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Colony Of Connecticut

A Brief History

"Connecticut derives its name from its principal river, called by the Indians Quonehtacut, and which, in their language, signified 'the long river.'

Robert, Earl of Warwick, was the first proprietary of the territory, under a grant in 1630 from the Plymouth Council. It was next held by Lords Say and Seal, and Lord Brooke, and others, to whom the Earl transferred it to 1631. The grant included that part of New England which extends from the Narragansett river, one hundred and twenty miles on a straight line southwest to the coast, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. This is the original patent of Connecticut.

During this latter year, Mr. Winslow, Governor of Plymouth, at the instance of Wahquimacut, a sachem near the Connecticut, visited the river, and the fertile valley through which it passes, and, after his return, decided to take measures to commence a settlement on its banks.

Meanwhile, the Dutch at New York, who had become acquainted with the river about the same time, intending to anticipate the people of Plymouth, built a fort at Hartford in 1633, and placed two cannon there. In October that year, William Holmes, who commanded the Plymouth Expedition, proceeded in a vessel for Connecticut, bearing a commission from the Governor of Plymouth, to build a fort for themselves. On reaching the Dutch fort, Holmes was forbidden to proceed, at the hazard of being blown to pieces; but, being a man of spirit, he coolly informed the garrison that he had a commission from the Governor of Plymouth to go up the river, and that he should go. They poured out their threats, but he proceeded, and landing on the west side of the river, erected his house below the mouth of a tributary river, at Windsor. The house was erected with the utmost dispatch, and fortified with palisades. The Dutch, considering Holmes and his men intruders, sent, the next year, a band of seventy men to drive them from the country; but finding them strongly posted, they did not proceed.

In the autumn of 1635, a company, consisting of sixty men, women and children, from the settlements of Newtown and Watertown, in Massachusetts, commenced their journey through the wilderness to the Connecticut River. On their arrival, they settled at Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford. They commenced their journey on October 25th; but, due to the wilderness spread before them being filled with swamps, rivers, hills, and mountains, they took a great deal of time passing the rivers, and in getting their cattle over them, that, after all their exertions, winter came upon them before they were completely prepared.

By November 25th, the Connecticut River was frozen over, the snow was deep, and the season so tempestuous, that a considerable number of the cattle driven from Massachusetts could not be brought across the river, and a considerable number perished. The loss of the Windsor settlers, in cattle, was estimated at almost two hundred pounds sterling in value. The sufferings of the people for want of food during the winter, were often severe. After all the help they were able to obtain from hunting and the Indians, they were forced to subsist on only acorns, malt, and grains.

During the same month in which the emigrants commenced their journey to Connecticut, John Winthrop, son of the Governor of Massachusetts, arrived at Boston with a commission as Governor of Connecticut, under Lords Say and Seal, and Lord Brook, the proprietors, and with authority to erect a fort at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Accordingly, soon after his arrival, he dispatched a bark of thirty tons, with twenty men, to take possession of the Connecticut River, and to build a fort at its mouth. This was accordingly erected, and called Saybrook Fort, as the settlement was called Saybrook Colony, and which continued independent until 1644. A few days after their arrival, a Dutch vessel from New Netherlands (New York) appeared, to take possession of the river; but, as the English had already mounted two cannon, their landing was prevented.

The next June, 1636, the Reverend Messrs. Hooker and Stone, with a number of settlers from Dorchester and Watertown, moved to Connecticut. With no guide but a compass, they made their way one hundred miles, over mountains and through swamps and rivers. Their journey, which was on foot, lasted a fortnight, during which they lived upon the milk of their cows. They drove one hundred and sixty cattle. This party chiefly settled at Hartford. Mr. Hooker and Mr. Stone became the pastors of the church in that place, and were both eminent men and ministers.

The year 1637 is remarkable in the history of Connecticut, for a war with the Pequots, a tribe of Indians, whose principal settlement was in the present town of Groton. Prior to this time, the Pequots had frequently annoyed the infant colony, and in several instances had killed some of its inhabitants. In March of this year, the commander of Saybrook Fort, with twelve men, was attacked by them, and three of his party killed. In April, another portion of this tribe assaulted the people of Wethersfield, as they were going to labor in their fields, and killed six men and three women. Two girls were taken captive by them, and twenty cows were killed. In this perilous state of the colony, a court was summoned at Hartford, on May 11th. After mature deliberation, it was determined that war should be commenced against the Pequots. Ninety men, nearly half the able men of the colony, were ordered to be raised; forty-two from Hartford, thirty from Windsor, and eighteen from Wethersfield.

With these troops, together with seventy River and Mohegan Indians, Captain John Mason, to whom the command of the expedition was given, sailed down the Connecticut River to Saybrook. Here a plan of operations was formed, and agreeably to which, on June 5th, about the dawn of day, Captain Mason surprised one of the principal forts of the enemy, in a place called Mystic, and now the present town of Stonington. On their near approach to the fort, a dog barked, and an Indian, now discovering them, cried out, 'Oh wanux! Oh wanux!,' or, Englishmen! Englishmen!

The troops instantly pressed forward and fired. The destruction of the enemy soon became terrible; but they rallied at length, and made a brave resistance. After a severe and protracted conflict, Captain Mason and his troops being nearly exhausted, and victory still doubtful, he cried out to his men, 'We must burn them!' At the same instant, seizing a firebrand, he applied it to a wigwam. The flames spread rapidly on every side; and as the sun rose upon the scene, it showed the work of destruction to be complete. Seventy wigwams were in ruins, and between five and six hundred Indians lay bleeding on the ground, or smoldering in the ashes. [This event later became known as the Mystic Indian Massacre.]

But, though the victory was complete, the troops were now in great distress. Besides two killed, sixteen of their number were wounded. Their surgeon, medicines and provisions, were upon some vessels, on their way to Pequot harbor, now New London. While consulting what should be done in this emergency, how great was their joy to discern their vessels were sailing directly towards the harbor, under a prosperous wind! And soon after, a detachment of nearly two hundred men from Massachusetts and Plymouth, arrived to assist in prosecuting the war.

Sassacus, the great sachem of the Pequots, and his warriors, were so appalled at the destruction of their fort, that they fled towards the Hudson River. The troops pursued them as far as a great swamp in Fairfield, where another action took place, in which the Indians were entirely vanquished. This was followed by a treaty with the remaining Pequots, about two hundred in number, agreeably to which they were divided among the Narragansetts and Mohegans. Thus terminated a conflict, which, for a time, was eminently distressing to the colonies. This event of peace was celebrated, throughout New England, by a day of thanksgiving and praise.

During the expedition against the Pequots, the English became acquainted with Quinipiac, or New Haven; and the next year, in 1638, the settlement of that town was commenced. This, and the adjoining towns, soon after settled, were distinguished by the name of Colony of New Haven.

Among the founders of this colony, which was the fourth in New England, was Mr. John Davenport, for some time a distinguished minister in London. To avoid the indignation of the persecuting Archbishop Laud, he fled, in 1633, to Holland. Hearing, while in exile, of the prosperity of the New England settlements, he planned a removal to America. On his return to England, Mr. Theophilus Eaton, an eminent merchant in London, with Mr. Hopkins, afterwards Governor of Connecticut, and several others, determined to accompany him. They arrived in Boston in June, 1637.

Though the most advantageous offer were made by the government of Massachusetts, to choose any place within their jurisdiction, they preferred a place without the limits of the existing colonies. Accordingly, they fixed upon New Haven as the place of their: future residence; and on the 28th of April they kept their first Sabbath in the place, under, a large oak tree, where Mr. Davenport preached to them.

The following year, on January 24th 1639, the three towns on the Connecticut River, Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield, finding themselves outside the limits of the Massachusetts patent, assembled their freemen at Hartford, and formed themselves into a distinct commonwealth, and adopted a constitution. This constitution, which has been much admired, and which,. for more than a century and a half, underwent little alteration, ordained that there should annually be two general assemblies; one in April, and the other in September. In April, the officers of government were to be elected by the freemen, and to consist of a governor, deputy-governor, and five or six assistants. The towns were to send deputies to the general assemblies. Under this constitution, the first governor was John Haynes, and Roger Ludlow the first deputy-governor.

The example of the colony of Connecticut, in forming a constitution, was followed, the next June, by the Colony of New Haven. The planters assembled in a large barn. Among other rules, it was established that none but church members should vote, or be elected to office; that all the freemen of the colony should annually assemble and elect its officers; and that the word of God should be the only rule for ordering the affairs of the commonwealth.

In October following, the government was organized, when Mr. Eaton was chosen governor. To this office he was annually elected until his death in 1657. No other of the New England colonies was so much distinguished for good order and tranquility as the colony of New Haven. Her principal men were eminent for their wisdom and integrity, and directed the affairs of the colony with so much prudence, that she was seldom disturbed by divisions within, or by aggressions from the Indians from without. Having been bred to mercantile employments, the first settlers belonging to this colony were inclined to engage in commercial pursuits; but in these they sustained several severe losses, and, among those, a new ship of one hundred and fifty tons was lost at sea in 1647, and which was freighted with a valuable cargo, and with seamen and passengers from many of the best families in the colony aboard. This loss discouraged, for a time, their commercial pursuits, and engaged their attention more particularly in the employments of agriculture.

The Dutch at New Netherlands early proved themselves troublesome neighbors to the Connecticut Colonies. Besides claiming the soil as far east as the Connecticut River, they plundered the property of settlers adjoining their territory, instigated the Indians to hostilities, supplied them with arms, and otherwise disturbed their pence. These were among the causes which induced these colonies to Unite with the other New England colonies in the memorable confederacyof 1643.

In 1644, the little colony of Saybrook, which until now had been independent, was united with Connecticut; she having purchased the soil and jurisdiction of George Fenwick, one of the proprietors, for about two thousand pounds.

In 1650, Governor Stuyvesant concluded a treaty of amity and partition, at Hartford, between the Dutch and English. By this treaty the former relinquished all claim to the territory, except the land which they then occupied. A divisional line was also established, and pledges exchanged to abide in peace.

The harmony of the two people, however, was not of long duration. A war broke out in 1652 between England and Holland, taking advantage of which, and notwithstanding his pledge, Stuyvesant, it was understood, was plotting to overthrow the English. Ninigret, the famous sachem of. the Narragansetts, and the wily and implacable enemy of the colonies, spent the winter of 1652-3 in New York with the Dutch governor. The colonies became alarmed.

A meeting of the commissioners was convened, and a majority decided upon war against the Dutch; but, Massachusetts, refusing to furnish her quota, had prevented hostilities. Connecticut and New Haven, indignant at the course pursued by Massachusetts, applied to Cromwell for aid, then Protector of England, and, in 1654, four or five ships were dispatched to reduce the Dutch. Peace, however, was concluded between Holland and England before the fleet arrived, During this year the Legislature of Connecticut sequestered the Dutch houses, land, and property of all kinds, at Hartford, at which time the latter prosecuted no further claims in New England.

Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, after which, Connecticut, expressing her loyalty, applied for a charter. It was in the king's heart to deny her request; but, providentially, as it were, her agent, Governor Winthrop, went about to urge her petition, and presented to the Monarch a ring which had belonged to Charles I, and by him had been given to his grandfather. This act of courtesy so won the heart of the king, that he not only gave a liberal charter to the colony, but confirmed the very constitution which the people had adopted. The date of this charter was May 30th, I662. Under this the people of Connecticut lived and flourished until the adoption of the present constitution in 1818, for a period of one hundred and fifty-six years.

This charter included New Haven, and most of the territory of Rhode Island. But the former utterly refused to be united, and this opposition persisted until 1665, when a reluctant consent was obtained, and the two were made one. In 1663, Charles conferred a charter on Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which, however, as it included a portion of territory already granted to Connecticut, laid the foundation for a controversy between the two colonies, which lasted nearly sixty years.

From the calamities of King Philip's War, in 1675, involving the New England Colonies, Connecticut was comparatively exempted; yet, she promptly responded to demands made upon her for aid in that dark period of New England history. Her captains were brave, and her soldiers unyielding, in the terrible swamp-fight with the Narragansetts, on December 29th 1675. Connecticut's troops suffered more than those of either Massachusetts or Plymouth, and were compelled to return home.

On December 30th 1686, Sir Edmund Andros, 'glittering in scarlet and lace,' landed at Boston, as Governor of all New England. In the autumn of 1687, Andros, attended by some of his council, and a guard of sixty troops, went to Hartford, and entering the House of Assembly, then in session, demanded the charter of Connecticut, and declared the colonial government be dissolved. Reluctant to surrender the charter, the assembly protracted its debates until evening, when the charter was brought in and laid on the table. Upon a pre-concerted signal, the lights were at once extinguished, and a Captain Wadsworth, seized the charter, and hastened it away, under cover of night, and secreted it in the hollow of an oak. [This tree eventually became known as the Charter Oak, and a bridge across the Connecticut River is named for it at Hartford.] The candles, which bad been extinguished, were soon re-lighted, without disorder; but the charter had disappeared. Sir Edmund Andros, however, assumed the government, which was administered in his name, until the dethronement of James II, in 1689, and the elevation of the Prince of Orange, as William III.

On this event, Connecticut, spurning the government which Andros had appointed, and 'which,' an 1800s historian says, 'they had always feared it was a sin to obey,' The secreted charter was taken from its hiding place, May 19th, 'discolored, but not effaced.' The assembly was convened, and the records of the colony were once more opened.

Not long after, another encroachment upon the rights of the colony was attempted and nobly resisted. In 1692, Colonel Fletcher was appointed Governor of New York, with a commission to take command of the militia of Connecticut. As this was a power which the charter had reserved to the colony, the demand of the colonel was denied. In the autumn of 1693, Fletcher went to Hartford, intending to enforce his commission. The legislature was in session. The demand was repeated, and refused. The Hartford companies were then ordered to assemble, before which Fletcher directed his commission to be read.

But presently nothing could be heard but the noise of the drums, which Captain Wadsworth, the senior officer of the companies, commanded to be beaten. 'Silence!' exclaimed Fletcher, and Wadsworth's aid exclaimed, 'Drum, drum, I say!' Fletcher repeated, 'Silence!' and Wadsworth cried, 'Drum, drum!' Wadsworth turned to Fletcher, upon whom his eyes glared with fire and indignation, adding, 'Sir, if I am interrupted again, I will make the sun shine through you in a moment!' This was enough. The crest of the haughty colonel instantly fell, and soon after he departed for New York. On a representation of the affair to the king, he decided that the command of the militia, in time of peace, should be with the governor; but, in case of war, a determinate number should be placed under the orders of Fletcher.


Source: A History of the United States, by Charles A. Goodrich, 1857




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