Native people in this area for centuries were the Algonquin-speaking River Indians who called the river Qinnecktekut (there are actually over 40 phoenetic spellings of the word), meaning "long tidal river." Their peaceful lifestyle included creating shelters and artifacts from grasses and trees along the river, hunting and fishing—particularly, for shad—gardening, revering nature as having spiritual significance, and—for the men—indulging in kinnickkinnick, a mixture of tobacco with other leaves and herbs to produce euphoric properties while undergoing vision quests into the spirit world. All of that changed when the Europeans arrived.
The banks of the Connecticut River is where Hartford began. The Dutch established a trading colony here called The House of Good Hope by 1633 at approximately where the Park River now spills into the Connecticut.. A few years later, a small band of colonists migrated to the area from Newtown, Massachusetts led by the Reverend Thomas Hooker and created dugout huts along the river in order to survive the New England winter. The settlers made peace with the local Algonquin Indians, who called the area Suckiaug ("Black Fertile River-Enhanced Earth, good for planting") and renamed it after Hertford, England.
For many years, the river served merchants, manufacturers and farmers with access to transportation that would allow them to trade with other river and seaports in America as well as in the West Indies, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. Up until the 1840's Hartford was known as the Port of Hartford, and its affluent sea merchants and river captains were known as "River Gods" because Hartford was the farthest upstream port accessible to deep draft sailing vessels.
In the early 1800s steamboats began to service passengers traveling between Hartford and New York. In 1844, there were 2,000 vessel arrivals and departures in one year. Successive waves of immigrants arrived and settled in the tenements at the river's edge.