An overview and short history
Only a few years after the Pilgrims settled the Bay Colony, the Rev. Henry Whitfield and his followers left London to establish new lives in Connecticut. Aboard the St. John when it set sail May 20, 1639, under the command of Capt. Richard Russell, was "John Parmelin," the Parmelee family's patriarch, who was on his way to join his son, John Jr., who had sailed to America four years before on the Elizabeth and Ann.
(No members of John Jr.'s family are listed on the passenger rosters, although the wives and children of some men are.)
Before that first ship of the three-vessel Whitfield fleet arrived at New Haven in early July, the men aboard pledged their lives and futures toward the good of the entire party by signing the Plantation Covenant. John Sr.'s name -- though not his signature -- appears on a contemporary copy of the document dated June 1, 1639.
The Whitfield party -- and the reunited Parmelees -- stayed only a few weeks in New Haven before setting out with their dogs, cattle and furniture to establish a plantation to the east at Manunkatuck that September. The newcomers made their initial land purchase from a sachem squaw, Shaumpishuh, with the Pequots consenting on Sept. 29/Oct. 9, 1639. Land from the Ruttawoo [East River] to Agicomook [Stone Creek] was signed over to the Englishmen for a wagonload of trinkets:
|The deed remained in the hands of the
planters until they formed a church and decided how to
divide the land. The planters laid out their home lots,
parceling out land long ago cleared by Native Americans
for their cornfields. Allotments were made in accordance
with wealth: Every 100 pounds of their estate brought the
family 5 acres of upland and 6 of salt meadow. No family
was allowed more than 500 pounds' equivalence nor less
than 50 pounds'. After additional purchases were made in
1641, '45, '63 and '86, the settlement comprised more
than 53,000 acres, including East Guilford [now Madison].
Like many early settlers, the Guilford planters set about recreating a life they had left in England on these heavily wooded peninsular necks of Long Island Sound. Whitfield's stone house, right, built that first autumn with the help of paid Indian labor, is one of the oldest dwelling houses standing in the United States today. It was the scene of the first worship services and used as the townspeople's protection from hostile Native Americans and other European settlers.
The original settlement numbered about 40 families, with most of the settlers making do those first years with tents, wigwams or roofed-over cellar holes while their houses were being built. On June 19, 1643, the planters established their government: "The Seven Pillars," seven members of the church who acted as a legislature and court and held the town lands in trust for the inhabitants. On July 6, 1643, court records simply state that "Manunkatuck named Guilforde." That same month Guilford became part of the New Haven Colony, an accord that benefited them both: Guilford had sought protection from the Native Americans, Dutch and Swedes; New Haven was anxious to seem larger and more important in the eyes of the Bay Colony to the north.
The 2010 U.S. Census pegged Guilford's population at 22,375 -- much of that growth coming in the previous 50 years. In 1730, the town had 1,630 inhabitants. That figure had not even doubled by the close of the Civil War, when the population reached 2,275 in 1870. Nearly a century after that -- 1958 -- the headcount had reached just 6,400. Nearly 400 years have passed and still you can find Parmelees in Guilford!