Nell Dorr: Only Beauty Remains

Context Matters 

Social events do not occur in a vacuum nor should they be interpreted as such. To try and understand a person of historical import, we must first explore the time in which they lived and the situations that shaped them. In order to provide historical context this exhibit is produced in “layers”.

The catalogue offers greater detail about Nell Dorr’s life and work and the online exhibition shares details about the world in which the photographer lived and how events may have influenced or shaped her artistic view. In each section of the exhibit and throughout the catalogue, you will find a QR code that will allow you to learn more. 

The online exhibit is a compliment to the full exhibition at the museum. All of the materials here are exclusive to the online version. Select a topic area to see associated objects, explore resources and learn about Nell Dorr.

Explore resources and other readings to get a better understanding of the world Dorr was apart of.

Green’s Farms Church & the West Parish of Fairfield, 1711-1736

The establishment of the Congregational Church of America dates back to the founding of this nation with the arrival of religious dissenters from England to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620. Called Puritans in England — a derogatory term referring to their zeal for simplicity in church organization and worship — they believed each church should be organized with members who enter a covenant agreement and had the right to choose their own minister.

In the 1630s and 1640s, thousands of Puritans arrived in New England and flourished with the conviction that they were chosen by God to play a central role in the unfolding of this new land and human history at large. As such, churches and church leaders played an important role in shaping New England society. The organizational system of Congregational churches required mutual trust and personal commitment, yet this was not always a given. Voting in Massachusetts was limited to individuals who had been formally admitted to the church after a detailed interrogation of their religious views and experiences. Thomas Hooker disagreed with the limitation of suffrage in the Massachusetts Colony and in 1636, led one hundred followers to found Hartford. After 1636, freeman (eligible voter) settlements were formed throughout Connecticut.

In 1639, Roger Ludlowe and a group of settlers from Windsor came to modern day Fairfield and formed The First Church of Fairfield. By 1644, Fairfield was the fourth largest town among the colony’s nine towns and extended from Stratford to Norwalk. As populations grew and church attendance was mandatory, groups began campaigning for the right to establish their own parishes.  In 1708, the Bankside farmers, Thomas Newton, John Green, Henry Gray, Daniel Frost and Francis Andrews started their petition to form the West Parish of Fairfield, which is the modern day Green’s Farm Church in Westport.

Dive in and learn more about the history of Westport, the quintessential New England town

Bankside Farmers, 1648-1711

When Connecticut was a British colony, the area east of the Saugatuck River to the border of Fairfield and west of the Mill River was known as Green’s Farms. Thomas Newton, John Green and Henry Gray were given a land grant to settle the area in 1648 with Daniel Frost and Francis Andrews joining them within a few years. The group later became known as the Bankside Farmers. In subsequent generations, others like Joshua Jennings possessed landholdings encompassing a large parcel of Green’s Farms. 

Settlers cultivated the rich soil of Greens Farms initially for their own subsistence and later for commercial profit. Positioned on the Long Island Sound, Green’s Farms was also a seafaring community which tapped into the export trade. Flax was grown for linen, and corn–also known by the Native name maize–was grown for the settlers’ families, their cattle, and for export to the Caribbean where it was used to feed enslaved people. 

Food was also harvested from the sea and fish, clams, and oysters were part of the bounty. Fish and lobsters were so plentiful they were also used for fertilizer. 

Dive in and learn more about the history of Westport, the quintessential New England town

The Revolution & Early Republic, 1778 – 1806

At the beginning of 1778, the Revolutionary War was in its third year. Colonies such as Connecticut were divided among Patriots and Loyalists. Here in Westport many of the early founding families played a significant roles in the war including the Couches, Chapmans, Wakemans, Sherwoods, Jennings, Jesups, Coleys, Burrs and Hydes.    

Some families, like the Bennett family, who lived at what is now South Compo Road were divided in a common scenario. Only one-third of Americans were pro-Revolution, another third were pro-Loyalist and the last third had no preference either way. Both sides often required locals to sign “loyalty oaths”. Once the war ended, Loyalists’ property was seized and many were driven from their communities.  

Among the thirty-seven patriot soldiers buried at Greens Farm Church is Ebenezer Jesup, a surgeon serving the Continental Army at Valley Forge.  Reverend Hezekiah Ripley of Greens Farm Church served as the army’s chaplain. In 1779 the British burned the church and parsonage which stood on what is now Sherwood Island Connector.  

Regardless of where Westporters loyalties lay, the Revolution drew a heavy toll on local families. As the war dragged on, the economy faltered as commerce was impacted in harbor towns like Westport that were normally accustomed to trading with British ports in the West Indies. In Connecticut, a Patriot stronghold, the Continental Army requisitioned supplies from locals but just as often the British destroyed farms, homes, and animals so that Patriots could not have use of them. 

Once the war was won, the business of nation-building began and each new state, including Connecticut, threw itself into the creation of a national Constitution. At the turn of the 19th century, Eli Whitney brought invention to Connecticut with a firearms factory to New Haven in 1798. Whitney’s invention of the cotton mill revolutionized the textile industry throughout the nation by enabling mass processing of cotton to feed the growing mill industry in New England–thereby solidifying Connecticut’s complicity in entrenching the practice of slavery in the American South. 

Dive in and learn more about the history of Westport, the quintessential New England town