During the ten years after 1620, the twin colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay had been fairly shaken down into their places, and had even begun to look around them for opportunities of extension. It was not possible that the fertile and inviting territory to the southwest should long escape their notice. In 1629, De Rasières, an envoy from New Amsterdam, was at Plymouth. He found the Plymouth people building a shallop for the purpose of obtaining a share in the wampum trade of Narragansett Bay; and he very shrewdly sold them at a bargain enough wampum to supply their needs, for fear they should discover at Narragansett the more profitable peltry trade beyond. This artifice only put off the evil day.
Within the next three years, several Plymouth men, including Winslow, visited the Connecticut River, "not without profit." In April, 1631, a Connecticut Indian visited Governor Winthrop at Boston, asking for settlers, and offering to find them corn and furnish eighty beaver skins a year. Winthrop declined even to send an exploring party. In the midsummer of 1633, Winslow went to Boston to propose a joint occupation of the new territory by Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay; but the latter still refused, doubting the profit and the safety of the venture.
Three months later Plymouth undertook the work alone. A small vessel, under command of William Holmes, was sent around by sea to the mouth of the Connecticut River, with the frame of a trading house and workmen to put it up. When Holmes had sailed up the river as far as the place where Hartford was afterward built, he found the Dutch already in possession. For ten years they had been talking of erecting a fort on the Varsche River; but the ominous and repeated appearance of New Englanders in the territory had roused them to action at last.
John Van Corlear, with a few men, had been commissioned by Governor Van Twiller, and had put up a rude earthwork, with two guns, within the present jurisdiction of Hartford. His summons to Holmes to stop under penalty of being fired into met with no more respect than was shown by the commandant of Rensselaerswyck to his challengers, according to the veracious Knicker-bocker. Holmes declared that he had been sent up the river, and was going up the river, and furthermore he went up the river. His little vessel passed on to the present site of Windsor. Here the crew disembarked, put up and garrisoned their trading house, and then returned home. Plymouth had at least planted the flag far within the coveted and disputed territory.
In December of the following year a Dutch force of seventy men from New Amsterdam appeared before the trading house to drive out the intruders. He must be strong who drives a Yankee away from a profitable trade; and the attitude of the little garrison was so determined that the Dutchmen, after a few hostile demonstrations, decided that the nut was too hard to crack, and withdrew. For about twenty years thereafter the Dutch held post at Hartford, isolated from Dutch support by a continually deepening mass of New Englanders, who refrained from hostilities, and waited until the apple was ripe enough to drop.
With respect to the claims of the Indians, the attitudes of the two parties to the struggle were directly opposite. The Dutch came on the strength of purchase from the Pequots, the conquerors and lords paramount of the local Indians. Holmes brought to the Connecticut River in his vessel the local sachems, who had been driven away by the Pequots, and made his purchases from them. The English policy will account for the unfriendly disposition of the Pequots, and, when followed up by the tremendous overthrow of the Pequots, for Connecticut's permanent exemption from Indian difficulties. The Connecticut settlers followed a straight road, buying lands fairly from the Indians found in possession, ignoring those who claimed a supremacy based on violence, and, in case of resistance by the latter, asserting and maintaining for Connecticut an exactly similar title,the right of the stronger. Those who claimed right received it; those who preferred force were accommodated.
One route to the new territory by Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River, had thus been appropriated. The other, the overland route through Massachusetts, was explored during the same year, 1633, by one John Oldham, who was murdered by the Pequots two years afterward. He found his way westward to the Connecticut River, and brought back most appetizing accounts of the upper Connecticut Valley; and his reports seem to have suggested a way out of a serious difficulty which had come to a head in Massachusetts Bay.
The colony of Massachusetts Bay was at this time limited to a district covering not more than twenty or thirty miles from the sea, and its greatest poverty, as Cotton stated, was a poverty of men. And yet the colony was to lose part of its scanty store of men. Three of the eight Massachusetts towns, Dorchester, Watertown, and Newtown (now Cambridge), had been at odds with the other five towns on several occasions; and the assigned reasons are apparently so frivolous as to lead to the suspicion that some fundamental difference was at the bottom of them. The three towns named had been part of the great Puritan influx of 1630. Their inhabitants were "newcomers," and this slight division may have been increased by the arrival and settlement, in 1633, of a number of strong men at these three towns, notably Hooker, Stone, and Haynes at Newtown. Dorchester, Watertown, and Newtown showed many symptoms of an increase of local feeling: the two former led the way, in October, 1633, in establishing town governments under "selectmen;" and all three neglected or evaded, more or less, the fundamental feature of Massachusetts policy,the limitation of office-holding and the elective franchise to church-members. The three towns fell into the position of the commonwealths opposition, a position not particularly desirable at the time and under all the circumstances.
The ecclesiastical leaders of Dorchester were Warham and Maverick; of Newtown, Hooker and Stone; of Watertown, Phillips. Haynes of Newtown, Ludlow of Dorchester, and Pynchon of Roxbury, were the principal lay leaders of the half-formed opposition. Some have thought that Haynes was jealous of Governor Winthrop, Hooker of Cotton, and Ludlow of everybody. But the opposition, if it can be fairly called an opposition, was not so definite as to be traceable to any such personal source. The strength which marked the divergence was due neither to ambition nor to jealousy, but to the strength of mind and character which marked the leaders of the minority.
Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone were of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Hooker began to preach at Chelmsford in 1626, and was silenced for non-conformity in 1629. He then taught school, his assistant being John Eliot, afterward the apostle to the Indians; but the chase after him became warmer, and in 1630 he retired to Holland and resumed his preaching. In 1632 he and Stone came to New England as pastor and teacher of the church at Newtown; and the two took part in the migration to Hartford. Here Hooker became the undisputed ecclesiastical leader of Connecticut until his death in 1647. John Warham and John Maverick, both of Exeter in England, came to New England in 1630, as pastor and teacher of Dorchester. Maverick died while preparing to follow his church, but Warham settled with his parishioners at Windsor, and died there in 1670. George Phillips, also a Cambridge man, came to New England in 1630, as pastor of the church at Watertown. He took no part in the migration, but lived and died at Watertown. Fate seems to have determined that Wendell Phillips should belong to Massachusetts.
Roger Ludlow was Endicott's brother-in-law. He came to New England in 1630, and settled at Dorchester. He was deputy governor in 1634, and seems to have been "slated," to use the modern term, for the governorship in the following year. But this private agreement among the deputies was broken, for some unknown reason, by the voters, who chose Haynes, perhaps as a less objectionable representative of the opposition. Ludlow complained so openly and angrily of the failure to carry out the agreement that he was dropped from the magistracy at the next election. He went at once to Connecticut, and was deputy governor there in alternate years until 1654. Incensed at the interference of New Haven to prevent his county, Fairfield, from waging an independent warfare against the Dutch, he went to Virginia in 1654, taking the records of the county with him. It is not known when or where he died. Pynchon, the third lay leader of the opposition, took part in the migration, but remained within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, founding the town of Springfield.
At the May session of the Massachusetts General Court in 1634, an application for "liberty to remove" was received from Newtown. It was granted. At the September session the request was changed into one for removal to Connecticut. This was a very different matter, and, after long debate, was defeated by the vote of the Assistants, tho the Deputies passed it. Various reasons were assigned for the request to remove to Connecticut,lack of room in their present locations, the desire to save Connecticut from the Dutch, and "the strong bent of their spirits to remove thither;" but the last looks like the strongest reason. In like manner, while the arguments to the contrary were those which would naturally suggest themselves, the weakening of Massachusetts, and the peril of the emigrants, the concluding argument, that "the removing of a candlestick" would be "a great judgment," seems to show the feeling of all parties that the secession was the result of discord between two parties.
Haynes was made governor at the next General Court. Successful inducements were offered to some of the Newtown people to remove to Boston, and some few concessions were made. But the migration which had been denied to the corporate towns had probably been begun by individuals. There is a tradition that some of the Watertown people passed this winter of 1634-35 at the place where Wethersfield now stands. In May, 1635, the Massachusetts General Court voted that liberty be granted to the people of Watertown and Roxbury to remove themselves to any place within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. In March, 1636, the secession having already been accomplished, the General Court issued a "Commission to Several Persons to govern the people at Connecticut."
Its preamble reads: "Whereas, upon some reasons and grounds, there are to remove from this our Commonwealth and body of the Massachusetts in America divers of our loving friends and neighbors, freemen and members of Newtown, Dorchester, Watertown, and other places, who are resolved to transport themselves and their estates unto the river of Connecticut, there to reside and inhabit; and to that end divers are there already, and divers others shortly to go." This tacit permission was the only authorization given by Massachusetts; but it should be noted that the unwilling permission was made more gracious by a kindly loan of cannon and ammunition for the protection of the new settlements.
If it be true that some of the Watertown people had wintered at Wethersfield in 1634-35, this was the first civil settlement in Connecticut; and it is certain that, all through the following spring, summer, and autumn, detached parties of Watertown people were settling at Wethersfield. During the summer of 1635, a Dorchester party appeared near the Plymouth factory, and laid the foundations of the town of Windsor. In October of the same year, a party of sixty persons, including women and children, largely from Newtown, made the overland march and settled where Hartford now stands. Their journey was begun so late that the winter overtook them before they reached the river, and, as they had brought their cattle with them, they found great difficulty in getting everything across the river by means of rafts.
It may have been that the echoes of all these preparations had reached England, and stirred the tardy patentees to action. During the autumn of 1635, John Winthrop, Jr., agent of the Say and Sele associates, reached Boston, with authority to build a large fort at the mouth of the Connecticut River. He was to be "Governor of the River Connecticut" for one year, and he at once issued a proclamation to the Massachusetts emigrants, asking "under what right and preference they had lately taken up their plantation."
It is said that they agreed to give up any lands demanded by him, or to return on having their expenses repaid. A more dangerous influence, however, soon claimed Winthrop's attention. Before the winter set in he had sent a party to seize the designated spot for a fort at the mouth of the Connecticut River. His promptness was needed. Just as his men had thrown up a work sufficient for defense and had mounted a few guns, a Dutch ship from New Amsterdam appeared, bringing a force intended to appropriate the same place. Again the Dutch found themselves a trifle late; and their post at Hartford was thus finally cut off from effective support.
This was a horrible winter to the advanced guard of English settlers on the upper Connecticut. The navigation of the river was completely blocked by ice before the middle of November; and the vessels which were to have brought their winter supplies by way of Long Island Sound and the river were forced to return to Boston, leaving the wretched settlers unprovided for. For a little while some scanty supplies of corn were obtained from the neighboring Indians, but this resource soon failed. About seventy persons straggled down the river to the fort at its mouth. There they found and dug out of the ice a sixty-ton vessel, and made their way back to Boston. Others turned back on the way they had come, and struggled through the snow and ice to "the Bay." But a few held their grip on the new territory. Subsisting first on a little corn bought from more distant Indians, then by hunting, and finally on ground-nuts and acorns dug from under the snow, they fought through the winter and held their ground. But it was a narrow escape. Spring found them almost exhausted, their unsheltered cattle dead, and just time enough to bring necessary supplies from home. The Dorchester people alone lost cattle to the value of two thousand pounds.
The Newtown congregation, in October, 1635, found customers for their old homes in a new party from England; and in the following June Hooker and Stone led their people overland to Connecticut. They numbered one hundred, with one hundred and sixty head of cattle. Women and children were of the party. Mrs. Hooker, who was ill, was carried on a litter; and the journey, of "about one hundred miles," occupied two weeks. Its termination was well calculated to dissipate the evil auguries of the previous winter. The Connecticut Valley in early June! Its green meadows, flanked by wooded hills, lay before them. Its oaks, whose patriarch was to shelter their charter, its great elms and tulip-trees, were broken by the silver ribbon of the river; here and there were the wigwams of the Indians, or the cabins of the survivors of the winter; and, over and through all, the light of a day in June welcomed the newcomers. The thought of abandoning Connecticut disappeared forever.
1From Johnston's "History of Connecticut." By permission of, and by arrangement with, the authorized publishers. Houghton, Mifflin Co. Copyright, 1887, by Alexander Johnston.