Guilford’s Dudley Farm Museum to expand its Quinnipiac exhibit

Two men dedicated to preserving and honoring the culture of the Quinnipiac people – one an eccentric artifact collector based in Stony Creek and the other a teacher at Guilford School – let us learn more about these Native Americans and seeing these historical artifacts. As a result of their efforts, which have led to increased public interest in the Quinnipiacs, the Quinnipiac Dawnland Museum, kept in the attic of a barn at the Dudley Farm Museum in Guilford, will soon get a new, larger farm house. .

The Stony Creeker who built the collection was Gordon Brainerd. He spent over 40 years searching for projectile points (arrowheads) and other Quinnipiac remains in the woods, fields and beaches of Branford and nearby towns. Brainerd, a beekeeper by trade who died last August, has never been able to establish a lineage link with the Quinnipiacs. Nonetheless, he became known as Gordon “Fox Running” Brainerd. “Gordon was no Quinnipiac,” says Jim Powers, the retired teacher who now oversees the collection. “But I think he was Quinnipiac in his soul.

“He was incredibly dedicated to preserving the history of the Quinnipiacs,” adds Powers. “He’s scoured around Branford, Madison, Guilford, North Haven, New Haven and West Haven. He was not an archaeologist but had the eye of an archaeologist. He was self-taught. He was walking along the shore at low tide. He would go to the fields when they were first plowed and he knew the best places in the woods. People would also come to him and say, “Gordon, we have arrowheads in our garden.” ”

Powers befriended Brainerd in the 1990s when the two discovered they had a common interest in the Quinnipiacs. “It was Gordon’s passion for their story that we really clung to at the Dudley Museum.” Brainerd donated his collection to the museum in 2003.

Beth Payne, Director of the Dudley Farm Museum, says: “I am delighted that we could do something that would have made Gordon so happy and that people are interested in the Quinnipiac collection and his life’s work. She is also “absolutely delighted” that Powers is continuing Brainerd’s mission. “Jim has the expertise and the enthusiasm. He’s on top of things and will make sure everything is done right.

It was a “trip of a lifetime” for Powers. “As a kid playing in the woods, when my friends and I played cowboys and Indians, I had to be an Indian. I was drawn to it. I found their culture, what little I knew about it, fascinating. Powers took Native American culture classes at Wesleyan University, where he majored in European history. While in Wesleyan, he befriended Native American students. And when the student later became a teacher at Guilford High School, Powers created the course Local history through archeology. He retired in 2017.

Powers then wrote Shadows over Dawnland, a novel about a young Quinnipiac whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of English settlers. The Quinnipiacs called their region Dawnland because it was the first place the light of dawn appeared each morning. Powers notes that the Quinnipiacs, like most Indigenous peoples, welcomed Europeans. At their peak, there were 2,000 to 3,000 Quinnipiacs, Powers estimates. They lived in villages in New Haven, Branford, North Haven and Guilford.

But the Europeans brought smallpox with them. The disease spread quickly through the Quinnipiacs, who had no immunity to it. An epidemic in 1633-1634 wiped out about 80 percent of Quinnipiac’s population.

For thousands of years until then, Powers notes, the Quinnipiacs had creatively adapted to changes in the environment, including climate change. “They had to really listen to their environment. We could learn from the natives.

Powers says we should also realize how long indigenous peoples lived here: maybe around 14,000 years, compared to just 400 years for European settlers and their descendants. “Many of us have lost a sense of place, a connection to where we live,” Powers says, “and who were the people who lived here thousands of years ago, and the impact they had It is important to honor the heritage of Native American groups.

Some people are starting to understand this. Daniel Galvet, a student at Quinnipiac University, is taking a course called Practice archeology, which explores our relationship with the Quinnipiac people. “The average Quinnipiac student today doesn’t think much of the people whose school is named after,” Galvet said in an email. “I have heard many students say that they didn’t even know the name Quinnipiac referred to the indigenous people of this region.

Galvet tries to find descendants of Quinnipiac, as does Powers. “Gordon used to tell me, ‘They’re hiding in plain sight,’ they merged with the general population. These people are here. We hope they will come forward. We want to work with them to keep their legacy alive.


During an open house at the farm in November, one of the visitors to the loft was Shannon Zich from Granby. After seeing the Dawnland collection, she said, “I think it’s really cool. I like that it exists. So many important historical elements are lost. Here you see the way people did things. And the artwork is beautiful.

The tools and projectile points are complemented by modern paintings of Native Americans. There’s also a canoe made by boy scouts and a large papier-mâché head of a man from Quinnipiac, created by college kids. You can also see the ceremonial headdress that Brainerd made and used when he “blessed” public gatherings.

One of the favorite parts of the Powers collection is an array of Brainerd Projectile Points collected in different time periods. “They reflect the evolution of culture and technology according to the climate.

In the future, visitors to the Dawnland collection will no longer have to take the stairs to the loft. The museum received an anonymous donation of $ 50,000 to build a new structure nearby that will showcase the collection. Powers and Payne are optimistic construction will begin in the spring. They also plan to apply for a Connecticut Humanities grant to hire a consultant who would design the exhibits, adding visual aids.

Powers is encouraged by another sign of heightened interest in Connecticut’s original inhabitants: “Many people are coming forward and wanting to donate the artifacts they find.”

To see the collection: The Dudley Farm Museum (dudleyfarm.com) is open from June to October. For farm tours, including the Quinnipiac Dawnland Museum, email Beth Payne at [email protected]

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