The Settlement of Hartford

The following essay was taken from HARTFORD IN HISTORY: A SERIES OF PAPERS  BY RESIDENT AUTHORS, Ed. Willis I. Twitchell, Hartford: Plimpton, 1899.

Thomas Hooker and the Settlement of Hartford.

By WILLISTON WALKER.

To understand the reasons which led the founders of Hartford to leave their English homes and to cross the Atlantic to what was then a wilderness scantily occupied by Indian tribes, we must picture to ourselves a very different state of affairs from that which exists in England or in the United States today. Now, in both these countries, in spite of the fact that the older nation still has an established church, men can worship God in whatever way seems best to them, provided that they do not trespass on the rights of their neighbors in so doing. In both countries, moreover, bodies composed of representatives chosen by the votes of a large proportion of the people themselves now have a decisive voice in almost all important political questions.

But it was not so when the founders of Hartford left England. The sovereigns of the Tudor line which ruled England from 1485 to 1603, of whom the ablest were King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, have often been called absolute rulers. The description is essentially a true one, for, though Parliament then existed much in the same form that it now does, its power was slight, while the wishes of the sovereign were almost certain to be carried out, so great was the royal authority. Under Henry VIII the English Church had rejected the control of the Pope, and, aided by Parliament, had recognized the King as its administrative head.  After some alternations of the parties in control of English ecclesiastical affairs under Edward VI  and Mary, that church had been constituted by Elizabeth substantially as it now exists in England, with a prescribed form of worship in the English language and essentially the same officers that it had possessed while recognizing the authority of the Pope.

Queen Elizabeth insisted upon a uniform type of worship in all parts, and by all inhabitants, of her kingdom. There was nothing exceptional in this requirement, for the same demand was made in all countries of Europe, at the time when she began her reign, though the forms of worship to which conformity was required were not the same in all lands. Moreover, in the various changes which the English Church underwent, too little care was taken to see that the clergymen were learned and worthy men. Many of them were so, but some were not.  Grounds for criticism and for objection on the part of those who did not agree with the great Queen in her religious policy therefore existed from the opening years of her reign. Many of the people of England were more ardently Protestant than Elizabeth, and conscientiously believed that some features of the organization and worship of the Church of England which she supported were wrong.  Not a few of the Puritans, as these objectors to Elizabeth’s impositions were nick-named by reason of their strictness of belief and practice, held that the Bible lays down rules showing how the church ought to be organized and governed, and that to fail to follow these rules there supposed to be found is a sin.

Thus opposed by the government, the Puritan party developed two sections. One of these was small and radical, called the Separatists, because they believed that good people should separate at once from the Church of England and organize churches themselves on what they held to be the Biblical model. The other section, the Puritans proper, was large and comparatively conservative. Though holding substantially the same views as to worship as the Separatists, they believed in a national church and looked to slow agitation and governmental action to introduce the reforms they desired. Both sections were rigorously repressed by Elizabeth and her clerical advisers.

When the great, arbitrary and popular Queen died in 1603, and was succeeded by James I, of the house of Stuart, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Puritans and Separatists alike hoped for favor from the new monarch. In this expectation they were grievously disappointed. A Separatist company, worshipping at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire and including Rev. John Robinson, William Brewster and William Bradford, was compelled to flee for safety to Holland in 1607 and 1608, from which land they emigrated to America in 1620, settling at Plymouth in December of that year. These Scrooby Separatists and their associates are known as the Pilgrims in New England story.

But, while some of the Separatists thus early left their home land, most of the Puritans proper remained in England. James I, far from granting the religious changes that they desired, harassed their preachers as Elizabeth had done. James, unlike Elizabeth, was himself personally unpopular. This unpopularity was increased by his assertion of what was called the “divine right of kings” —James claiming that his power came from God in such a sense that he was in no way responsible to his people for its use. Further grounds of disfavor were his preference for unworthy favorites, his arbitrary taxation, his refusal to allow Parliament to discuss important questions of public concern, and a foreign policy totally at variance with the wishes of the vast majority of his subjects.

James I died in 1625, and was succeeded by his son, Charles I, a man of fewer talents though of more outward polish than James, but fully as absolute in his conception of the authority that a king should enjoy and even more arbitrary in his acts.  Under certain friends and servants of Charles I, notably William Laud, whom the King caused to be appointed bishop of London in 1628 and archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, the Puritans were more vigorously persecuted than they had been at any time before, the object being to secure perfect conformity to legal requirements in the worship of God throughout England. Puritan ministers were fined, imprisoned, or compelled to seek safety in flight.  At the same time Charles quarreled with his parliaments even more bitterly than his father had done; and, in 1629, resolved to dispense with parliamentary aid altogether, in order to rule and tax as he pleased without interference.

The result of this attitude on the part of the King and his supporters and agents was that many who desired religious reforms and constitutional government in England (and they were in general the same people who sought both these changes), planned to cross the Atlantic to New England, whither the Pilgrims had already shown the way. These men and women were not actuated in this resolution by any abstract love of general liberty. They had no thought of founding in the new world a community where everyone could do as he pleased so long as he did not interfere with the rights of his neighbors. They had not advanced as far at that. They believed that they were unjustly oppressed both by church and state in England. They wished a more democratic government in church and state; and they wanted to go where they could be on English soil and yet be free to found the institutions which seemed to them right. That those institutions have proved exceedingly favorable to liberty in general is due to the strongly democratic element which the founders of New England infused into them. This element in time has developed its natural fruitage in such freedom as we enjoy.

Resolved for these reasons to leave their native land, some of the Puritans crossed the Atlantic under the leadership of John Endicott, landing at Salem, Mass., in September, 1628. While these emigrants were laying the foundations of this colony, many Puritans in England became interested in the enterprise, and a royal charter was obtained, in March, 1629, organizing some of these men into a colonizing company —the “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay.” Under the auspices of this company many emigrants were speedily sent across the Atlantic. Rev. Francis Higginson and Rev. Samuel Shelton with a party of about four hundred came to Salem in 1629. In 1630, John believed that they were unjustly oppressed both by church and state in England. They wished a more democratic government in church and state; and they wanted to go where they could be on English soil and yet be free to found the institutions which seemed to them right. That those institutions have proved exceedingly favorable to liberty in general is due to the strongly democratic element which the founders of New England infused into them. This element in time has developed its natural fruitage in such freedom as we enjoy.

Resolved for these reasons to leave their native land, some of the Puritans crossed the Atlantic under the leadership of John Endicott, landing at Salem, Mass., in September, 1628. While these emigrants were laying the foundations of this colony, many Puritans in England became interested in the enterprise, and a royal charter was obtained, in March, 1629, organizing some of these men into a colonizing company —the “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay.” Under the auspices of this company many emigrants were speedily sent across the Atlantic. Rev. Francis Higginson and Rev. Samuel Shelton with a party of about four hundred came to Salem in 1629. In 1630, John Winthrop, Sir Richard Saltonstall, Isaac Johnson, Thomas Dudley, Simon Bradstreet, John Wilson, George Phillips, John Warham, Roger Ludlow, and other Puritan clergymen and laymen of character and prominence crossed the Atlantic. No less than a thousand inhabitants were added that year to New England, and the towns of Boston, Dorchester and Watertown, in Massachusetts, were settled. With the coming of these conspicuous emigrants, the charter and government of the Massachusetts company was transferred to New England, which was thus assured from the first a large measure of self-government. All Puritan England followed the fortunes of the enterprise with eager interest; and many, encouraged by the success of their friends, determined to cross the ocean as they had done.

One such company of acquaintances actuated by a common purpose, principally from the county of Essex, in England, reached New England in 1632, and settled first in what is now Quincy, Mass., from which place in August of the same year it removed to Cambridge, Mass., then known as Newtown. This company, though by no means including all who aided in the foundation of Hartford, or, indeed, all the inhabitants of Newtown, formed the nucleus, in a certain sense, of the later settlers of Hartford. The company of immigrants was anticipating the arrival as its minister of a man whom many of them had known and reverenced in England, Rev. Thomas Hooker, to whom Connecticut owes more than to any other of its early citizens.

Thomas Hooker was born, probably in 1586, at Marfield, a hamlet in Leicestershire, England. He graduated at the strongly Puritan Emmanuel College of Cambridge University in 1608, and, after holding a fellowship in that college for some years, he settled at Esher, in Surrey, till, about 1625, he became a ” lecturer ” at Chelmsford, in Essex. From this region many of the associates who settled at the New England Cambridge in 1632 were to come, doubtless through his influence. A “lectureship,” as it was styled, was a salaried appointment as preacher supplementary to the legal incumbent of the parish. Its income was derived usually from the gifts of the generous, for the “lecturer” had no claim to the ordinary church tithes and taxes recognized by the State. Many such “lectureships” were founded by the Puritans to secure the preaching that they desired, but which the regular ministry, supported by government authority, did not provide. At Chelmsford, Hooker preached with great popular encouragement till, about the close of 1629, the opposition of Bishop Laud made his further labor impossible—an opposition which compelled him, in 1630, to fly for safety to Holland. From Holland he set forth for New England, by -way of his native country, in 1633, reaching Boston on September 4th of that year.  In Hooker early Connecticut was to have not merely a powerful preacher and molder of religious opinion, but a far-seeing statesman, of more democratic tendencies than any other of the founders of New England, who perceived clearly that the people are the ultimate source of all rightful governmental authority, and was able to impress this thought on his associates. His life in Hartford embraced but eleven years, for he died July 7, 1647; but these years saw the foundations of Connecticut laid.

We may well wish that a portrait of this strong, far-sighted, courageous, humble-minded, impulsive, yet self-controlled man had been preserved. We cannot imagine him as other than forceful in personal appearance, as he was evidently in public address and in less formal intercourse with his fellow-men. But, in the absence of any likeness of Hooker, the statue by Niehaus of this leader among the founders of Connecticut, which adorns the eastern front of the Capitol, probably gives as satisfactory a conception of him as imagination and patient study of family resemblances among his descendants and of contemporary costume can evoke.

On the same vessel that brought Hooker to New England two other men of much importance for the early history of Hartford were passengers. These were Rev. Samuel Stone and Mr. John Haynes.

Samuel Stone, beloved enough of the early inhabitants of Hartford to have the name of his birthplace given to their Connecticut home, was thirty-one years old at the time of his arrival in the New World. Like Hooker, he had graduated at Emmanuel College of Cambridge University. He had probably been a curate at Stisted, near Chelmsford, at the time that Hooker preached as “lecturer” in the last named place. He had certainly held a Puritan lectureship at Towcester, in Northamptonshire, till about the time that the invitation of Hooker’s waiting friends in New England led him to embark with that minister as Hooker’s future lifelong associate. A man of great clearness of thought and marked power in argument, of wit, and quickness as well as strength of mind, he was a leader of force, though not of the ability or of the conciliatory skill of Hooker. He survived the latter sixteen years, dying in 1663.

John Haynes from Copford Hall, in Essex, was a “gentleman” in the then somewhat technical sense of that word. He was a man of large property and much executive force, whose talents were at once recognized in New England, he being chosen governor of Massachusetts in 1635, and of Connecticut every alternate year from 1639 till his death in 1654. All three of these men of influence in the beginnings of Hartford were buried in the old Hartford graveyard, and monuments commemorative of them may be seen within its enclosure near the rear of the First (Center) Church.

Soon after the arrival of Hooker and Stone at Cambridge, Mass., they were chosen, on October 11, 1633, respectively ” pastor ” and ” teacher ” of the infant church of that community ; while William Goodwin, a man of much influence then and in the early history of Hartford, held the office of ” ruling-elder,” and Andrew Warner that of “deacon.” The founders of New England believed that the Bible pointed out these officers as those suitable for a local church. And they believed, also, that the only proper organized form of the Christian church was in self-governing local congregations, composed of men and women of religious character, united by a covenant, electing their own officers and administering their own affairs. This theory, which made each congregation in some sense a local republic, was warmly defended by most of the founders of Hartford, and has contributed much to the political development of New England. The right of voting was, however, never confined to church-members in Connecticut colony, as it was for a time in Massachusetts and New Haven colonies.

Thus, by October, 1633, the future settlers of Hartford had become in a true sense an organic body, having its own definite leaders and members. Not that all dwellers in the Newtown, which was soon to be known as Cambridge, were to come to Hartford.  Far from it. The early New England settlers often shifted from one community to another, much as the inhabitants of towns in our extreme west do today. But a corporate institution, the local church of which. Hooker, Stone and Goodwin were the officers, united many of them together. A common reverence and affection for their strong men like Hooker, Haynes, Stone and Goodwin knit together the whole community. So that when, in May and June, 1636, the main body of the one-time inhabitants of Cambridge made their journey to Hartford, whither some of their associates had gone the year before, it was not as a haphazard company of settlers such as gather in a newly opened mining camp, but as those already associated into one fellowship in ecclesiastical concerns and in allegiance to well-known leaders.

Of the causes and circumstances of that emigration and settlement a later paper in this series treats in detail. Desire for more room, fears lest the Dutch should possess the Connecticut valley, the attractions of a pleasant location and of a fertile soil, wishes for greater independence than could be enjoyed in close proximity to other colonial leaders with whom they were associated in Massachusetts, and a freer and more democratic conception of the State than that which the founders of Massachusetts held, all contributed to the important decision to which Hartford owes its origin.

They were a picked body of emigrants. Impelled to their enterprise by motives in which mercenary considerations had small share, the founders of New England looked upon themselves, and were viewed by a great party in the mother country, as the vanguards in a movement for religious and political reform. The importance of the work secured leaders for the New England colonies of as conspicuous abilities as England at that day could offer, and the founders of Hartford were the peers of any who then crossed the Atlantic. They had their faults. They were not always generous or tolerant, as judged by the standards of the present age. They had their share of the superstitions and prejudices of the land from which they came and of the century in which they lived. But if we judge them by the standard of their education, their country and their time, which is the only fair basis of criticism, we find them liberal in their laws, democratic in their conceptions of government and generous in their provisions, for education. In a word, they were in advance of the generality of their countrymen of the home land; and their spirit was one which was sure to make for increasing liberty in the communities which they founded.

But the cost in hardships and sufferings of planting Hartford and its sister settlements was great. Comfortable homes, with all the advantages of a long established social life, were abandoned for the raw wilderness where everything had to be created anew. Peace and protection were surrendered for constant struggle with the rude forces of nature and wearing anxiety by reason of Indian alarms. Houses had to be erected, fields subdued, cleared and cultivated, orchards planted, roads cut, the more outward elements of civilized life brought into being ; while provision was also made for military protection, for the administration of law, for education and for worship,—that is, for those things which minister to what is best in life. It was a great task; and that they did it so well, and with such lasting benefit to us, is the chief cause why we honor the founders of Hartford.

The following references are offered as suggestions for further reading on the subject of this paper:

Benjamin Trumbull, HISTORY OF CONNECTICUT. Vol.  chapters I—IV.

G. H. Hollister, HISTORY OF CONNECTICUT. Vol. I., chapter I.

Increase N. Tarbox, in the MEMORIAL HISTORY OF HART-FORD COUNTY. Vol. I., 13-36.

Alexander Johnston, CONNECTICUT. Pp. 1-82.

Charles M. Andrews, THE RIVER TOWNS OF CONNECTICUT, in the Seventh Series of the JOHNS-HOPKINS UNIVERSITY STUDIES IN HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE.

Charles M. Andrews, THE BEGINNINGS OF THE CONNECTICUT TOWNS, in the ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCE, for October, 1890.

George Leon Walker, THOMAS HOOKER.