In May, 1639, a band of puritans led by the Rev. Henry Whitfield left England to seek religious freedom in the New World. They set sail for Quinnipiac (New Haven) and arrived there later that summer. After negotiating with the local Native Americans, who were represented by the squaw sachem (female chief) Shaumpishih, the group purchased land halfway between New Haven and Saybrook. There they established the plantation of Menuncatuck, which would later be known as Guilford.
Like most 17 th century New England towns, Guilford was organized around a common, or green. The first houses were small huts with thatched roofs, wooden walls, and dirt floors. Guilford, unlike other villages, had no protective palisade fence surrounding the community. Instead they built four large stone houses for the leaders of the plantation. These homes were strategically located and used for shelter during times of danger. Life in Guilford was extremely primitive and resembled a medieval village for several generations.
Later in the 17 th century, Guilford became part of the New Haven Colony and then the Connecticut Colony. Guilford’s William Leete was one of the first governors of these colonies. By the 18 th century, the town had become a thriving coastal community with agriculture and the sea supporting the economy.
The medieval style of houses was replaced by the colonial style, with many of them surviving to this day. During the Revolutionary War, Guilford was attacked by British troops from New York. The local militia was able to defeat the invaders.
In the 19 th century, with an expanding shipbuilding and maritime trade and with the coming of the railroad, industries such as foundries, canneries, shoe shops, and carriage makers evolved. Quarries opened and supplied local granite to the world, including blocks for the base of the Statue of Liberty. Guilford’s own Fitz-Greene Halleck was hailed as America’s first poet and is honored with a statue in New York’s Central Park.
By the end of the 19 th and into the 20 th century, Guilford became a summer destination for Victorian vacationers from near and far. Fine hotels, restaurants, and summer cottages sprang up in Mulberry Point, Sachem’s Head, Indian Cove, and Leete’s Island. With the coming of the interstate highway system, Guilford’s once-small population has risen to a year-round community of approximately 22,000 people.
Guilford’s natural scenic beauty, its Green, its historic houses, and its thriving business community guide the citizens of Guilford toward a promising future.