The area contained within the present limits of the City of Bridgeport possessed remarkable qualities that made it attractive for settlement by indigenous peoples in the
millennia prior to European colonization.
It included areas of level, almost stone-free soil in glacial outwash plains that supported agricultural production.
The protected estuary of the Pequonnock and smaller nearby rivers sheltered an abundance of waterfowl and marine life.
And, unusual for the north shore of Long Island Sound, there were relatively few marshy areas to serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other bothersome insects.
Accordingly, the population of this region was substantial in the precolonial period (indeed, the lands within the margin of Long Island Sound are said to have sustained the largest population density in North America).
The Native American name "Pequonnock" signified "cleared land" or "broken ground", an indication of the prevailingly agricultural nature of the territory. Prior to the mid-17th century epidemics and displacements at least 10 semi permanent villages were extant within the city and its immediate environs.
These were mostly large encampments with 50 to 100 wigwams, and were usually situated on bodies of fresh or salt water with one or more bluffs surrounding to afford protection from attack.
Light, alluvial soils were a requirement for the production of maize, beans, squash, Jerusalem artichokes, gourds and tobacco.
Fish and shellfish were an important component of the local diet, along with deer and wildfowl obtained by hunting; white oak, chestnut, and shagbark hickory, common in the coastal woodland, provided a protein supplement.
The intensive use of Bridgeport's lands by native people precluded European
incursion until a relatively late date and left something of a written record of the settlement pattern. Additionally,
the considerable portion of the city's area
that is built up has caused the disturbance of numerous graves and artifacts over the last two centuries.
These finds frequently created enough interest that they were recorded in newspapers and volumes of local history, cumulatively resulting in a fairly thorough knowledge of the sites occupied by Native American settlements, burial grounds and ceremonial sites.
Following is a discussion of the known locations:
Deacon's Point was located on the easterly shore of Yellow Mill Pond,
approximately between the present Barnum Avenue and Deacon Street. It derives its name from a 17th-century proprietor, a ruling
elder of the Stratford church. The site was a long, narrow peninsula jutting into shallow salt water that was notable for scallop and duck populations (the salt creek on the east side was filled at the end of the last century for industrial development).
Shell middens were noted at the foot of Holly Street at the time housing development commenced there at the close of the Civil War, and a burial ground was uncovered in 1891 as basements were dug for houses on Barnum Avenue opposite Mill Hill Avenue.
Perhaps most significant, however, and indicative of the reverence native people felt for this location was the stone medicine wheel--a veritable North American Stonehenge--that was built on the banks of the creek. The medicine wheel consisted of round granite posts about seven feet in height, arranged In concentric circles. It remained in place until 1846, when the New York and New Haven Railroad ran its track line through the site of the megalith.
"We dug out loads and loads of these posts and threw them into the mill pond (with) brush and limbs and heaped dirt upon them," recalled one of the construction laborers in Orcutt's 1884 History of
Stratford and Bridgeport. A Mr. Tuttle of Stratford heard about the mysterious relics being disposedí of and had one of the posts hauled to his front yard and set up as a curiosity. It remains there to this day at 753 Stratford Avenue, near Bond's Dock.
Golden Hill apparently existed as a village location long prior to the
establishment of an 80-acre reservation here in 1659. The village is thought to have been at the base of the hill on its south flank, near the present-day intersection of Fairfield Avenue
and Harrison Street. This was the location of a powerful spring, the outlet of an underground river that flows through a porous seam of limestone from the vicinity of New Milford.
The spring flowed out to a lake, long since filled, that extended from Broad to Courtland Streets and from Fairfield Avenue almost to State Street. Burial grounds associated with this community were unearthed when Prospect School (site
of the present Sears store) was expanded in 1870, and when the Sydney Bishop residence (site of L'Ambience Plaza) was constructed in May, 1883.
Harbor Bluff was a site about which but little is known. It fronted on Bridgeport Harbor at the foot of a small hill that was leveled in the 19th century.
It was located to the east of the present Main Street and was bisected by the former Drouve Street, or immediately to the south of the Connecticut Turnpike. Graves were disturbed when houses were constructed here in the 1830s and '40s.
Indian Island was a village location in active use into the 19th century. Situated on the Pequonnock River where East Washington Avenue crosses at the present time, the location at the narrows of a tidal inlet provided excellent
opportunities for fish and turtle harvesting and was readily defensible as well. The island (a marshy creek separating it from the mainland was filled in the 1830s) was the site of another significant fresh-water spring.
Known in its later years as the "Nimrod Lot" after a 17th-century individual Pocummuc (nicknamed by European settlers after Genesis 10:8 --"Wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty
hunter before the Lord."). This site was sold off by the Golden Hill tribe in 1802. A burial ground with numerous elaborate graves was "greatly disturbed"
during construction of the Housatonic Railroad (1836-8).