New London representative’s bill would rename Thames the Pequot River
Flowing from Norwich to New London and Groton, it’s famously home to submarines, the Coast Guard barque Eagle and Ivy League racing shells.
Ah yes, the Pequot River.
That, at least, is the once and potentially future name of the Thames (rhymes with James) River.
State Rep. Anthony Nolan, a New London Democrat, has proposed the name change in a bill that’s been referred to the legislature’s Transportation Committee, which could schedule it for a public hearing. State Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat, and state Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, a Groton Democrat, have signed on as co-sponsors.
Nolan said Wednesday his proposal grew out of conversations he had with young people when he was a city councilor. He said many raised concerns about the lack of acknowledgement of Native Americans’ place in the history of the region. He said he spoke to Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman, who offered to “put his staff on it.”
“We are very encouraged by the interest in restoring the original historic names to Connecticut’s geographic landmarks ― the Pequot River being one prominent example,” Butler said in a statement. “Our historic preservation team is gathering research in support of reclaiming the name, and we look forward to sharing it and working with lawmakers to pass this legislation.”
Osten said renaming the river would help redress centuries-old fallout from the Treaty of Hartford, a 1638 agreement reached in the wake of the Pequot War, a conflict in which the Pequots were nearly wiped out.
“I had one person say, ‘Why are you doing this? It doesn’t make sense,’” Nolan said. “I said, ‘Why do you think I shouldn’t do it?’ It didn’t make sense to name the river for something to do with England. New London was founded on Pequot land.”
Dale Plummer, Norwich’s city historian, said the river had a number of names before colonists settled on “Thames,” probably about the same time as a settlement known as Pequot Plantation was christened New London in the mid-17th century, perhaps 1658, according to some histories. The river’s new name was an obvious homage to the River Thames (pronounced: Temz) in London, England.
Plummer said he’d want to know more about Nolan’s motivation for the proposal before commenting further.
“I think it’s great,” Kevin McBride, an expert on the Pequot War, said of the proposed name change. “Who cares if it’s the Thames River. It’s about recognition, obviously, of an indigenous people.”
An associate professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, McBride is the former director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.
Did the colonists adopt the Americanized pronunciation of “Thames” right from the start?
“New London always has had a good opinion of itself,” said Susan Tamulevich, executive director of the New London Maritime Society. “Originally, it may have been pronouced ‘Temz.’ Maybe it changed when Noah Webster (1758-1843) wanted to Americanize things. People wanted to disassociate themselves from the British.”
“It does open the door to all sorts of possibilities,” she said of renaming the river. “May as well change the name of the city to Faire Harbour.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect that Susan Tamulevich referenced Noah Webster in a quote about the pronunciation of “Thames.” Commenter Richard Selden pointed out an error in the original version.