Groton Bank is a historic village on the east bank of the Thames River in Groton, Connecticut. Geographically, it comprises less than a half square mile - about 1 % of the Town of Groton and about 10% of the Town's major subdivision, the City of Groton. Today the Groton Bank neighborhood contains a few hundred houses, three churches, a library, two museums, a Revolutionary War fort and business structures dating primarily from Colonial times to a century ago. Groton Bank and Fort Griswold are separate but adjacent Historic Districts listed on the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places.
In 1655, the ferry operator Cary Latham became the first permanent English settler on the east bank of the Thames River when it was part of the Pequot Colony, which later became New London. After Groton became a separate town in 1705, the east bank of the river became known as Groton Bank and grew to become a major village in the town. In centuries following, Groton Bank became a national and world leader in shipbuilding, site of the only major Revolutionary War battle in Connecticut (Sept. 6, 1781), active in West Indies trade, the key defense (Fort Griswold) of the Thames Harbor and Connecticut in the War of 1812, a transportation hub, the town’s early center of business and commerce, home to some of the most famous captains of the whaling era, as well as other prominent sea captains, and the residence of many leading citizens, including a congressman.
Early Groton Bank history is intertwined with New London’s - many famous whaling captains and others sailing out of the New London harbor and a number of New London’s prominent businessmen resided in the Groton Bank. Beginning in 1881, part of Groton Bank began to take on the name Groton Heights in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Revolutionary War Battle of Groton Heights fought here on September 6, 1781. In 1903 Groton Bank’s progressive residents were key to establishing the much geographically larger Borough of Groton, now the City of Groton and the use of the name Groton Bank declined until 1970 when residents founded the Groton Bank Historical Association and began to revive the area and its history.
Today Groton Bank retains its village character of earlier times with a spectrum of village architectural styles including Colonial; Federal; Greek Revival; Victorian with its sub-styles of Italianate, Mansard, Carpenter Gothic, Stick style, Queen Anne, and Cottage style; Shingle style; Old English; English Tudor; Richardson-Romanesque; and Neo-classical—all in an area of only about a dozen square blocks. Many of these structures retain their original appearance. Since Groton Bank’s 19th century residents were prosperous some of them enlarged or added “modern” features to their earlier era houses. For example, some colonial and Greek Revival houses have later additions or embellishments such as Victorian bay windows or porches.
The map of the Historic Village of Groton Bank at the right is from the Soule, Ellis and Beers, 1868 Atlas of New London County Connecticut
The War of 1812 in Connecticut
Groton Bank, Fort Griswold and the Thames River Harbor
The Thames River Harbor, generally called New London Harbor, was Connecticut's major center of continuous activity and strongest area of defense in the War of 1812. Beginning June 1, 1813, a British fleet, commanded by Sir Thomas Hardy, chased Commodore Stephen Decatur's three-ship squadron into the Thames River and blockaded them here until the end of the War. Decatur quickly recognized that Fort Griswold, high on the hill above the village of Groton Bank, was in an eminent position to defend the harbor and he helped strengthen it with cannon from his ships before his squadron sought refuge further up the river.
Remembering the British bloody massacre of colonists here in 1781, and fearing a repeat, residents were in a panic and began evacuating themselves and valuable belongings from Groton Bank and New London in the early days of June 1813. At this time Groton Bank's "Mother" (Anna Warner) Bailey became a national heroine for the act of removing her flannel petticoat while crossing Thames Street and giving it to soldiers for cannon wadding.
In contrast to 1781, the Governor quickly deployed thousands of Connecticut State Militia, principally assigned to Fort Griswold and points along the Groton bank of the Thames River, and also to the smaller shore-level Fort Trumbull, the area's military headquarters in New London. These troops were in addition to Connecticut Eighth Regiment of Volunteers, commanded by Groton Bank's Major Noyes Barber. In addition, on June 19, 1813 the Secretary of War ordered that Fort Griswold be put in complete repair. When an attack no longer seemed imminent residents of both towns returned.
For 20 months from mid-1813 through 1814 the British fleet off the mouth of the river was frequently maneuvering and exercising their guns, keeping residents of Groton Bank and New London in constant fear of an attack. But an attack never occurred here perhaps due to the the strong harbor defense. Eastern Long Island Sound, off the mouth of the Thames River, was the British command center. On June 25, 1813 the American "torpedo" ship "Eagle" exploded while being brought to the war ship of the British commander causing him to intensify actions in Long Island Sound. By autumn 1813, more British war ships were stationed off the mouth of the Thames River than any where on the American coast. The British fleet blockaded trade, captured or burned many American vessels, fired on several of Connecticut's lesser defended coastal towns, and ordered a number of raids along our coast including the Battle at Roger's Farm west of New London (Nov. 28, 1813), the Raid on Essex (April 5, 1814), the Battle of Stonington (Aug. 9-12, 1814), and the Battle of Groton Long Point (Aug. 12, 1814).
An attack on Groton and New London never occurred probably due to the strong harbor defenses at Fort Griswold and along the banks of the Thames River.
For a detailed account of the Thames River and Fort Griswold in the War of 1812, see Connecticut History, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 64-74 (Spring 2013).