Milford City Hall is located at 110 River Street, Milford, CT 06460; phone: 203-783-3210.
In the summer of 1637, when the Connecticut and Massachusetts militia were pursuing the remnants of the Pequot tribe along the Connecticut coast, most of the soldiers were interested only in the whereabouts of the Indians, but Sergeant Thomas Tibbals noticed the region about the mouth of the Wepawaug (Wepowage) that is today Milford, and appraised it as an ideal spot for a settlement.
The river wound through meadow and woodland, spilling its waters, by way of a deep, rocky gorge, into a long arm of the sea. Though not navigable above the gorge, the stream was large enough to furnish abundant water for livestock and the necessary power for turning mill wheels. A half mile farther to the east was another small stream. Their two inlets almost completely surrounded a triangular neck of land. The inlet of the Wepawaug River formed a natural harbor for more than a mile upstream, sufficiently deep to permit the entrance and anchorage of vessels. The other inlet, very shallow and at low tide a wide expanse of mud and marsh, formed the mouth of the East (Indian) River, later the eastern boundary of the settlement. The shore line with its sweep of curving beach extended westward from the mouth of the harbor to the Housatonic River. A long narrow peninsula at the extreme west, now Milford Point, had been for many years the site of a large Indian village and the scene of many an Indian oyster feast. The shells were scattered thickly over nearly twenty-four acres.
A mile and a half southwest from the mouth of the harbor, an island of about fourteen acres, partly wooded and partly open meadow, rose from the sea; a rocky bar awash at half-tide connected it with the mainland. The beaches abounded with clams; the harbor and the East River, with blue crabs; and the waters of the Sound, with lobsters and fish of many kinds.
Game was plentiful in the surrounding forests. There was an abundance of both hard and soft woods—oak, chestnut, butternut, hickory, maple, red cedar, hemlock, and elm. Wild beach plums, growing in profusion along the shore, offered fruit for preserves and jelly.
Who were the first settlers in Milford? Where did they come from? During the reign of Charles I, increasing numbers of people were migrating to New England because they were no longer willing to accept the tenets of the established Church of England, and had been persecuted by the prelates of the English Church for their non-conformity. In May, 1637, the Hector sailed from London to Boston, carrying a company gathered by John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton of London. Five weeks later another ship arrived with a group headed by Peter Prudden, a native of Hertfordshire. Among the original Milford settlers known to be of this company were Edmund Tapp, James Prudden, William Fowler, Thomas and Hannah Buckingham, Thomas Welch, Richard Piatt, Henry Stonehill, and William East, all from Hertfordshire. The new arrivals stayed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for almost a year, and were considered such desirable colonists that efforts were made to induce them to settle there permanently. Davenport and Prudden, however, desired to establish their own colony, and when the potentialities of the region at the mouth of the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut were verified by an expedition made in August, 1637, by Eaton and several others of the Davenport company, they decided that was the place to found their colony. Seven of Eaton's group stayed through the winter to hold the territory for the others. In April, 1638, Peter Prudden and a number of his followers sailed with the Davenport group from Boston, bound for the Quinnipiac.
From April, 1638, to the fall of 1639, the Prudden group was a part of the New Haven Colony. A separate allotment, known as the Hertfordshire section, was granted to them. They cleared the land, built houses, and planted crops. During the summer of 1638 Mr. Prudden preached at Wethersfield, and there attracted a devoted following, many of whom wished to found a new settlement where he would be their pastor. This crystallized the movement to found a separate colony among the Hertfordshire group in New Haven.
Of the original settlers of Milford, Thomas Tapping, Robert Treat, John Sherman, Thomas Tibbals, John Fletcher, George Hubbard, Richard Miles and Andrew Benton were Wethersfield recruits. Zachariah Whitman, Benjamin Fenn, and Thomas Sandford, from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and John Astwood, John Peacocke, Thomas Baker, Jasper Gunn, John Burwell, and Thomas Uffot from Roxbury, joined the Prudden group and went to the mouth of the Wepawaug. The Milford Colony was thus a settlement of Mr. Prudden's followers, recruited from towns in England and New England where he had preached, and held together by personal devotion to their leader.
During its first four years Milford developed from a wilderness, inhabited by wild animals and Indians, to a healthy, thriving village. The settlers had built dwellings, mostly of the "lean-to" type, with rent oak shingles and diamond-pane windows. The church, the backbone of every New England community, had been organized, the meetinghouse raised, and Peter Prudden ordained and installed as pastor. Trade was established, mostly coastwise to the eastward, although a few voyages are reported to have been made to far-off Virginia. The Fowler gristmill was busily engaged in converting the harvests of corn, buckwheat, and rye into flour and meal.
The town founders welcomed newcomers to the community, but they were careful to see that only those who had the proper qualifications were admitted. Applicants for residence had to present credentials of good character and godly life. They were required to join the church and to possess sufficient property to insure the town that they would not become public charges. Once admitted, the newcomers were granted land on equal terms with the other planters.
The early settlers were mostly farmers. Their first concern was to provide food for the community. As more land was cleared and the planters managed to produce a food surplus, artisans were in demand to meet other requirements of the town, and they were encouraged to come to Milford. Since the town was without anyone who knew the art of dressing skins and hides, Edward Adams was urged to learn the tanner's trade and to follow it in Milford as an inducement, he was granted on March 16, 1646, two acres of land in Mill Neck, with a proportionate piece of meadow land. In December, 1652, Henry Tomlinson, a weaver, made application for a homelot so that he might settle in the town and follow his trade. In return for agreeing to set up a weaver's shop, the town granted him a plot of land from the "elders' lot," with the proviso that if he should move away, he would surrender it to the town. He was also granted some farm land. A second tanner, Miles Merwin, set up his business in Milford in 1654, the town granting him an acre of land on the west side of Dock Lane, next to Alexander Bryan's warehouse.