What was life like in 1822 New Haven? This new exhibit offers an overview.
New Haven, like so many northeastern cities, has changed dramatically since it was settled in the mid-17th century.
Industrialization, urban redevelopment and the nation’s highway system all had a place in changing the appearance of the Elm City through the centuries.
Now a new exhibit at the New Haven Museum offers a glimpse into what New Haven was like 200 years ago.
In “Point of Departure: New Haven 1822,” the entire city is buzzing because a group of Protestant missionaries from New England is in town, preparing for a long journey to the Sandwich Islands (known now as Hawaii).
“It was an important event at the time, because religion was important,” said archivist Sandra Markham, curator of the exhibit. “When an effort like this took place, the churches were involved and they were asking for community support, so the people were involved. Obviously, the school [Yale University] had a buy-in because they were training people to be missionaries. The merchants had a buy-in because they were all members of the churches. So, it would have been a community effort.”
The missionaries had planned to leave from Boston, but when their vessel was delayed, they became concerned that their window of time to make the arduous six-month journey around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean was closing. Instead of waiting in Boston, they opted to depart from the port of New Haven, on the whaling vessel Thames.
In the exhibit, guests see New Haven through the eyes of the visiting missionaries – what they saw in the Elm City and what they may have done during their brief stay. Through newspaper articles of the day as well as lithographs, etchings, books and other materials, the plight of the missionaries and their stay in New Haven are well documented.
Take, for instance, John Warner Barber’s 1822 lithograph, “Departure of the Missionaries,” which depicts the 14 missionaries departing Tomlinson’s Wharf amid a throng of well-wishers. The print on display in the exhibit corroborates firsthand accounts of their send-off.
“When the missionaries left, apparently the entire town processed down to Tomlinson’s Wharf,” Markham said. “On the wharf they sang songs, and they had a religious service.”
The Thames successfully dropped off the missionaries in Hawaii before heading to whaling spots in the South Pacific. The exhibit also follows some of the missionaries in the years after their voyage from New Haven. One missionary actually settled in New Haven in her later years after decades in Hawaii.
“Point of Departure: New Haven 1822” runs through May 6 at the New Haven Museum.