Connecticut, One of the Original 13 Colonies
The Connecticut Colony was an English colony in North America. Connecticut Colony was one of the 13 Original Colonies that voted to support the Lee Resolution. On July 2, 1776, those colonies declared independence from Great Britain. Later, Connecticut’s delegates to the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. Those men were — Samuel Huntington, Roger Sherman, William Williams, and Oliver Wolcott.
Quick Facts About Connecticut Colony
This short section provides a few essential facts about Colonial Connecticut. We also have a more detailed set of facts, details, and a timeline of Connecticut.
- Region: The colonies are generally divided into three regions — New England, Middle, and Southern. Connecticut Colony was one of the New England Colonies.
- First Settlement: The first English permanent settlement in Connecticut was Wethersfield.
- First Settlement Established: Wethersfield was established in 1634.
- Purpose: The first English settlements in Connecticut were founded by Puritans seeking religious freedom.
- Charter: Connecticut received a Royal Charter from King Charles II on May 3, 1662.
Connecticut Colony History
Adriaen Block Explores the Connecticut River Valley
The first European to explore the area that became the Connecticut Colony was Dutch trader Adriaen Block. He sailed up the Connecticut River in 1614 for the Dutch West India Company. The purpose of his expedition was to explore the area, map it, and claim the eastern coast of New Netherland for the Dutch. The mouth of the Connecticut River was northeast of New Amsterdam — present-day New York City — and is north of Long Island, across Long Island Sound. The Dutch wanted to strengthen their presence east of New Amsterdam, which eventually reached all the way to present-day Rhode Island.
Dutch Trading Posts and the Pequot
The Dutch wanted to control the fur trade with the Native American Indians in the area — mostly the Pequot Tribe. The Dutch and Pequot first encountered each other in 1614.
In order to control trade with the Indians, the Dutch set up trading posts along the Connecticut River. For the most part, the Dutch were able to avoid conflict with their English competitors from Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay.
The Pequot were an Algonquian-speaking people — Native American Indians — who lived in the Thames River Valley of southeastern Connecticut. The Pequot wanted to control the fur trade with Europeans in the area. In order to control the fur trade on their end, the Pequot forced the other tribes in the region to submit to them. The tribes, such as the Narragansett, Nipmuc, and Mattabesic traded with the Pequot, who then traded with the Dutch.
The situation created tension between the tribes, especially with the Narragansett, and eventually led to the near extermination of the Pequot.
Plymouth Colony and the Dutch at Saybrook Point
In September 1620, the Pilgrims — a group of Puritan Separatists — left England and sailed to the New World. They made their voyage across the ocean in the Mayflower and established a permanent settlement on Cape Cod Bay, east of the territory of New Netherland.
On November 3, King James I granted the “Great Patent of New England” to the Council for New England, which gave the Council the power to govern the territory of New England in America.
The Dutch were concerned the Plymouth Colony would start to trade with the Indians. In 1623, the Dutch sent a group of settlers to present-day Saybrook Point, where the Connecticut River flows into Long Island Sound, to establish a colony.
Warwick Patent and the Warwick Patentees
In 1631, the head of the Council for New England, Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, created a document that granted land to a group of “Lords and Gentlemen” — known as the Warwick Patentees — for land in New England. The land was part of the territory under the control of the Council for New England. The patent is sometimes referred to as “Old Patent” or “Connecticut’s First Charter,” however, it seems Warwick had no legal authority to actually grant the land to anyone. The territory in the patent ran from the Narragansett River north to Greenwich. It was a “sea to sea” patent, so it stretched west, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Saybrook Point was in the territory of the patent. Two of the original Warwick Patentees were Lord Saye & Sele and Lord Brooke, which is how the area came to be known as Saybrook.
The House of Hope and the Plymouth Fort at Windsor
In 1632, the Governor of New Netherland, Wouter Van Twiller, sent Captain Hans Eechuys to Saybrook Point. When he arrived, he bought the land from the local Indians and then built a small trading post which he called Kievets Hook.
The following year, 1633, the Dutch traders built a fort further north up the river, which they called “Huys de Hoop.” or the House of Hope, in the South Meadows area of present-day Hartford. The purpose of the fort was to strengthen the Dutch presence in the area, serve as a trading post with the Pequot, and discourage the English from trading with any of the tribes in the area.
Plymouth Fort at Windsor
However, the English responded by building their own fort. In late September 1633, a group of men from Plymouth Colony, sailing north, passed the Dutch fort and built their own trading post where the Farmington River flows into the Connecticut River.
The English fort, under the command of William Holmes, had the advantage over the Dutch trading post because it was further north — near present-day Windsor. Indians traveling downriver would go to the English trading post first.
The Dutch commissioner, Jacob Van Curler, wrote to Holmes and demanded the English abandon the fort. Holmes did not respond, so the Dutch attacked the fort with about 70 men. The English successfully repelled the attack. After that, the Dutch tried to set up another trading post, further north, but it failed due to an outbreak of smallpox.
John Oldham and Establishment of Wethersfield
In 1633, John Oldham, a trader from Massachusetts, sailed up the Connecticut River and traded with Indians. In 1634, Oldman and a group of traders arrived at present-day Wethersfield, south of Hartford. On May 6, 1635, the inhabitants of Watertown, Massachusetts, were given permission by the Massachusetts Court to leave the colony, and they eventually settled at Wethersfield.
English Settlement at Windsor
On June 3, 1635, the inhabitants of Dorchester, Massachusetts were given permission by the Massachusetts Court to leave the colony and into the area near the Plymouth fort at Windsor. Two groups from Dorchester started to make preparations to move to Windsor. The first group, led by Roger Ludlow, arrived in the early fall. The second group, led by Sir Richard Saltonstall, arrived later.
The Plymouth fort continued to conduct trade with the Indians and provided support for settlers in the area until May 1637, when it was bought out by the settlers from Dorchester who moved to the area.
Warwick Patentees Establish Saybrook Colony
In October 1635, the Warwick Patentees gave John Winthrop Jr. a commission to be the first Governor of their colony, which would become Saybrook. In November, the Saybrook Company took possession of the mouth of the Connecticut River.
On April 1, 1636, Winthrop and Lieutenant Lion Gardiner arrived at Saybrook Point to oversee the settlement. Winthrop had Gardiner oversee the construction of a fort and lay out the plan for a small town with homes for the Warwick Patentees. Winthrop named the settlement Saye-Brook.
In the fall, Winthrop found out the Dutch planned to establish a permanent settlement at Saybrook Point because their previous effort failed. On November 24, Winthrop sent 20 men on a small ship to fortify the point. They positioned two cannons on the shore in order to defend it.
Although the inhabitants of Saybrook were on good terms with the local Indians, the Pequot wanted them to leave the area. As a result, the Pequot made frequent attacks on the fort.
On April 26, 1636, Lieutenant Gardiner’s wife gave birth to their son, David. The boy was the first child of European parents born in what would eventually be the Connecticut Colony.
Winthrop Jr. served as Governor of Saybrook until 1639 when George Fenwick, another one of the Warrick Patentees, arrived at the colony.
Thomas Hooker Establishes Hartford
In 1636, more people left Massachusetts and moved to Connecticut. In June, another group of Puritans, led by Thomas Hooker, established a settlement at present-day Hartford, near the Dutch fort, in June. Hooker’s originally called the settlement Newtown. The settlement quickly grew and became the most important of the River Towns — Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor.
The Pequot War in Connecticut Colony
The Pequot wanted to control trade with the Dutch, which primarily consisted of furs and wampum. Over time, the Pequot took control of the other tribes throughout southeastern Connecticut. As the Puritans from Massachusetts Bay spread out into southeastern Connecticut, it broke the control the Pequots had on trade in the region and led to the Pequot War.
Massachusetts Bay Attacks the Pequot
In the summer of 1634, the members of an English trading expedition, led by John Stone, were murdered by the Pequot. Two years later, on July 20, 1636, a group of Manisses Indians from Block Island killed trader John Oldham. The murders concerned the people of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the government decided to take action against the Pequot, even though they lived in Connecticut’s territory.
Following Oldham’s death, Massachusetts organized an expedition under the command of Colonel John Endicott. On August 24, 1636, Endicott and his men attacked the Manisses on Block Island, just south of the Rhode Island mainland. In the attack, the Puritans killed several Manisses and burned some wigwams and cornfields.
From there, Endicott went to Saybrook and met with Lieutenant Lion Gardiner. He informed Gardiner that he intended to attack the Pequot village on the Thames River. At this point, the people of the Connecticut River towns and Saybrook were not aware Massachusetts was waging war on the Pequot — in Connecticut. Gardiner opposed the plan because he believed the Pequot would retaliate against the Connecticut towns. However, Gardiner agreed to send men with Endicott.
On August 29, Endicott attacked the Pequot village and burned most of the homes and buildings on both sides of the Thames River. Afterward, Endicott and the Massachusetts men went home.
Siege and Battle of Fort Saybrook
Just as Gardiner expected, the Pequot retaliated against the Puritans by sending an expedition against Fort Saybrook. In September 1636, the Siege and Battle of Fort Saybrook started. The Pequot attacked anyone who went too far from the fort. They also burned fields, warehouses, and livestock. The Pequot also tried to cut the fort off from all traffic on the river and contact with the other settlements up the river.
Pequot Attack on Wethersfield
Raids continued and escalated with the Attack on Wethersfield on April 23, 1673. A large force of Pequot warriors, around 200, attacked a group of settlers from Wethersfield who were traveling to their fields in the Great Meadow, along the Connecticut River. The Pequot killed nine men and women and took two girls prisoner.
Connecticut Declares War on the Pequot
On May 1, 1637, the General Court at Hartford declared war on the Pequot. The declaration of war authorized a force of 90 men to be raised from Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor. Captain John Mason of Windsor was put in command of the force and given orders to attack the Pequot villages at Mistick and Weinshauks.
Mason’s Connecticut force marched to Fort Saybrook, where it was joined by more men from Massachusetts Bay under the command of Captain John Underhill. The Puritans were joined by an Indian force made up of Mohegan and Connecticut River warriors, under the command of the Mohegan sachem Uncas.
The Mystic Massacre
Early in the morning of May 26, the Puritans and their Indian allies approached the Pequot fort and moved into position to attack. There were two entrances to the fort, one on the northeast and one on the southwest. The Puritans forced their way in and set fire to the buildings inside the walls of the fort.
There was a strong wind, which fanned the flames and quickly spread the fire. The Puritans ran back out to safety, and their Indian allies surrounded the fort. Outside the walls, the Puritans and Indians killed anyone who tried to escape. Historians estimate that somewhere between 400 and 700 Pequot men, women, and children were killed within an hour.
Aftermath of Mistick Fort
The Pequot suffered heavy losses to their people at Mistick Fort, not only in the massacre but also in the fighting that followed. They knew they were vulnerable to another attack and many of them decided to leave their villages and homes. Some of them sought refuge in the villages of the Narragansetts and other tribes, joined those tribes, and never returned.
Battle of the Northeast
However, two sachems, Sassacus and Mononotto, wanted to continue the fight. They moved out of the Pequot territory and went in different directions, looking for support from other tribes to help them in their fight against the Puritans and their Indian allies.
Sassacus took a group of about 200 Pequots, including men, women, and children, and went west along the coast. He tried to raise support from allies in the villages near New Haven and Fairfield. Mononotto moved north, joined forces with the Wunnashowatuckoogs, and planned to attack the Narragansetts.
In June 1637, the Pequot allies, under the leadership of Mononotto, and the Narragansetts fought somewhere in east-central Connecticut. The Pequot allies were defeated and Mononotto retreated. He moved west along the coast to meet Sassacus near Fairfield.
The Great Swamp Fight at Fairfield
The Puritans, determined to find Sassacus, organized another expedition to find him and the remaining Pequot. It was sometime in June or July when a force of Puritans and Indians left Fort Saybrook, searching for Sassacus.
The Puritan force went to Long Island, where the Montauk Indians told them Sassacus was near New Haven. When they arrived at New Haven, they found out Sassacus had taken refuge with the Sasqua Tribe near Fairfield. The Puritans continued on to New Haven.
While the Puritans marched to New Haven, Sassacus and a small group left the Sasqua village and went north to the territory of the Mohawks in the New York Colony, near Albany.
On July 13, the Puritans and their allies arrived — about 100 in total — they climbed to the top of a hill. From there, they could see the Sasqua village, which was still about two miles away. However, the Sasquas and Pequots saw the Puritans on the hill. They fled from the village and hid in Munnacommuck Swamp, most likely in the area of present-day Southport, Connecticut, just west of Fairfield.
The Puritans and their Indian allies marched to the swamp, encircled it, and fierce fighting broke out. The Pequot and Sasqua women and children were allowed to leave the swamp after a few hours, however, they were all taken prisoner. Over the next 24 hours, the Puritan force slowly closed in on the Pequot and Sasqua warriors. The fight was brutal as men tried to escape the swamp and engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
On July 14, a thick fog hung over the swamp in the morning. A group of Pequot and Sasqua warriors were able to break through the Puritan lines and escape.
Capture of Sassacus
Sassacus and his small group were spotted by Indians allied with the Puritans near present-day Dover Plains, New York. Sassacus and his group were able to fight off an attack and escaped. By late July, they were west of Danbury, Connecticut. They were camped there when they were attacked by a group of Mohegans and Mohawks. Sassacus was killed, ending the fighting for the Pequot Tribe.
Settlement of New Haven Colony
On March 30, 1638, another colony — New Haven — was established near the old Pequot settlement at Quinnipiac. The founders were John Davenport and Theophilus Easton.
Tripartite Treaty Ends the Pequot War — September 21, 1638
On September 21, 1638, the Puritans, Mohegans, and Narragansetts agreed to a treaty that officially ended the Pequot War. The Tripartite Treaty — or Treaty of Hartford — established peace between the Mohegans and Narragansetts. Any issues between the two tribes had to be taken to the Puritans to be resolved peacefully, instead of through violence. The two tribes also agreed they would not aid any enemies of the Puritans — mostly the few Pequots that were still alive. As for the Pequots that were being held prisoner, around 200, they were divided up and sold to the two tribes for wampum.
The war itself had devastated the Pequots, to the point they no longer existed as a tribe, but the treaty took things further. It stipulated the Pequots could not refer to themselves by that name but had to take on the name of the tribe they were sold to. The treaty also outlawed their language.
The Puritans also took the land of the Pequots, and forbid them to return. The Mohegans and Narragansetts also agreed they would not move into the territory, which opened up southeastern Connecticut for more English settlers.
Ultimately, the treaty eliminated the Pequot from Connecticut and established the English as the dominant authority, superseding all Indian tribes.
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut
In 1639, Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor formed a unified government. They agreed to a unified government under the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut — the first written constitution in America. The orders created an assembly with annual elections and also provided for the election of a governor. John Haynes was chosen as the first Governor.
New England Confederation
In 1643, several colonies joined together to form a military alliance called the New England Confederation. The purpose was to defend against attacks from the French, Dutch, and Native Americans, and the primary reason the alliance was created was in reaction to the Pequot War.
Connecticut and New Haven were part of the confederation, along with Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay. Representatives from each colony met in Boston in May 1643 and developed the New England Articles of Confederation. On May 19, the representatives signed the agreement.
In the fall of 1644, Rhode Island asked to join the Confederation. However, the other colonies — all controlled by Puritans — said Rhode Island could only join if it merged with another colony. That would have threatened Rhode Island’s religious freedom and separation of church and state. In order to protect Rhode Island’s interest, Roger Williams sailed to England and secured a charter for the colony. On Mach 14, 1644, Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Plantations granted a charter to Rhode Island. Despite the charter, Rhode Island was still rejected by the Confederation.
Saybrook Joins the River Colony
In 1644, the Governor of Saybrook Colony, George Fenwick, decided to join the River Colony. The River Colony bought the land and Fort Saybrook from Fenwick.
First Connecticut Code
In May 1650, the Connecticut General Court adopted a new set of laws, known as the First Connecticut Code. The new laws were written by Roger Ludlow — and sometimes called Ludlow’s Laws — and amended laws that had been established in 1642. The previous laws, the Capital Laws of 1642, were essentially the same laws used in Massachusetts. The First Connecticut Code established new laws specific to the Connecticut Colony.
Treaty of Hartford — September 19, 1650
In 1650, the Governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, went to Hartford and met with Connecticut Governor Edward Hopkins. On September 19, they agreed to a treaty that set the boundaries of both Connecticut and New Netherland. As part of the treaty, Connecticut was given a portion of Long Island. It helped lead to the growth of the English population along the coast of Long Island Sound and the eastern portion of Long Island.
First Anglo-Dutch War — 1652
In 1652, the first Anglo-Dutch War broke out. The cause was the passage of the Navigation Act of 1651, which banned Dutch ships from transporting goods to and from the English colonies. Because they were close to New Netherland, Connecticut and New Haven believed the war threatened their safety. They appealed to the New England Confederation for military support, but the other members decided to remain neutral and refused.
Connecticut Charter of 1662 and Merger with New Haven
The Stuart Restoration took place in England in 1660 and led to King Charles II ascending the throne, uniting the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. As part of the restoration, the Church of England was given more power to participate in politics and enforce its rules.
When news reached Connecticut, the political leaders were concerned the new government would take control of the colony and restrict Puritan religious orthodoxy and civil law. At the time, John Winthrop Jr. was the Governor of Connecticut, and he sailed to England to attempt to secure a charter for the colony from King Charles II.
In May 1662, with the help of Lord Saye and Sele, Lord Brook, and the Earl of Manchester, Winthrop was able to secure a charter. The charter was much more generous than the leaders of Connecticut expected. It legalized their colony and granted the freemen of the colony the right of self-government. It provided for elections for the Governor, Deputy Governor, 12 assistants, and a General Assembly. The colony was free to pass its own laws as long as they did not conflict with existing English laws. It was a “sea to sea” charter that established the eastern boundary of the colony as Narragansett Bay and the western boundary as the Pacific Ocean. It also allowed Connecticut to absorb New Haven.
In 1664, New Haven merged with Connecticut, although the process was not completed until 1665.
King Philip’s War in Colonial Connecticut
As the English expanded throughout New England, tension grew between the Indian tribes and the English colonies which led to King Philip’s War. Even the Wampanoags, who had been on good terms with the Pilgrims, and the Narragansetts, who were friendly with Rhode Island were frustrated. The other tribes were the Mohegans, Podunks, and Nipmucks.
Death of John Sassamon
In 1675, a rumor spread in Plymouth Colony that the leader of the Wampanoags, Metacomet, also known as King Philip, was organizing the tribes in the region for an attack on English settlements. The source of the rumor was John Sassamon, a “Praying Indian” who had converted to Christianity and also attended and graduated from Harvard. The leaders in Plymouth had reason to believe Sassamon because he had been an advisor to King Philip. Soon after, Sassamon was found dead, presumably murdered on orders of King Philip.
Three Wampanoag men were convicted of Sassamon’s murder and hanged on June 8, 1675. Although there were six Indians on the jury, the Wampanoag believed the trial and sentencing should have been left to them, not the English.
Wampanoag Attack on Swansea
The incident led to an attack by an Indian force on June 20, 1675, on the English settlement at Swansea, in Plymouth Colony. A little more than a week later, on June 28, Plymouth and Massachusetts responded by sending a combined force to attack the Wampanoag at Mount Hope on the Taunton River, near present-day Bristol, Rhode Island. The town was destroyed but the Wampanoag were able to escape.
The New England Confederation Declares War
War spread quickly throughout New England. The Podunk and Nimpunk joined with the Wampanoag to attack towns and the New England Confederation declared war on September 9, 1675.
Great Swamp Fight
Rhode Island and its allies, the Narragansett, tried to remain neutral in the conflict, but in December 1675, a colonial force, including Connecticut troops, moved against the Narragansett at South Kingston, Rhode Island. The colonial troops attacked the Narragansett village and destroyed it in what is called the Great Swamp Fight.
Attack on Simsbury
King Philip’s forces continued to attack settlements in 1767, including Simsbury, Connecticut on March 26. Afterward, the Indian alliance started to break down and the colonial forces gathered strength. Large numbers of Indians were taken prisoner and sold into slavery by Major John Talcott of Simsbury.
Death of King Philip
Colonial forces led by Captain Benjamin Church followed King Philip to Mount Hope, Rhode Island. On August 12, 1676, King Philip was shot and killed by an Indian named John Alderman. King Philip was beheaded and his body was drawn and quartered. For the next 20 years, his head was displayed in Plymouth. Eventually, it was stolen, and ended up with his descendants.
Effects of King Philip’s War on New England
The war was brutal and both sides suffered heavy casualties from the fighting and disease. Several hundred Indian prisoners were enslaved and sold in Bermuda. Many more moved away from New England and joined tribes to the north and the west. The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, and Nipmuck were almost entirely wiped out, and the Mohegans were significantly weakened.
Although King Philip was defeated, the devastation left by the war took its toll on New England. At least a dozen English towns were destroyed and many more suffered significant damage. The loss of property and lives hurt the economy.
Dominion of New England and the Charter Oak
In 1686, King James II of England and the Board of Trade decided to merge the colonies in New England together under a single government. Under the new arrangement, the colonies were known as the “Dominion of New England.” The purpose of the Dominion was to streamline English oversight of the colonies and give England more control over trade, land titles, and coordination of colonial defenses. The first territories that were part of the Dominion were Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Province of New Hampshire, and part of Rhode Island.
In June 1688, Sir Edmund Andros became the Governor of the Dominion, and his jurisdiction was extended to Connecticut and the rest of Rhode Island. Andros was unpopular and controversial, and Connecticut refused to comply with his laws.
Andros gathered soldiers and marched to Hartford to seize control of the colony — and the Connecticut Charter. Andros met with the leaders of Connecticut. Legend has it that during the meeting the candles in the room went out. In the confusion, the charter was carried out of the room. From there, it was taken to a nearby oak tree and hidden in the tree so Andros could not find it. The tree, known as the “Charter Oak” stood until 1856 when it was blown down in a windstorm.
Connecticut’s Colonial Charter Restored
In 1689, the Glorious Revolution took place in England. King James II was forced to flee England, he was replaced on the throne by King William III and Queen Mary II, and the English Bill of Rights and the Act of Toleration were passed. When the news reached Boston, the people arrested Andros and threw him in prison, effectively ending the Dominion of New England. The colonies, including Connecticut, restored their charters.
Yale Founded — October 9, 1701
In 1700, a group of ministers, led by James Pierpont of New Haven, met in Branford to discuss starting a college. All 10 ministers provided books to help start the college. In October 1701, the General Assembly met and passed “An Act for Liberty to Erect a Collegiate School.” Saybrook was chosen as the location for the college, and Abraham Pierson was the first President. In 1716, the college was moved to New Haven. The “Collegiate School” was renamed “Yale College” in 1718 in honor of Elihu Yale, who made a large donation of books and goods.
Significance of the Establishment of Connecticut Colony
The establishment of the Connecticut Colony is important to the history of the United States because it established self-government through the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. When the colony received its charter in 1662, it retained the right of self-government. Later, when the crown tried to pull the New England Colonies under the government of the Dominion of New England, Connecticut refused. The leaders even hid their charter so the Governor, Edmund Andros, could not take it.
Editor’s Note About Colonial Connecticut
This article is the first in a series of planned articles about the Connecticut Colony. The focus is on the establishment of the settlements, acquisition of the Royal Charter, formation of the government, and other related facts from 1614 to 1701. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive look at the Colony and other important topics, such as Native American Indian Tribes, European Exploration, Indian Wars, or Slavery.