Most residents of Connecticut, when considering who were the earliest immigrants to this State naturally think mostly of the European countries. If you asked anyone when the first Puerto Rican immigrant came to Connecticut, they would say, ” probably the 1950’s.”
Wouldn’t you be surprised to hear that Bridgeport, Connecticut had a Puerto Rican immigrant settle on the East End in 1844! Joseph de Rivera, a sugar and wine merchant from Puerto Rico bought the house in the city’s East End from Edwards Johnson.
Edwards Johnson was the grandson of William S. Johnson, one of the signers of the Constitution. Edwards Johnson built the house in 1828 on land owned by his grandfather. The architect that Johnson hired was Wooster Curtis, carved his name in a beam. William. Edwards Johnson called the house Eagle’s Nest. The nearby creek, where oysters were plentiful, was called Johnson’s Creek. The over 300 acres that looked out onto the Sound were a bounteous and plentiful land…gardens surrounded the home. In fact, right next to the Johnson house was a giant oak tree known as the Johnson Oak, which stood in the park for 500 years until it fell down in 1978.
When the Joseph de Rivera and his wife moved to the home from Puerto Rico (first from New York) around 1844, they were described as very cultured. A later article in the newspaper described the family as more blond and “less pronounced in Spanish character.” Mrs. de Rivera was described as being “very beautiful.”
The Rivera family had three daughters and three sons: Josephine, Belle, Annie, Henry, Thomas and John. The Rivera family sold the house to the Lawrences in 1858.
Joseph de Rivera moved his family out to Ohio where he started a vineyard near Lake Erie. According to a historical account in Ohio history, “in 1854 a Spanish merchant name Joseph de Rivera bought South Bass, Middle Bass, Sugar, Gibraltar, Ballast and Starve Island for a price of $44,000. He began to develop to islands building a saw mill and a starve mill in the fall of 1854. He had the county engineer survey the area in 10-acre lots. In the first ten years, de Rivera sold 42 parcels of land in South and Middle Bass. He sold a quarter acre of land to the South Bass Board of Education for a dollar. The park downtown is named de Rivera Park in his honor.”
Ohio has named a park in Joseph de Rivera’s honor. The house that Joseph de Rivera owned here in Connecticut was on Logan Street in Bridgeport, and is considered the first home in Connecticut owned by a Puerto Rican family. The house was over 150 years old. The house was damaged by arson, and torn down. The great-grandson of Joseph de Rivera came to Bridgeport to visit the home before it was torn down. His name is Joseph de Rivera and he is a Professor at Clark University,Director of Peace Studies.
The Jettie Tisdale school was built on land near the site of the house. A “Memory Wall” was installed in the school detailing the history of the Jose de Rivera house and the Johnson Oak that once stood on the land.