What is in a name? Over the years our Sleeping Giant has been called by other names.
Early visitors, Dutch traders then British settlers, looked to the north and admired the tree covered hills that, from a distance, appeared blue. Early documents make note that the boundaries of the future New Haven stretched to “the blew Hills wher there is a station a Tree marked and stones layd at the foote of it.”1
By 1757 the people who had settled at the base of the Blue Hills were granted permission to form their own congregation, separate from the New Haven Colony. They called their parish Mount Carmel, after an ancient Biblical place whose name, in Hebrew, translates to “God’s Vineyard”2 or “garden land.” 3
It would seem that locals were also aware of the Native American legends concerning the origins of these hills, and the term “Sleeping Giant” was in use at least by the time of the War for Independence.
In his account of the British invasion of New Haven, Charles Hervey Townshend reports that:
An eye-witness mentions standing on the site at Morris Point, where the old light-house stands, and thus describes the imposing scene: ‘Before, looking seaward, were the broad waters of Long Island sound, and north and westward New Haven’s beautiful bay, both studded with the ships of the enemy’s fleet, the shore fringed with summer green forest and meadow, and in the back-ground the “Old Sentinel,” and “Red Mounts” (East and West Rocks), standing forth in bold relief, seeming to say, “Thus far and no farther shalt thou come, for all before us is under our care. One step farther and we will arouse the ‘Sleeping Giant’ (Mt. Carmel), who will dash thee back from whence thou camest; leave us in peace is all we ask.” 4
‘Political correctness’ was an unknown concept back in the day. Given the tenor of the times, it was inevitable that the epithet “the Dead Indian” would be ascribed to the protagonist of the Native American legend that explains the geological formation we now call the Sleeping Giant.
John H. Dickerman referred to the hills behind his home by this name, and it was common parlance in the speech of early settlers.5 Now, of course, we know better. There are few today in the area who would not name him The Sleeping Giant.
He inspired our forebears, was called upon to defend us from invasion, and today offers us respite from the noise and chaos of our modern world. As Nancy Sachse says, in the preface to her book, “he belongs to us all.”
By any other name, he has been and, as long as the mountains stand, will be, simply, Friend.
1Ancient Town Record, vol. 3 (1684-1769) published by The New Haven Colony Historical Society. 1962.
2 ”Mt. Carmel” Wikipedia. www.wikipedia.com
3 The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2007, Columbia University Press.
4 Townshend, Charles Hervey. The British Invasion of New Haven, Connecticut together with some account of the landing and burning of the towns of Fairfield and Norwalk, July, 1779. New Haven, 1879.
5 Sachse, Nancy Davis, Born Among the Hills: The Sleeping Giant Story. Sleeping Giant Park Association, 1997.