Thomas Hooker — the Father of Connecticut and the First American Democrat

1586–1647

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) was a prominent Puritan minister and theologian who played an important role in the founding of the Colony of Connecticut in the 17th Century.

Thomas Hooker, Illustration

Thomas Hooker. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Who was Thomas Hooker?

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) was a prominent Puritan minister and theologian who played an important role in the founding of the Province of Connecticut. Hooker was known as the “Father of Connecticut” due to his contributions to the establishment of the colony and influence on the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. He was also a leading figure in the Puritan movement and Congregational ministry.

Thomas Hooker, Journey Through the Wilderness, Church
This painting by Frederic Edwin Church depicts Hooker and his congregation traveling through the wilderness. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Thomas Hooker Facts

  • Born: Thomas Hooker was born on July 5, 1586.
  • Parents: It is believed his father’s name was also Thomas Hooker, but his mother’s name is unknown.
  • Married: Hooker married Susannah Garbrand married on April 3, 1621.
  • Died: He died on July 7, 1647, in Hartford, Connecticut, at the age of 61.
  • Fun Fact: Hooker is known as the “Father of Connecticut” because the inspired the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.
  • Famous Quote: The foundation of authority is laid firstly in the free consent of people.

Thomas Hooker History, Life, and Career

Thomas Hooker was born in Marefield, Leicestershire, England. His parents were poor Puritans and his father’s name was Thomas Hooker. Almost nothing is known about Hooker’s life until he enrolled in college.

Hooker’s Puritan Conversion

Hooker won a scholarship to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. While he was enrolled there, he experienced his “Puritan Conversion.” The Puritan Conversion was an event where someone had an intense religious experience that indicated they had been saved by God. Once they underwent Conversion and described it to the congregation of their church, they became members of the church and were also given the right to vote on church matters and for church leaders.

Hooker earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1608 and his Master’s in 1611. Afterward, he joined the staff at Emmanuel College as a teacher. In 1618, he left Emmanuel, to serve as the pastor in Esher, Surrey, and later in Chelmsford, Essex. 

Marriage to Susannah Garbrand

While he was in Surrey, he ministered to a woman named Joan Drake, whose husband was a relative of Sir Francis Drake. During his visits to the Drake household, he met Mrs. Drake’s woman-in-waiting, Susannah Garbrand. Hooker and Garbrand married on April 3, 1621.

Escape to Holland

Hooker was bold in preaching Puritan theology. He was successful in gaining many followers but also caught the attention of officials from the Church of England, including Archbishop William Laud, who suspended him from his position in 1629.

Afterward, Hooker took a position as a teacher in the village of Little Baddow, where he continued to minister to people. Because of that, Hooker was called to appear before the church’s Court of High Commission.

However, Hooker followed in the footsteps of the Pilgrims, fleeting England and going to Holland. While there, he was an assistant to Reverend John Paget in the English Reformed Church in Amsterdam. Eventually, he returned to England but decided to immigrate to Massachusetts. 

Hooker Immigrates to Massachusetts

In 1633, during the Great Puritan Migration, he sailed for the New World and was on the same ship, the Griffin, with John Cotton and other Puritan leaders. When he arrived, Hooker took up the position of pastor at the Congregational church in Newtown — present-day Cambridge. 

Voting Rights in Massachusetts

At the time, voting rights were limited in Massachusetts and only members of a church’s congregation — those who had undergone their Conversion — were allowed to vote. However, in Massachusetts, the right to vote extended beyond church matters and included social matters.

Hooker and his congregation apparently differed with Cotton, John Winthrop, and other Puritan leaders on the process for someone to become a member of the church and voting rights.

John Winthrop, Massachusetts Bay Governor
John Winthrop. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Thomas Hooker Leads His Congregation to Connecticut

In 1636, Hooker and his congregation decided to leave Massachusetts. Hooker and his followers were given permission to leave Massachusetts Bay and in June 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. Some historians point to this journey as the start of the westward expansion of English colonists.

Hartford was one of the first towns in what was initially known as the River Colony and became Connecticut. The other significant towns were Wethersfield and Windsor. The colony did not officially receive a charter until 1662 when King Charles II granted Letters Patent to John Winthrop Jr. and a group of businessmen.

King Charles II, Crowned at Westminster Abbey
King Charles II. Image Source: Wikipedia.

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

Hooker is sometimes referred to as the “First American Democrat,” because he believed leaders should be elected by more than just members of the church. On May 31, 1638, during his sermon, he said, “…the foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.” The following year, the three towns adopted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which expanded voting rights to people who were not members of the church. 

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut is considered to be 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.

Thomas Hooker and Preparationism

Hooker also differed with Puritan leaders on the process of the Puritan Conversion. Most Puritans believed it happened quickly, while Hooker believed it was a long, drawn-out process, known as “Preparationism,” that included six steps:

  1. Contrition — A person should look into the Law of God and make an examination of their life and state according to the Law.
  2. Humiliation — Conviction of conscience by which the seeker realizes they are under sin.
  3. Vocation — Despair of salvation, with respect to the strength of self and others.
  4. Implantation — True humiliation of heart, grief, and fear because of sin. Confession.
  5. Exaltation — First entrance into the state of saving grace. 
  6. Possession — Awareness of the presence of faith.

Essentially, Hooker believed a person needed to actively prepare themselves to receive God’s grace.

Hooker published his views in various pamphlets and books, including:

  • The Soules Preparation for Christ (1632)
  • The Sinners Salvation (1638)
  • Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline (1648)
Thomas Hooker, Arrival at Connecticut River, Illustration
This illustration depicts Hooker and his congregation upon their arrival at the Connecticut River. Image Source: Pioneers in the Settlement of America by William A. Crafts, 1876, Archive.org.

How did Thomas Hooker Die?

Hooker died on July 7, 1647, during an epidemic, however, it is unclear what disease caused the epidemic, or what specifically led to his death. Most accounts indicate the cause was smallpox or typhus. Unfortunately, the location of his grave is also unknown, although there is speculation he is buried in the Ancient Burying Ground in Hartford.

Why is Thomas Hooker Important?

Thomas Hooker is significant to United States history for the role he played in establishing the Province of Connecticut and promoting the expansion of voting rights. Hooker was a prominent Puritan minister and theologian who influenced the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.

Thomas Hooker Family Tree and Descendants

Some of the known descendants of Thomas Hooker are:

Aaron BurrBurr was the 3rd Vice President of the United States under Thomas Jefferson. Burr is most well known for mortally wounding Alexander Hamilton in a duel and possibly conspiring to establish a separate country in the American Southwest.

Aaron Burr. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Henry Hooker — A wealthy rancher during the Old West Era who established the largest ranch in Arizona territory.

Samuel Hooker — Hooker’s son; graduated from Harvard in 1653 and became a minister at the church in Farmington, Connecticut.

William Howard Taft — Taft was the 27th President of the United States and 10th Head Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Taft also served as Vice President during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

John Pierpont Morgan — J.P. Morgan was an influential banker and financier who founded J.P. Morgan and Co. Morgan was a dominant figure during the Gilded Age.

Thomas Hooker APUSH, Review, Notes, Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study Thomas Hooker, the Province of Connecticut, and the New England Colonies for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Thomas Hooker APUSH Definition

Thomas Hooker was an English Puritan minister and colonist who played a key role in the early history of the English colonies in North America. Hooker was a leading figure in the Great Puritan Migration and was one of the founders of the Connecticut Colony. Hooker is best known for inspiring the “Fundamental Orders,” which established a democratic government for Connecticut. Hooker is considered to be one of the founders of the tradition of democracy in the United States.

Thomas Hooker Video for APUSH Notes

This video from the Center for Civic Education discusses Thomas Hooker and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Thomas Hooker — the Father of Connecticut and the First American Democrat
  • Date 1586–1647
  • Author
  • Keywords Thomas Hooker, Father of Connecticut, Thomas Hooker Accomplishments, Thomas Hooker Timeline
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 22, 2024

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