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The area known today as Windham and Willimantic had been a land inhabited by Native people for thousands of years. According to archaeologists, the earliest evidence of occupation in this region occurred between 15,000 to 9,000 years ago during the Paleo-Indian Period. Paleo-Indian sites have been found in Southeastern Connecticut and the artifacts found there suggest Indigenous people lived in small, highly mobile communities, relying on hunting big game such as caribou. The Archaic period occurred between 9,000 to 2,500 years ago and are among the most common early sites in eastern Connecticut, which point to seasonal mobility and the use of diversified tool kits which suggest a wide range of subsistence activities. The Woodland period extended from around 2,500 years ago through the 17th century and was distinguished by the introduction of maize (corn), the development of horticulture, and the adoption of bow and arrow technology - for a sample of such artifacts, see the Fishkin Native American Lithic Collection. Native populations expanded and communities adopted more sedentary villages but maintained seasonal mobility. Although there is little known about Willimantic and Northeast Connecticut prior to the 1660's, the Willimantic River and its confluence with the Shetucket might have been Native boundaries, perhaps between the Mohegan and Nipmuc groups, with current day Willimantic likely inhabited by the Nipmuc people. The area was claimed as Mohegan land in the years following the Pequot War of 1636-1637, along with much of Eastern Connecticut. The name Willimantic River, which in turn gave name to the European settlement on its banks, is of Algonquian origin. Its exact meaning is unclear but this place name likely refers to “good cedar swamp” or “where the river winds about a bold hill.”
Rise of Windham and Willimantic, 1633-1795
Eastern's first Digital Windham course (HIS 388) explored Willimantic's more recent history, and was co-taught by Drs. Kirchmann and Ostwald in Fall of 2020. Over the course of the semester, students researched and created timelines of key events in the town's history. Eastern History and American Studies graduate Allen Horn ('21) compared and edited those into the interactive timelines below. Individual student contributions are credited in the Items records.
You can navigate the timelines either by clicking on the > arrow, dragging the mini-timeline at the bottom of the image, or clicking on specific events in the mini-timeline.