Nicknamed “The Whaling City,” New London is a seaport city and a port of entry on the northeast coast of the United States. It is located at the mouth of the Thames River (pronounced as to rhyme with “James”). New London has also been recently designated a “Coast Guard City,” indicating its longstanding relationship with the Coast Guard and its commitment to the members of the Coast Guard family.
John Winthrop Jr. founded the first English settlement here in 1646, making it about the 13th town in Connecticut. The area was called Nameaug by the Pequot Indians, but inhabitants informally named it Pequot after the tribe. The Connecticut General Assembly wanted to name it Faire Harbour, but the citizens protested, declaring that they would prefer it to be called Nameaug. The Legislature relented, and March 10, 1658, the town was officially named after London, England.
The harbor was considered to be the best deep-water harbor on Long Island Sound, and consequently, New London became a base of American naval operations during the Revolutionary War. Famous New Londoners during the American Revolution include Nathan Hale, William Coit, Richard Douglass, Thomas and Nathaniel Shaw, Gen. Samuel Parsons, printer Timothy Green and the Rev. Samuel Seabury.
Connecticut’s independent legislature, in its January session of 1784, made New London one of the first of two cities brought from de facto to formalized incorporations. For several decades beginning in the early 19th century, New London was the second-busiest whaling port in the world, trailing only New Bedford, Massachusetts. The wealth that whaling brought into the city furnished the money to fund much of the city’s present architecture.
The New Haven and New London Railroad connected New London by rail to New Haven and points beyond by the 1850s, and the Springfield and New London Railroad connected New London to Springfield, Massachusetts, by the 1870s.
The family of Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, and most of his own first 26 years, were intimately connected to New London. He lived there for years, and as an adult was employed and wrote his first seven or eight plays in the city. A major O’Neill archive is at Connecticut College. The boyhood summer home of O’Neill is also located in New London. The Monte Cristo Cottage, which is a National Historic Landmark, is operated as a museum by the O’Neill Theater Center. Dutch Tavern on Green Street was a favorite watering hole of O’Neill and still stands today.