Before Europeans arrived, the territory where Middletown now sits was held by the Wangunks on the east bank and the Mattabesetts on the west bank of the Connecticut River. These two peoples shared a common chief, Sowheag, at the time of the initial European settlement in 1650
The new community became officially a town the following year, adopting the name "Middletown" in 1653, a reference to its distance halfway between the mouth of the Connecticut River and Windsor.
In 1784, having expanded greatly throughout the eighteenth century, Middletown was incorporated as a city. Jabez Hamlin was elected as the first mayor. The following year the first local newspaper, the Middlesex Gazette, was published.
Unfortunately for Middletown, and for all American ports, the great struggle between Europe and Napoleon had serious repercussions on our trade, with both England and France seizing American ships. In an effort to protect its citizens, Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807 and Madison's Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 resulted in ruining New England commerce. Hardly had these acts expired in 1812 when the nation plunged into war against Great Britain. The war was so unpopular in New England that the state legislatures refused to let their militias serve outside state boundaries.
Middletown might have become a major industrial city without its difficulty over transportation. When the railroads appeared in the 1830s and it was proposed to build a line between Hartford and New Haven, Middletown was divided about the desirability of being on the line. Surveys eventually convinced railroad officials that the Middletown route would be both indirect and expensive in view of the grades and heavy cutting.
The city established a high school in 1840, and the state opened a hospital in 1868. In 1875, the Russell Library was established by Mrs. Frances Ann Russell in memory of her husband Samuel, a prominent Middletown merchant and trader. And for the year of 1872, Middletown actually had a professional baseball team, the Middletown Mansfields, named after General Mansfield of the Civil War.
With the twentieth century have come some changes of profound import, some of them in process before 1900. Middletown in 1800 was largely Protestant, largely Congregationalist, and almost entirely Anglo-Saxon. In the nineteenth century, the Irish were the first new immigrants to arrive in numbers, followed by Germans, Swedes, and a small number of Italian people. During the twentieth century, many more Italian, Polish and German people have arrived.
Middletown continues throughout the end of the twentieth century to evolve, meeting the challenges and responsibilities which come with its substantial growth. In its history spanning more than three centuries, it has adapted in a myriad of ways to variable economic, demographic, and cultural realities, and will continue to shift as we greet the beginning of the new millennium.