly defeated in the PEQUOT WAR (1637). The settlements of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor joined together to form the Connecticut (or River) Colony, which adopted (1639) the Fundamental Orders, a constitution based on democratic principles.
In 1662 John Winthrop, Jr., governor of the Connecticut Colony (see WINTHROP family), obtained a royal charter that gave the colony considerable self-government and control of New Haven Colony. The latter reluctantly agreed to unite with the Connecticut Colony in 1665. Between 1685 and 1689, James II attempted to organize New England under one government; Connecticut, however, resisted and refused to turn over its charter. Colonists are believed to have hidden (1687) the document in the CHARTER OAK tree in Hartford. By the early 18th century, Connecticut farmers were producing agricultural products for export to the other American colonies, and the coastal towns traded with the West Indies. Connecticut also became known for its clocks, silverware, tinware, and shipbuilding.
By the 1770s the state had a population of nearly 200,000, most of whom favored independence from Great Britain. During the AMERICAN REVOLUTION, about 30,000 troops joined the Continental Army, and large amounts of food and provisions were contributed. Nathan HALE, from Connecticut, was hanged by the British in 1776 as a spy. A few battles were fought in Connecticut, among them skirmishes at Danbury (1777), New Haven (1779), and New London (1781).
Representatives from Connecticut played an important role at the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION of 1787, especially in promoting the so-called Connecticut Compromise, which helped establish the present method of apportioning representation in the U.S. Congress among the states. On Jan. 9, 1788, Connecticut became the fifth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Most of the state’s residents opposed the War of 1812, and New England representatives who opposed the war met at the HARTFORD CONVENTION in 1814-15.
During the first half of the 19th century, Connecticut’s economy grew considerably, with manufacturing overtaking agriculture by mid-century. The state was known for its textiles (including silk), clocks, firearms (notably the repeating revolver manufactured in Hartford by Samuel COLT), shipbuilding, and rubber products. Commerce, shipping, and insurance were also important.
Most residents of Connecticut opposed slavery, which was abolished in the state in 1848. During the Civil War the state sent more than 57,000 men to the Union army and supplied firearms, ammunition, and numerous ships. Industry in Connecticut continued to expand after the war; meanwhile, the state’s cities grew as immigrants arrived from Europe and Canada, many of them around the turn of the century.
Numerous industries were founded during World War I, when Connecticut was a major producer of war materiel, especially munitions. A U.S. naval base (now a submarine station) was established at Groton in 1917. The economy suffered a slump immediately after the war, however, recovering somewhat in the 1920s. The Depression of the 1930s seriously affected the state. Industrial output declined markedly, and the unemployment rate rose considerably. Some social-welfare legislation (including minimum-wage and unemployment-compensation laws) was passed during the administration (1931-39) of Gov. Wilbur L. Cross, a Democrat. The economy revived again during World War II, when Connecticut produced submarines, aircraft engines, ball bearings, firearms, and other items crucial to the U.S. war effort.
In the postwar period Connecticut, along with most of the United States, enjoyed relative prosperity. Some older cities, such as Bridgeport and Danbury, however, declined as manufacturers closed or moved to other parts of the country. Newer, diversified industries took hold, however, and Connecticut prospered; by the late 1980s its per capita income was among the nation’s highest.
- Area: 14,358 sq km (5,544 sq mi); rank: 48th.
- Capital: Hartford (1990 pop., 139,739).
- Largest city: Bridgeport (1990 pop., 141,686).
- Counties: 8.
- Elevations: Highest–725 m (2,380 ft), at Mount Frissell; lowest–sea level, at Long Island Sound.