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Their home was their castle

Carol Sommer

Publication: The Day

Published March 10. 2013 4:00AM

Kenilworth Drive in Killingworth was laid out in the 20th century, but its name recalls a distant time and place - and one heck of a party.

Kenilworth, England, founded shortly after the Norman Conquest, was at first just a clearing in the woods with a sheep's path for a road. There wasn't much of anything around-just trees, grass, a river and a few people trying to get by. Over time it became a market town with a large castle as its central feature. The castle played a role in the Wars of the Roses and was a licensed tournament venue where knights met to joust.

In 1575, Kenilworth was the site of an eye-popping extravaganza designed to delight the guest of honor, Queen Elizabeth I. The affair was a great success although it nearly bankrupted Elizabeth's special friend and host, Robert Dudley. After all, an artificial floating island, a pleasure garden, and a mechanical dolphin do cost money. So do fireworks, magicians, trumpeters, performing bears and water nymphs. The 19-day spectacular so impressed 11-year old William Shakespeare, who almost certainly witnessed it, that scholars see echoes of it in his play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Edward Griswold's grandparents may have been among the less illustrious on-lookers. The Griswolds had lived in Kenilworth for generations. It was the town where they'd survived the Black Death and civil wars. It was where they'd fallen in love, had babies, lived, and died. It was home.

But by the 1630s change was in the wind. Awareness of the New World was close at hand in a Kenilworth subdivision called Little Virginia. Political unrest and danger also were close at hand, with Puritans facing persecution for their religious views.

Edward and Margaret Griswold, along with their minister and other members of the Kenilworth congregation, left for America as part of the Great Migration-the Puritans' exodus from England. With no reasonable expectation of ever returning, they left behind friends and loved ones, material well-being, social standing and the emotional ties that bind human beings to familiar places. It must have been wrenching to say goodbye.

In 1639 the Griswolds settled in the Connecticut town of Windsor, where Edward took a leadership role in community affairs as an attorney, justice of the peace, and deputy to the General Court. In 1642 he was granted land in Poquonock, a few miles upriver from Windsor, but he and Margaret were reluctant to relocate until Indian claims to the area had been resolved. Eventually they, along with a few other families, moved to their new property, but the remote location remained vulnerable to Indian attack. The men were required to attend daily military drills back in Windsor, but one man was allowed to stay behind to protect the women and children.

In 1663 Margaret and Edward moved again, this time to Kenilworth (today's Killingworth, the name morphed through common usage) where they spent the rest of their lives. Perhaps the Griswolds were homesick, or maybe America now felt like home, because like so many other pioneers, they named their new town after the place from which they'd come.

This Kenilworth didn't have a castle, and no kings or queens would ever visit. There weren't going to be any over-the-top parties with mechanical dolphins and water nymphs. There wasn't much of anything around except trees, grass, and a river, but this place had one highly desirable quality: it was theirs to make into whatever was possible with hard work, luck and the grace of God. And perhaps even better than a royal lifestyle, their town would become the birth place of Yale University.

Carol Sommer of Waterford is a self-proclaimed history nut. She writes a monthly history column inspired by local street signs.

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