Thomas Hooker

Founder of Connecticut

Connecticut Colony - Thomas Hooker's Emigration
Connecticut Colony - Thomas Hooker's Emigration. Public Domain / http://ushistoryimages.com

Thomas Hooker (July 5, 1586 – July 7, 1647) founded the Connecticut Colony after a disagreement with the church leadership in Massachusetts. He was key in the development of the new colony including inspiring the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. He argued for a wider number of individuals being given the right to vote. In addition, he believed in freedom of religion for those who believed in the Christian faith.

Finally, his descendants included many individuals who played key roles in the development of Connecticut. 

Early Life

Thomas Hooker was born in Leicestershire England, most probably in either Marefield or Birstall, He attended school at Market Bosworth before entering Queen’s College at Cambridge in 1604. He earned his Bachelor’s degree before moving to Emmanuel College where he earned his Master’s. It was at university that Hooker converted to the Puritan faith. 

Immigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony

From college, Hooker became a preacher. He was known for his speaking abilities along with his ability to help his parishioners. He eventually moved to St Mary’s, Chelmsford as a preacher in 1626. However he soon retired after being suppressed as a leader of Puritan sympathizers. When he was called to court to defend himself, he fled to the Netherlands. Many Puritans were following this path, as they were able to freely practice their religion there.

From there, he decided to immigrate to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arriving aboard the ship called the Griffin on September 3, 1633. This ship would carry Anne Hutchinson to the New World a year later.

Hooker settled in Newtown, Massachusetts. This would later be renamed as Cambridge. He was appointed as pastor of “The Church of Christ at Cambridge,” becoming the first minister of the town.

Founding Connecticut

Hooker soon found himself at odds with another pastor named John Cotton because in order to vote in the colony, a man had to be examined for their religious beliefs. This effectively suppressed Puritans from voting if their beliefs were in opposition to the majority religion. Therefore, in 1636, Hooker and Reverend Samuel Stone led a group of settlers to form Hartford in the soon to be formed Connecticut Colony. The Massachusetts General Court had granted them the right to set up three towns: Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford. The title of colony was actually named after the Connecticut River, a name that came from the Algonquian language meaning long, tidal river.  

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

In May 1638, a General Court met to write a written constitution. Hooker was politically active at this time and preached a sermon that basically espoused the idea of the Social Contract, stating that authority was only granted with the people’s consent. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were ratified on January 14, 1639. This would be the first written constitution in America and a foundation for future founding documents including the US Constitution.  The document included greater voting rights for individuals.

It also included oaths of office which the governor and magistrates were required to take. Both of these oaths included lines that said they would agree to “…promote the public good and peace of the same, according to the best of my skill; as also will maintain all lawful privileges of this Commonwealth: as also that all wholesome laws that are or shall be made by lawful authority here established, be duly executed; and will further the execution of Justice according to the rule of Gods word…” (The text has been updated to use modern spelling.) While it the individuals involved in the creation of the Fundamental Orders are unknown and no notes were taken during the proceedings, it is felt that Hooker was a key mover in the creation of this document. In 1662, King Charles II signed a Royal Charter combining the Connecticut and New Haven Colonies which basically agreed to the Orders as the political system to be adopted by the colony.

Family Life

When Thomas Hooker arrived in America, he was already married to his second wife named Suzanne. No records have been found concerning the name of his first wife. They had a son named Samuel. He was born in America, most probably in Cambridge. It is recorded that he graduated in 1653 from Harvard. He became a minister and well known in Farmington, Connecticut. He had many children including John and James, both of whom served as Speaker of the Connecticut Assembly. Samuel’s granddaughter, Sarah Pierpont would go on to marry Reverend Jonathan Edwards of Great Awakening fame.. One of the Thomas’ descendants through his son would be American financier J. P. Morgan.

Thomas and Suzanne also had a daughter named Mary. She would marry Reverend Roger Newton who founded Farmington, Connecticut before moving on to be a preacher in Milford.

Death and Significance

Hooker died at the age of 61 in 1647 in Connecticut. It is unknown his exact burial place though he is believed to be buried in Hartford.

He was quite significant as a figure in America’s past. First, he was a strong proponent of not requiring religious tests to allow for voting rights. In fact, he argued for religious tolerance, at least towards those of the Christian faith. He was also a strong proponent in the ideas behind the social contract and the belief that the people formed the government and it must answer to them. In terms of his religious beliefs, he did not necessarily believe that God’s grace was free. Instead, he felt that individuals had to earn it through avoiding sin.

In this way, he argued, individuals prepared themselves for heaven.

He was a well-known speaker who wrote a number of books on theological subjects. These included The Covenant of Grace Opened, The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ in 1629, and A Survey Of The Summe Of Church-Discipline: Wherein The Way Of The Churches Of New England Is Warranted Out Of The Word in 1648. Interestingly, for someone so influential and well-known, no surviving portraits are known to exist. 

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Kelly, Martin. "Thomas Hooker." ThoughtCo, Oct. 30, 2016, thoughtco.com/thomas-hooker-4107866. Kelly, Martin. (2016, October 30). Thomas Hooker. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/thomas-hooker-4107866 Kelly, Martin. "Thomas Hooker." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/thomas-hooker-4107866 (accessed January 23, 2018).