The Port of Mystic is a historic township in New London County, Connecticut, on the Mystic River as it flows into Long Island Sound and, from there, to the Atlantic Ocean. Not having an independent government, the Port of Mystic is located within the towns of Groton and Stonington some 70 kilometers southwest of the Port of Providence, Rhode Island. In 2000, about four thousand people called the Port of Mystic home.
The Port of Mystic was an important seaport, and the village still reflects this maritime heritage. Today, thousands of tourists visit the Port of Mystic each year to see the sailing ships and seaport buildings. Many popular restaurants, including Mystic Pizza made famous by the 1988 movie, line the bascule bridge that links the two sections of town.
When Europeans arrived in the Port of Mystic area, the indigenous Pequot people inhabited most of what would become southeastern Connecticut. Their villages overlooked the Mystic River. When Europeans began to settle the Port of Mystic area, the Pequot were basically surrounded by the Dutch to the west and the English to the east.
In 1632 when the Dutch established Good Hope, they broke the Pequots' monopoly on trade with the Europeans. Hostilities resulted between the Pequot and the Narragansett tribes who entered their lands to trade with the Dutch. The Dutch entered the fight, holding the Pequots' chief and then executing him even though the ransom was paid, further escalating the conflicts and involving the English. Tensions between the local tribes increased as well. The English eventually burned the Pequot villages and killed many of the people.
The 1638 Treaty of Hartford officially ended the Pequot War. Terms of the treaty included forbidding the Pequot from reforming their tribe. Over time, the Pequot were able to reestablish their settlements as separate communities, not as a unified tribe, that eventually became the first Indian reservations in North America.
During the 1640s, the King of England began to grant land in the future Port of Mystic area to veterans of the Pequot War. John Winthrop, son of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's governor, received so much land that he gave portions of it to his compatriots in the war. Migration to the new English territory was slowed by conflicting claims for the land between Connecticut and the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
During the 1650s, English settlers began to arrive in the Port of Mystic area. Remaining indigenous peoples were hit hard by epidemics and by the reduction in wildlife as the English increasingly farmed and traded in furs. By 1675, infrastructure and commerce were in the Port of Mystic considerable. New churches appeared, and a school system emerged in nearby Stonington.
By the early 1700s, three villages were developing along the Mystic River. What is now called Old Mystic was at the head of the river, and Stonington and Groton were located downriver. The main economic activities in the Port of Mystic were maritime trades, manufacturing, and road building. Yet agriculture sustained the town, as most of the Port of Mystic citizens were farmers who grew wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, and fruit and raised cattle, pigs, sheep, and chicken.
The first bridge linking the banks of the Mystic River was constructed in 1819. The first Port of Mystic drawbridge was opened about 1835. In the late 19th Century, the two separate towns joined, creating today's Port of Mystic. During the 19th Century, many shipyards were built in the Port of Mystic, and merchant ships and whalers became a common sight on the river. Trade with the Caribbean Islands was an important source of income for the Port of Mystic.
In the post-clipper ship era from 1895 to 1905, the Port of Mystic gained electricity, banks, trolleys, and factories common to the Industrial Age. In 1941, the Charles W. Morgan , the last of the 2200 traditional Yankee whaling ships, docked for good at the Mystic Seaport Museum.