100 Objects: A Town Born from Battle

Back in 2018, Westport Museum (then Westport Historical Society) did a year-long exhibit called “History of Westport in 100 Objects” in which we shared the nearly four hundred year history of the town using different objects. We are bringing back that always-popular exhibit here–virtually. Check back each week for a new post and photos of items that tell our collective story. Have a suggestion for an object to include? Email us a photo and description at virtualmuseum@westporthistory.org and we’ll consider including it on our facebook page. There was no “Westport” in the 1630s. Instead, using the Saugatuck River as the boundary, the town was divided between Fairfield and Norwalk. On the Fairfield side, many farmers settled along the Long Island Sound–amidst the original settlements of the Paugusset Natives who were “cousins” and allies of the larger, more powerful Pequot tribe. By 1637, there was all out “war” between the two groups. Originating in Massachusetts, Europeans hounded the Pequots all the way to the swampy area between what is now Southport and Greens Farms. The massacre that ensued was called the Great Swamp Fight and effectively ended the war and the Native presence in this part of the colony. The Native People who survived were either absorbed by other tribes or sold into slavery. Over the years, their presence has been erased except for the now familiar place names they left behind like Saugatuck and Aspetuck.

George Washington & The Disinformation Troll: A President’s Week Story

During President’s Day—and week—we hear many a story about the glory of George Washington. Today, historians are taking a holistic approach to viewing historical figures—observing all aspects of their life, in as much as the available record allows. One such interesting aspect was that the first President was the victim of an aggressive media troll. Propelled almost single-handedly by an individual acting as the tool of others, the attacks on the first President actually encouraged readers to go to the presidential mansion in Philadelphia to shout epithets and threats. The troll was Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson and apprentice of the more famous Ben Franklin. Bache published the Philadelphia Aurora newspaper and used it to print accusations largely based on information sent to him by those who opposed Washington’s policies. Back then, before the brief heyday of objective journalism some centuries later, there was nothing to stop Bache from excerpting material—or even lying—to create the story he wanted to tell. Without independent editorial oversight, his paper functioned very much like that of some modern-day “news” outlets: unchecked, heavy on opinion and bombast.* Yet Washington kept his own counsel—confidant that Bache’s unfounded fury would eventually fade in the light of the truth. Although, for more than a year after Washington retired, Bache continued his libelous attacks until his own death of Yellow Fever in 1798 at age 29.** Why was Bache so against George Washington? In part, because of Bache’s own self-importance—Bache was enraged that Washington refused to grant him (and others like him) fame and position in deference to the achievements of their famous forebears. But Washington was staunchly opposed to patronage—believing that just because things usually went someone’s way didn’t mean they always had to. Another reason for Bache’s pseudo-journalistic assaults was that he considered Washington an “outsider.” He did …