The Port of Groton is located on Connecticut's Thames River on Long Island Sound about 70 kilometers east of the Port of New Haven and about 80 kilometers southwest of the Port of Providence, Rhode Island. Lying on the east banks of the Thames, Groton is part of the New London metropolitan area and is located just under five kilometers south of the US Navy's SUBASE. In 2000, almost 40 thousand people called the Port of Groton home.
The Port of Groton is home to two major corporations. The Electric Boat Corporation, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, is an important contractor for the work on submarines conducted at SUBASE (see New London). Pharmaceuticals company Pfizer is a another major employer in the Port of Groton area, operating a 55-hectare research and development facility there. The Port of Groton also has a regional University of Connecticut campus.
Before Europeans settled the area, the Nehantic peoples lived in the future Port of Groton area between the Pawcatuck and Thames Rivers. About one hundred years before European settlement, the Nehantics were attacked by an enemy tribe, the Pequots, that destroyed their village and their cornfields. The surviving Nehantics escaped to what would become Rhode Island.
The Pequots, a branch of the Mohawks, were a fearful people known for horrific tortures on their enemies. Their population grew and spread to the east into the Connecticut Valley. They eventually made their hub in the Port of Groton, building three villages in the area, where they found plentiful game. The Pequots used the area rivers for transportation.
White settlers first came to the Port of Groton area in 1614 to trade their goods for furs. They brought with them needles, boots, and steel knives that the Pequots prized. In 1633, the Dutch purchased land from the Pequots and got permission to trade there. The English settlement was further away from the tribes.
The first white settlers in the Port of Groton were farmers, but the land did not make it easy for them. Ancient glaciers had wiped the top soil away, and the land was rocky with many trees. After clearing the rocks and trees, the farmers raised livestock as well as crops. They raised cattle for dairy, pigs, sheep for wool, and oxen for farm work. Being on the water, commerce and trade soon became an important part of the life in the Port of Groton.
The Port of Groton became a shipbuilding town, and Groton traders traveled to Plymouth and Boston for goods. The sturdy Groton ships established a prosperous trade with the Caribbean Islands as well. Unfortunately, the French and Indian War brought hardship to the shipping community when the British Parliament closed the Port of Boston.
In 1781, the Battle of Groton Heights saw the Continental Army pitted against British forces. Almost two thousand British troops landed on the mouth of the Thames River. Benedict Arnold led about 800 British regulars in destroying goods and naval supplies in the Port of Groton. One of the ships his troops set to flame was filled with gunpowder, and the fire destroyed over 140 buildings in the town. Almost 90 men and boys from the Port of Groton were killed in the battle.
After the American Revolution, the Port of Groton began to rebuild its commercial activities. Shipbuilding began anew, and over 30 new ships were launched in the late 1800s. The busiest shipbuilders in the Port of Groton were located along the Mystic River, and soon Mystic was the most prosperous part of town. In 1807, business came to a stop when the Embargo Act was passed banning trade between America and other nations in an attempt to keep the US out of the Napoleonic Wars.
When the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812, Port of Groton residents constructed a fort on a hill, keeping 24 hour watch on the harbor. While the British did not attack the town, they did blockade it, preventing trade. Commerce resumed in 1815 when the war ended.
In the years after the War of 1812, whaling became important to the Port of Groton economy, although most of the voyages returned with seal skins. The sealers were set out on Antarctica for weeks to capture the seals and prepare the skins. By 1846, the Port of Groton was the world's second busiest whaling port. In 1868, Ebenezer Morgan from the Port of Groton raised the first American flag on Alaskan soil where he and his crew collected 45 thousand seal skins.
When the California Gold Rush started, clipper ships were built in the Port of Groton's Mystic shipyards to meet the demand for speed. The Mystic River shipyard built the Andrew Jackson that sailed from New York to San Francisco in 89 days in 1859. During the American Civil War, 56 steamships were built for the Union in the Port of Groton. After the way, the Port of Groton shipyards began to turn out larger vessels that could carry more cargo. However, with an excess of steamships for war, shipbuilding in Groton became less important.
A marine railway was built in the Port of Groton in 1860, allowing the shipyards there to repair vessels and creating a new economic sector. The shipyards continued to be busy for vessel repairs until 1913. During World War I, the shipyards were re-activated. As iron ships were required, many new workers were attracted to the Port of Groton. The influx of workers brought a real estate boom to the town.
During World War II, the Electric Boat company produced submarines every couple of weeks. In 1954, they launched the world's first nuclear powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. Today, the decommissioned Nautilus is berthed at the US Navy Submarine Force Museum and Library in the Port of Groton. Having one of the biggest submarine bases in the world, many proud residents call the Port of Groton the "Submarine Capital of the World."