Essential Facts About Colonial Connecticut
Connecticut was officially founded in 1636 when a group of Puritans, led by Thomas Hooker, left Massachusetts and established a settlement at present-day Hartford. Two years later, in 1638, another colony was established — New Haven Colony. In 1645, the towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield united to form the River Colony. In 1643, both colonies joined the New England Confederation. In 1662, the River Colony received a charter from King Charles II, which named it the Colony of Connecticut. Two years later, in 1664, New Haven merged with Connecticut.
Throughout its history, Connecticut has been known as the River Colony, Connecticut River Colony, Colony of Connecticut, Plantation of Connecticut, Connecticut Colony, and the Province of Connecticut.
Early European Settlements in Connecticut
- The early European settlements in Connecticut were trading posts near present-day Hartford and Windsor.
- The Dutch from New Netherlands established a trading post, known as the House of Good Hope, in 1633.
- The English from Plymouth Colony established a trading post at Windsor in 1633.
- The first permanent English settlement was established at Wethersfield in 1634.
- The English settlement at Hartford was founded in 1636 by Thomas Hooker.
- Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor are referred to as the River Towns and formed the River Colony.
Other Colonies in the Connecticut River Valley
- In 1636, Saybrook Colony was established at Saybrook Point, at the mouth of the Connecticut River, where it flows into Long Island Sound.
- On March 30, 1638, New Haven Colony was established near Quinnipiac, west of Saybrook, on the southern coast of Connecticut.
Growth and Expansion of the River Colony
- Western expansion of the English colonies started when Thomas Hooker moved west and founded Hartford.
- The three River Towns — Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor formed a unified government under the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first written constitution in America.
- Saybrook’s Governor, George Fenwick, sold Saybrook Colony to the River Colony in 1642.
- In 1662, Governor John Winthrop Jr. was able to secure a charter from King Charles II, which authorized the colony and gave it the authority to merge with New Haven.
- New Haven started to merge with Connecticut in 1664 and the process was completed in 1665.
- After the Pequot War, Connecticut signed a treaty with Native American Indian tribes — the Narragansett and Mohegan — which gave the colony control of all of southeastern Connecticut.
- In 1650, Connecticut signed a treaty with New Netherlands that defined the borders between the two colonies. Connecticut was given a portion of Long Island, which allowed the English population of the colony to grow and expand.
1662 Charter of Connecticut
Date Granted — King Charles II granted Letters Patent to John Winthrop and a group of businessmen in a charter on April 23, 1662.
Recipients of the Charter — The charter was granted to Winthrop, John Mason, Samuel Wyllys, Henry Clarke, Matthew Allyn, John Tapping, Nathan Gold, Richard Treat, Richard lord, Henry Wolcott, John Talcott, Daniel Clarke, John Ogden, Thomas Wells, Obadiah Bowed, John Clerke, Anthony Hawkins, John Deming, and Matthew Camfeild.
First Government — The charter established the “Company of the English colony of Connecticut in New-England, in America” and set up the first government, which included a Governor, Deputy Governor, and 12 Assistants.
- Governor — John Winthrop was named the first Governor of the Company.
- Deputy Governor — John Mason was appointed Deputy-Governor.
- Assistants — 12 men — Samuel Wyllys, Matthew Allyn, Nathan Gold, Henry Clerke, Richard Treat, John Ogden, John Tapping, John Talcott, Thomas Wells, Henry Wolcott, Richard Lord, and Daniel Clerke — were named Assistants for the Company.
Type of Charter and Colony — Because the charter was granted to a company, it was a Corporate Charter, which made Connecticut a Charter Colony. Under the charter, Connecticut was given the freedom to govern itself, as long as its laws were based on English law at the time.
Facts About Nature in Colonial Connecticut
Geography — Connecticut Colony was located in New England. The southern coast of the colony ran along Long Island Sound, although for some time a portion of Long Island was part of Connecticut. Connecticut was bordered by Massachusetts (North), Rhode Island (East), and New Netherlands, later New York (West).
Terrain — The terrain of the Connecticut Colony was rough. Near the coast, the lowlands were covered with hills. Moving inland, there were mountains. Thick forests covered both the hills and mountains. The soil was rocky, which made it difficult for farmers to cultivate fields and raise certain crops.
Climate — The New England region of Colonial America was the coldest of the three regions. Winters were cold and harsh, but the cold weather kept some diseases from spreading as much as they did in other colonies. The winters were broken up by long, hot summers.
Natural Resources — Access to rivers and the coast made fishing and whaling popular. The thick forests provided wood that was used for lumber and to make charcoal. Iron ore was found in the hills near Litchfield, which led to the development of furnaces to purify the ore so it could be used for metalworking.
Facts About Society in Colonial Connecticut
Religion — The first English people to settle in Connecticut were Congregationalist Puritans. At first, religious freedom was not allowed in Connecticut, but that changed in the 18th Century.
Industry — Although farming was difficult, the settlers were able to grow corn, pumpkins, rye, squash, and beans. Corn and rye were used to distill rum.
Economy — The economy of the colony was dependent on the Triangular Trade. Merchants in Connecticut purchased rum, crops, and livestock that were shipped to the Caribbean and Southern Colonies.
Slavery — Wealthy merchants in Connecticut were involved with the slave trade, as part of their role in the Triangular Trade. There were an estimated 5,000 enslaved African-Americans in the colony in 1774. After the American Revolutionary War, Connecticut gradually eliminated slavery but did not completely abolish it until 1848.
Important People in Colonial Connecticut
Ethan Allen — Allen was originally from Litchfield, Connecticut, and played a key role in helping the New Hampshire Grants become the state of Vermont. Allen is most well known for leading an expedition to capture Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775.
Benedict Arnold — Arnold was from New Haven, Connecticut. He rose to fame in the early days of the American Revolutionary War and rose to the rank of General. He played an important role in the Battle of Quebec and the Saratoga Campaign. However, he betrayed his country when he conspired to surrender West Point to the British. In 1781, he led a British attack on New London, Connecticut.
Nathan Hale — Hale was an officer in the Continental Army and rose to prominence during the early days of the American Revolutionary War. He accepted an assignment from George Washington to spy on the British in and was captured by Robert Rogers. He was sentenced to death and hanged on September 22, 1776. Over time, Hale has become a legendary symbol of the spirit and resolve of the American Revolution, and will be remembered forever by the words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
John Haynes — Haynes was the first Governor of the River Colony. He was elected under the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.
Seth Warner — Warner was from Roxbury, Connecticut, and an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He led the legendary Green Mountain Boys in several key battles in the early years of the war, including the Battle of Hubbardton and the Battle of Bennington. Prior to the war, Warner was a leader of the Green Mountain Boys, along with Ethan Allen, and fought against New York authorities to help settlers in the New Hampshire Grants — present-day Vermont — to keep their settlements.
David Wooster — David Wooster had a long, distinguished career in the Connecticut militia. He commanded the colony’s first warship and later served in King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution. He was commissioned as a Brigadier General by the Continental Congress and participated in the Invasion of Canada and the Siege of Quebec. He died in 1777 from wounds he received in the Battle of Ridgefield.
Interesting Facts About Connecticut
Thomas Hooker is Recognized as the Founder of Connecticut
Thomas Hooker is known as the “Father of Connecticut,” even though he did not establish the first settlement in the colony. Hooker was born in England and traveled to Massachusetts in 1633, during the Puritan Migration.
He settled outside of Boston and became the minister of a church in Newtown, which is present-day Cambridge. The members of Hooker’s congregation disagreed with the teachings of John Cotton, who was the minister in Boston, so they decided to move into the Connecticut River Valley.
Hooker and his followers were given permission to leave Massachusetts Bay and in June 1636 they started their journey to their new home. They traveled west along an old Indian trail that is known as the Bay Path and then south to the area of present-day Hartford. Hooker became a prominent leader of the River Towns.
In 1638, he gave a sermon that inspired the River Towns to develop the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first written constitution in America. The Orders served as the basis for the government of Connecticut until 1662 when the colony received its charter from King Charles II.
Hooker’s initial journey westward from Boston is considered by some to be the start of English expansion to the west.
Connecticut Witch Trials and Hartford Witch Panic of 1662
Like many areas in New England, Connecticut had its own episode of witchcraft hysteria, although it was not quite like the Salem Witchcraft Trials in the 1690s.
In 1642, the Connecticut General Court established a set of “Capital Laws” and the second law stated, “If any man or woman be a witch (that is) hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death.”
Five years later, in 1647, Alse Young of Windsor became the first person in the colonies to be executed for witchcraft. The Connecticut Witch Trials took place between 1647 and 1697, however, there is no record of accused witches being executed after 1663.
A total of 9 men and women were executed for witchcraft in Connecticut. Accusations peaked in 1662 with the Hartford Witch Panic. In that incident, 12 people were accused of witchcraft and 4 were put to death.
The proceedings caused Governor John Winthrop Jr. to question the validity of the accusations. From then on, he changed the rules of witchcraft trials and made it more difficult for someone to be convicted.