Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume I


Chapter VI
Connecticut

The founding of Connecticut as a separate English colony properly dates from 1636, when the Rev. Thomas Hooker, of Newtown, now Cambridge, migrated with his congregation to the valley of the Connecticut and settled at Hartford. The Dutch had built a fort at this spot as early as 1623 and the Plymouth people, ten years later, established a post at Windsor. But as the Dutch and the Pilgrims were not numerous, the newcomers from the vicinity of Boston were soon in the ascendency and became the leaders in the new colony, settling Windsor and Wethersfield in addition to Hartford.

In the year 1635 the younger Winthrop, a man who in all the virtues of a noble life was a worthy rival of his father, the governor of massachusetts, arrived in New England. He bore a commission from the proprietors of the Wesstern colony to build a fort at the mouth of the Connecticut River, and to prevent the further encroachments of the Dutch. The fortress was hastily completed and the guns mounted just in time to prevent the entrance of a Dutch trading-vessel which appeared at the mouth of the river. Such was the founding of Saybrook, so named in honor of the proprietors, Lords Say and Seal and Brooke, to whom a tract had been granted by the Council for New England. Thus was the most important river of New England brought under the dominion of the Puritans; the solitary Dutch settlement at Hartford was cut off from succor and left to dwindle into insignificance.

To the early annals of Connecticut belongs the sad story of the Pequod War. The country west of the Thames was more thickly peopled with savages than any other portion of New England. The haughty and warlike Pequods were alone able to muster seven hundred warriors. The whole effective force of the English colonists did not amount to two hundred men. But the superior numbers of the cunning and revengeful savages were more than balanced by the better discipline and destructive weapons of the English.

The war began with the murder of the captain of a trading vessel by the Indians, in violation of a treaty with the English. A company of militia pursued the perpetrators of the outrage and gave them a bloody punishment. All the slumbering hatred and suppressed rage of the nation burst forth, and war began in earnest.

In this juncture of affairs the Pequods attempted a piece of dangerous diplomacy. A persistent effort was made to induce the Narragansetts and the Mohegans to join in a war of extermination against the English; and the plot was well-nigh successful. But the heroic Roger Williams, faithful in his misfortunes, sent a letter to Sir Henry Vane, governor of Massachusetts, warned him of the impending danger, and volunteered his services to defeat the conspiracy. The governor replied, urging Williams to use his utmost endeavors to thwart the threatened alliance. Embarking alone in a frail canoe, the exile left Providence, which he had founded only a month before, and drifted out into Narragansett Bay. Every moment it seemed that the poor little boat with its lonely passenger would be swallowed up; but his courage and skill as an oarsman at last brought him to the shore in safety. Proceeding at once to the house of Canonicus, king of the Narragansetts, he found the painted and bloody ambassadors of the pequods already there. For three days and nights, at the deadly peril of his life, he pleaded with Canonicus and Miantonomoh to reject the proposals of the hostile tribe, and to stand fast in their allegiance to the English. His noble efforts were successful; the wavering Narragansetts voted to remain at peace, and the disappointed Pequod chiefs were sent away.

The Mohegans also rejected the proposed alliance. Uncas, the sachem of that nation, not only remained faithful to the whites, but furnished a party of warriors to aid them against the Pequods. In the meantime, repeated acts of violence had aroused the colony to vengeance. During the winter of 1636-37 many murders were committed in the neighborhood of Saybrook. On the 1st day of May the three towns of Connecticut declared war. Sixty gallant volunteers--one-third of the whole effective force of the colony--were put under command of Captain John Mason, of Hartford. Seventy Mohegans joined the expedition; and the thoughtful Sir Henry Vane sent Captain Underhill with twenty soldiers from Boston. In a small fleet they proceeded quietly into Narragansett Bay and anchored in the harbor of Wickford. Here the troops landed and began their march into the country of the Pequods. After one day's advance, Mason reached the cagin of Canonicus and Miantonomoh, sachems of the Narragansetts. Them he attempted to persuade to join him against the common enemy; but the wary chieftains, knowing the prowess of the Pequods, and fearing that the English might be defeated, decided to remain neutral.

On the evening of the 25th of May the troops of Connecticut came within hearing of the Pequod fort. The unsuspecting warriors spent their last night on earth in uproar and jubilee. At two o'clock in the morning the English soldiers rose suddenly from their places of concealment and rushed forward to the fort. A dog ran howling among the wigwams, and the warriors sprang to arms, only to receive a deadly volley from the English muskets. The fearless assailants leaped over the puny palisades and began the work of death; but the savages rose on every side in such numbers that Mason's men were about to be overwhelmed. "Burn them! burn them!" shouted the captain, seizing a flaming mat and running to the windward of the cabins. "Burn them!" resounded on every side; and in a few minutes the dry wigwams were one sheet of crackling flame. The English and Mohegans hastily withdrew to the ramparts, after this cruel act. The destruction was complete and awful. Only seven warriors escaped; seven others were made prisoners. Six hundred men, women, and children perished, nearly all of them being roasted to death in a hideous heap. Before the rising of the sun the pride and glory of the Pequods had passed away forever. Sassacus, the grand sachem of the tribe, escaped into the forest, fled for protection to the Mohawks, and was murdered. Two of the English soldiers were killed and twenty others wounded in the battle.

In the early morning three hundred Pequods, the remnant of the nation, approached from a second fort in the neighborhood. They had heard the tumult of battle, and supposed their friends victorious. To their utter horror, they found their fortified town in ashes and nearly all their proud tribe luing in one blackened pile of half-burnt flesh and bones. The savage warriors stamped the earth, yelled and tore their hair in desperate rage, and ran howling through the woods. Mason's men returned by way of New London to Saybrook, and thence to Hartford. The remnants of the hostile nation were pursued into the swamps and tickets west of Saybrook. Every wigwam of the Pequods was burned, and every field laid waste. The remaining two hundted panting fugitives were hunted to death or captivity. The first war between the English colonists and the natives had ended in the overthrow and destruction of one of the most powerful tribes of New England. For many years the other nations, when tempted to hostility, remembered the fate of the Pequods.

The founding of New Haven followed the close of the Pequod War. Some Boston men spent a winter on the shore of Long Island Sound. They explored the country and gave a glowing report of the beautiful plain between the Wallingford and West Rivers. Shortly afterward, a puritan colony from England, under the leadership of Theophilus Eaton and John Davenport, arrived at Boston. Hearing the beauty of the country on the sound, the new immigrants again set sail, and about the middle of April reached New Haven. On the morning of the first Sabbath after their arrival the colonists assembled for worship under a spreading oak; and Davenport, their minister, preached a touching and appropriate sermon on The Temptation in the Wilderness. The next care was to make an honorable purchase of land from the indians--a policy which was ever afterward faithfully adhered to by the colony. For the first year there was no government except a simple covenant, into which the settlers entered.

In June of 1639 the leading men of New Haven held a convention in a barn, and formally adopted the Bible as the constitution of the State. Everything was strictly conformed to the religious standard. The government was called the House of Wisdom, of which Eaton, Davenport, and five others were the seven Pillars. None but church members were admitted to the rights of citizenship. All offices were to be filled by the votes of the freemen at an annual election. For twenty years consecutively, Mr. Eaton--first and greatest of the pillars--was chosen governor of the colony. Other settlers came, and pleasant villages sprang up on both shores of Long Island Sound.

Civil government began in Connecticut in the year 1639. Until that time the Western colonies had been subject to Massachusetts, and had scarcely thought of Independence. But when the soldiers of Hartford returned victorious from the Pequod war, the exulting people began to thing of a separate commonwealth. If they could fight their own battles, could they not make their own laws? Delegates from the three towns came together at Hartford, and on the 14th of January a constitution was framed for the colony. The new instrument was one of the most simple and liberal ever adopted. An oath of allegiance to the State was the only qualification of citizenship. No recognition of the English king or of any foreign authority was required. Different religious opinions were alike tolerated and respected. All the officers of the colony were to be chosen by ballot at an annual election. The law-making power was vested in a general assembly, and the representatives were apportioned among the towns according to population. Neither Saybrook nor New Haven adopted this constitution, by which the other colonies in the valley of the Connecticut were united in a common government. In 1643, Connecticut became a member of the union of New England. Into this confederacy New Haven was also admitted; and in the next year Saybrook was purchased of George Fenwick, one of the proprietors, and permanently annexed to Connecticut.

For some years there was a boundary dispute between Connecticut and the Dutch colony of New Netherland. A line was agreed on by both colonies in 1650; but the agreement was disturbed by a war between England and Holland, which soon followed. But while the western towns were busily preparing for war, the news of peace arrived, and hostilities were happily averted.

On the restoration of monarchy in England, Connecticut made hste to recognize King Charles as rightful sovereign. It was as much an act of sound policy as of loyal zeal. The people of the Connecticut valley were eager for a royal charter. They had conquered the Pequods; they had bought the lands of the Mohegans; they had purchased the claims of the earl of Warwick; it only remained to secure all these acquisitions with a patent from the king. the infant republic selected its best and truest man, the scholarly younger Winthrop, and sent him as ambassador to London. He bore with him a charter which had been carefully prepared by the authorities of Hartford; the problem was to induce the king to sign it.

Winthrop obtained an audience with the sovereign, and did not fail to show him a ring which Charles I. had given as a pledge of friendship to Winthrop's grandfather. The little token so moved the wayward monarch's feelings that in a moment of careless magnanimity he signed the colonial charter without the alteration of a letter. Winthrop returned to the rejoicing colony, bearing a patent the most liberal and ample ever granted by an English monarch. The power of governing themselves was conferred on the people without qualification or restriction. Every right of sovereignty and of independence, except the name, was conceded to the new State. The territory included under the charter extended from the bay and river of the Narragansetts westward to the Pacific.

For fourteen years the excellent Winthrop was annually chosen governor of the colony. Every year added largely to the population and wealth of the province. The civil and religious institutions were the freest and best in New England. Peace reigned; the husbandman was ndistrubed in the field, the workman in his shop. Even during King Philip's War, Connecticut was saved from invasion. Not a war-whoop was heard, not a hamlet burned, not a life lost, within her borders. Her soldiers made common cause with their brethren of Massachusetts and Rhode Island; but their own homes were saved from the desolations of war.

In July of 1675, Sir Edmund Andros, the governor of New York, arrived with an armed sloop at the mouth of the Connecticut. Orders were sent to Captain Bull, who commanded the fort at Saybrook, to surrender his post; but the brave captain replied by hoisting the flag of England and assuring the bearer of the message that his master would better retire. Andros, however, landed and came to a parley with the officers of the fort. He began to read his commission, but was ordered to stop. In vain did the arrogant magistrate insist that the dominions of the duke of York extended from the Connecticut to the Delaware. "Connecticut has her own charter, signed by His Gracious Majesty King Charles II.," siad Captain Bull. "Leave off your reading, or take the consequences!" the argument prevailed, and the red-coated governor, trembling with rage, was escorted to his boat by a company of Saybrook militia.

In 1686, when Andros was made royal governor of New England, Connecticut was included in his jurisdiction. The first year of his administration was spent in establishing his authority in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. In the following October he made his famous visit to Hartford. On the day of his arrival he invaded the provincial assembly while in session, seized the book of minutes, and with his own hand wrote Finis at the bottom of the page. He demanded the immediate surrender of the colonial charter. Governor Treat pleaded long and earnestly for the preservation of the precious document. Andros was inexorable. The shades of evening fell. Tradition informs us, as stated on a preceding page, that Joseph Wadsworth found in the gathering darkness an opportunity to conceal the cherished parchment. Two years later, when the government of Andros was overthrown, Connecticut made haste to restore her liberties.

In the autumn of 1693, another attempt was made to subvert the freedom of the colony. Fletcher, the governor of New York, went to Hartford to assume command of the militia of the province. He bore a commission from King William; but by the terms of the charter the right of commanding the troops was vested in the colony itself. The general assembly refused to recognize the authority of Fletcher, who, nevertheless, ordered the soldiers under arms and proceeded to read his commission as colonel. "Beat the drums!" shouted Captain Wadsworth, who stood at the head of the company. "Silence!" said Fletcher, the drums ceased, the reading began again. "Drum! drum!" cried Wadsworth; and a second time the voice of the reader was drowned in the uproar. "Silence! silence!" shouted the enraged governor. The dauntless Wadsworth stepped before the ranks and said, "Colonel Fletcher, if I am interrupted again, I will let the sunshine through your body in an instant." That ended the controversy. Benjamin Fletcher thought it better to be a living governor of New York than a dead colonel of the Connecticut militia.

"I give these books for the founding of a college in this colony." Such were the words of ten ministers who, in the year 1700, assembled at the village of Branford, a few miles east of New Haven. Each of the worthy fathers, as he uttered the words, deposited a few volumes on the table around which they were sitting; such was the founding of Yale College. In 1702 the school was formally opened at Saybrook, where it continued for fifteen years, and was then removed to New Haven. One of the most liberal patrons of the college was Elihu Yale, from whom the famous institution of learning derived its name. Common schools had existed in almost every village of Connecticut since the planting of the colony.

The half-century preceding the French and Indian war was a period of prosperity to all the western districts of New England. Connecticut was especially favored. Almost unbroken peace reigned throughout her borders. The blessings of a free commonwealth were realized in full measure. The farmer reaped his fields in cheerfulness and hope. The mechanic made glad his dusty shop with anecdote and song. The merchant feared no duty, the villager no taxes. Want was unknown and pauperism unheard of. Wealth was littled cared for and crime of rare occurrence among a people with whom intelligence and virtue were the only foundations of nobility. With fewer dark pages in her history, less austerity of manners and greater liberality of sentiment, Connecticut had all the lofty purposes and shining virtues of Massachusetts. The visions of Hooker and Haynes, and the dreams of the quiet Winthrop, were more than realized in the happy homes of the Connecticut valley.


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