Founding of Connecticut Colony

Mr. Hooker & His People Traveling Through the Wilderness

 New York Public Library Digital Collection

The founding of the Connecticut colony began in 1636 when the Dutch established the first trading post on the Connecticut River Valley in what is now the town of Hartford. The move into the valley was part of a general movement out of the Massachusetts colony. By the 1630s, the population in and around Boston had grown so dense that settlers began to move out throughout southern New England, concentrating on navigable river valleys such as Connecticut.

Founding Fathers

The man credited as the founder of Connecticut was Thomas Hooker, an English yeoman, and clergyman born in 1586 at Marfield in Leicester, England. He was educated at Cambridge, where he received a BA in 1608 and an MA in 1611. He was one of the most learned and powerful preachers of old and New England and was the minister of Esher, Surrey, between 1620–1625, and lecturer at St. Mary's Church at Chelmsford in Essex from 1625–1629. He was also a nonconformist Puritan who was targeted for suppression by the English government under Charles I and was forced to retire from Chelmsford in 1629. He fled to Holland, where other exiles were located.

The First Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony John Winthrop wrote to Hooker as early as 1628 or 1629, asking him to come to Massachusetts, and in 1633 Hooker sailed for North America. By October he was made pastor at Newton on the Charles River in the Massachusetts colony. By May of 1634, Hooker and his congregation at Newtown petitioned to leave for Connecticut. In May 1636, they were allowed to go, and they were provided a commission by the General Court of Massachusetts.

Hooker, his wife, and his congregation left Boston and drove 160 cattle southward, founding the river towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield. By 1637, there were almost 800 people in the new colony of Connecticut.

New Governance in Connecticut

The new Connecticut colonists used Massachusetts' civil and ecclesiastical law to set up their initial government but discarded the Massachusetts requirement that only members of approved churches could become freemen. Freemen were men who have all the civil and political rights under a free government, including the right to vote.

Most people who came to the American colonies came as indentured servants or "commons." According to English law, it was only after a man had paid or worked off his contract that he could apply to become a member of the church and own lands. In Connecticut and the other colonies, whether a man was indentured or not, if he entered a colony as a free person, he had to wait a 1 to 2 year probationary period during which he was closely observed to make sure he was an upright Puritan. If he passed the test, he could be accepted as a freeman. If not, he could be forced to leave the colony. Such a man could be an "admitted inhabitant" but was only able to vote after the General Court accepted him to freemanship. Only 229 men were admitted as freemen in Connecticut between 1639 and 1662.

Towns in Connecticut

By 1669, there were 21 towns on the Connecticut River. The four main communities were Hartford (established 1651), Windsor, Wethersfield, and Farmington. Together they had a total population of 2,163, including 541 adult males, only 343 were freemen. That year, the New Haven colony was brought under the Connecticut colony's governance, and the colony also wanted Rye, which eventually became part of New York state.

Other early towns included Lyme, Saybrook, Haddam, Middletown, Killingworth, New London, Stonington, Norwich, Stratford, Fairfield, and Norwalk.

Significant Events

  • Pequot War - From 1636 to 1637, this 'war' was fought between the settlers in Connecticut and the Pequot Indians. By the end of the war, the Pequot Indians were decimated.
  • The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were created in 1639. Many believe that this written Constitution would become the basis for the later United States Constitution.
  • The Colony Charter was accepted in 1662.
  • King Philip's (the Wampanoag leader Metacomet) War, 1675, was the result of increasing tensions between Native Americans and Europeans in southern New England.
  • Connecticut colony signed the Declaration of Independence in October 1776.