Thursday, November 9, 2017

CONNECTICUT | How Theocratic Brits Created Two Colonies and a State

Rev. John Davenport, First Minister
of New Haven, 1638-1668. Portrait by
Amos Doolittle, c. 1797, Connecticut
Historical Society.
John Winthrop and the story of the creation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is better known than the stories of Hartford and New Haven, and the State that grew out of these towns is less well understood.

Thomas Hooker was a great preacher, an erudite writer on Christian subjects, the first minister of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one of the founders of both the city of Hartford and the state of Connecticut. He is also the inspiration for the "Fundamental Orders" of Connecticut, the world's first written democratic constitution.

Most likely he was born in Leicestershire, the county east of Warwickshire. The Hooker branch in Devon produced the great theologian, Rev. Richard Hooker who, with Sir Walter Raleigh, was one of the two most influential people to come from Exeter, Devon's the county town.

As a speaker, Hooker attracted crowds as well as spies from the Church of England. The Puritans wanted to "purify" the church, but the Anglican Church was a step ahead, purifying itself of heretics including Puritans, to protect the unpopular Charles I.

Hooker was ordered to appear before the High Commission, the Star Chamber. It was originally established to ensure fair enforcement of laws, but  became a vehicle for political oppression through its arbitrary use of power. Hooker decided to flee to Holland. From there, he and some parishioners made their way to Gov. Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony.

They settled in Newtown, later called Cambridge. But they came to oppose the undemocratic ways of Winthrop’s theocracy and moved in May 1636, the year Harvard was founded, en masse to the Connecticut River Valley. Two years after they moved, Hooker delivered a sermon on how Hartford should govern itself. He said:
The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people. … [The] choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God's own allowance. … [T]hey who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates [should] also … set the bounds and limitations of the power and the place unto which they call them. 
A historian (Ellsworth Grant) calls this statement “the first practical assertion ... of the right of the governed not only to choose their rulers but to limit their powers.” The Fundamental Orders of the colony of Connecticut, consisting of the towns of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor, were based on Hooker’s sermon. They are the world's first written constitution. It is why Connecticut is known as the Constitution State. (

John Davenport also left Winthrop not long after Hooker did. He was from the north end of Warwickshire, east of Birmingham, in the city of Coventry. Davenport is remembered as the man after whom Davenport College at Yale is named. He was born to a wealthy family, son and grandson of two generations of civic leaders in Coventry. He was educated at Oxford, matriculating at Merton College in 1613, switching to Magdalen College in 1615 and leaving Oxford before completing his degree. (He returned in 1625 when Charles I came to the throne to earn his B.D. and M.A. degrees.) 

In 1624 he was made vicar of the parish of St Stephen’s Church in London. At St. Stephen’s, his boyhood friend from Coventry, Theophilus Eaton, became a member of his parish. Eaton was the son of a minister with a B.D. degree from Oxford (Lincoln College). Davenport’s efforts to support rural clergy and relieve reformed clergy displaced by war were frustrated by Bishop William Laud, an alumnus of St John’s College, Oxford and a junkyard dog of a heretic-hunter. When Charles I appointed Laud to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, Davenport resigned in disgust from the Church of England and moved to Holland. 

Davenport and Eaton left England on a ship to join the Massachusetts Bay Colony and fellow Puritans in Boston. Davenport brought with him much of the St Stephen’s parish on the Hector in 1637. William Woodin, ancestor of the first Treasury Secretary under FDR, might well have been on this ship even though he was only 12, since the Puritans tended to bring their families. There is no record of an older Woodin having come on the Boston voyage or on the later trip to New Haven, but young Woodin might have been put in the care of a friendly family. 

When they reached Boston, Davenport and Eaton were disappointed. Winthrop demanded his own version of Puritan orthodoxy. The last straw was the church trial in 1638  in the midst of the Antinomian disputes, i.e., the debate over whether people were saved by good works or by grace. Davenport was ordinarily on the side of battling heresy, but when he attended the trial of a fellow dissenter, he did not like conduct of the trial.

Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643) argued for a Covenant of Grace. The trial ended with her excommunication from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and she fled to Providence, where Roger Williams (1603-1683) had created the first Baptist Church and preached the ideas that Anne Hutchinson promoted. Williams was the first to argue for separation of church and state. Hutchinson moved to Portsmouth, R.I. and years later she and her children were killed by Indians.

Davenport and Eaton decided to leave Boston but not to join Hooker. Eaton, who had become a wealthy merchant in London, became New Haven’s first governor.

Davenport sought a "new haven", since he wanted a more orthodox theocracy than Hooker was offering. Eaton and his fellow merchants had a practical interest in being in a harbor like Boston. Men who returned from hunting the Pequots told them of a spot at Quinnipiack on the Long Island Sound shoreline. That was perfect. Here they chose to put into practice a theocracy even more rigid than in Massachusetts. They arranged their civil and church affairs in accordance with details in the Bible. 

In the spring of 1638, the town of New Haven was founded. More people came in subsequent years and some groups fanned out to form Milford, Guilford and Stamford towns. These four towns were united into the republic of New Haven and they added Southold, on Long Island, and Branford. As a confederation of six independent towns, New Haven resembled Connecticut. 

From their origins during the colonial era, a sense of rivalry existed between the settlement at Hartford, formed in 1636 by followers of the Rev. Thomas Hooker and the settlement of New Haven, formed in 1638 by the followers of Puritan minister, Rev. John Davenport and his merchant-organizer friend, Theophilus Eaton.

So William Woodin put his head down and settled into being a New Haven resident. He would have felt the rivalry strongly. His name appears in the New Haven Congregational Church records in 1642. He married Sarah Clark in 1650 when he was 25 and she was 21. The church records show that he lived a quiet life with just a few embarrassing incidents caused by excessive alcohol consumption. 

But the Mother Country’s long arm was felt in New Haven. When Cromwell died, the opposition easily defeated his government. The monarchists swooped in and restored Charles II. Leaders in Boston and Hartford quickly recognized the new regime, but New Haven acted more slowly and in fact harbored two judges who had signed the death warrant for Charles I. While Charles II extended a general pardon to Cromwell’s leaders, he excepted the regicides.

Charles II punished New Haven for giving two of his father's killers, the regicides, a home. He granted a new charter to the Colony of Connecticut in 1662, ending the independence of New Haven and joining it to  Connecticut as of 1665. He was correct that the New Haven colony was more willing to oppose him, but was wrong about which of the two governing philosophies would be more dangerous for continued rule by the Mother Country. 

Hooker's colony was more radically democratic than Winthrop, while Davenport was more conservative about holding the power in the hands of fewer people. In the New Haven colony only church-members could vote, disfranchising half the settlers in New Haven town and Guilford, and one-fifth in Milford. Each of the six New Haven towns was also governed by seven church officers known as "11 pillars of the church" who served as judges. They ended the English system of trial by jury, because there was no authority for it in the laws of Moses. (Based on John Fisk, 1896 

Davenport was still venerated by his congregation in New Haven. Near the end of his life he was offered a position at the First Church in Boston, the most prestigious Puritan church in the colonies. Davenport accepted it, and thereby agitated his own New Haven parish. In the brouhaha that followed, Davenport died in 1670. He is remembered as a visionary who developed a plan for new college, 30 years before it was established and was given the name Yale. The University has recognized Davenport's role by naming a college after him.

In 1701 the Connecticut legislature made New Haven and Hartford co-capitals, with meetings every May in Hartford, and every October in New Haven. But maintaining capitol buildings in both places was expensive. Officials proposed eliminating one of the capitols and put it to a referendum. New Haven was larger, but Hartford was more central and offered land and $500,000 toward construction. In the fall of 1873, Hartford won the referendum, becoming Connecticut’s sole capital city, effective 1875. (Source: Patrick J. Mahoney, "A Tale of Two Capitals",

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