Hidden Gem of American History Shines its Lamp Brightly
On the waterfront street near the City Pier of historic New London, Connecticut, USA, are the granite columns of the 179-year-old Robert Mills building: The Custom House and Maritime Museum. Mills is most know for the Washington monument in District of Columbia. His architecture on the 150 Bank Street location augments the age of seaport towns, such as New London, to regulate and collect the tariffs of sailing ship trade across the seas. The Granite facade and the red brick vaulted interior rooms, highlighted by massive maple doors and soaring ceilings, evokes a time when government real estate was permanent. The Custom House and U.S. Treasury Service still maintain office space on the second floor, though it is more of a museum space. The three levels and a sub-basement contain treasures of the ship building days, mariner memorabilia, Ship Models, ancient sea paintings in oil, collections of sailing art and libraries of books and data. The groupings are contained in delightfully decorated “captain’s rooms”, replete with mariner furniture.
1839 History that Rocked the World:
First Step To Freedom
On that infamous night of July 2 at 4:00am, 53 slaves brought through Havana, and onboard the Amistad schooner and south of the Bahama Islands revolt and seize control of the vessel. The “Black Pirates” are discovered and taken into custody off the coast of Long Island, New York, by the U.S. Navy . They seize the schooner and escort it to New London to the U.S. Custom House. The location serves as the beginnings of the Abolitionist Defense Committee and the US Supreme Court to instigate the Free-State Provisions. The 35 surviving Africans departed New York for Africa aboard the barque Gentleman, and were returned to their Sierra Leone in 1842. In 1866, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution defines a citizen as anyone born in the U.S. (except American Indians) or naturalized, thereby extending all rights of citizenship to African-Americans.
The second floor remains the historical depiction space of the events and contains many displays. The current Amistad Schooner docks periodically on the local wharf, up from New Haven, Connecticut mooring.
Preserving the Protectors
The New London Maritime Museum stretches a bit further to preserve history. The New London Harbor Light, at the mouth of the harbor, was the fourth lighthouse recognized by George Washington when he enacted the 1789 Act for the Establishment and support of Lighthouse. It is one of the earliest flashing beacons. This and the Race Rock Light, off of nearby Fisher’s Island, New York, are under the management of the U.S. Custom House and Maritime Museum, having been turned over from the Coast Guard. Tours have become available to these working lighthouses. The history of the maritime region and the donated collections, the resources of knowledge and the staffing of very competent docents, make for a sea worthy journey.