(1600–1636) of Massachusetts explored the valley and made a good report of its resources. Encouraged by Oldham’s account of the country, the inhabitants of three Massachusetts towns, Dorchester, Watertown and New Town (now Cambridge), left that colony for the Connecticut valley. The emigrants from Watertown founded Wethersfield in the winter of 1634–1635; those from New Town (now Cambridge) settled at Windsor in the summer of 1635; and in the autumn of the same year people from Dorchester settled at Hartford. These early colonists had come to Massachusetts in the Puritan migration of 1630; their removal to Connecticut, in which they were led principally by Thomas Hooker (q.v.), Roger Ludlow (c. 1590–1665) and John Haynes (d. 1654), was caused by their discontent with the autocratic character of the government in Massachusetts; but the instrument of government which they framed in 1639, known as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, reveals no radical departure from the institutions of Massachusetts. The general court—the supreme civil authority—was composed of deputies from the towns, and a governor and magistrates who were chosen at a session of the court attended by all freemen of the towns. It powers were not clearly defined; there was also no separation of the executive, legislative and judicial functions, and the authority of the governor was limited to that of a presiding officer.
The government thus established was not the product of a federation of townships, as has often been stated; indeed, the townships had been governed during the first year by commissioners deriving authority from Massachusetts, and the first general court was probably convened by them. In 1638 the celebrated Fundamental Orders were drawn up, and in 1639 they were adopted. Their most original feature was the omission of a religious test for citizenship, though a precedent for this is to be found in the Plymouth Colony; on the other hand, the union of church and state was presumed in the preamble, and in 1659 a property qualification (the possession of an estate of £30) for suffrage was imposed by the general court.
In the meantime another migration to the Connecticut country had begun in 1638, when a party of Puritans who had arrived in Massachusetts the preceding year sailed from Boston for the Connecticut coast and there founded New Haven. The leaders in this movement were John Davenport (1597–1670) and Theophilus Eaton, and their followers were drawn from the English middle class. Soon after their arrival these colonists drew up a “plantation covenant” which made the Scriptures the supreme guide in civil as well as religious affairs; but no copy of this is now extant. In June 1639, however, a more definite statement of political principles was framed, in which it was clearly stated that the rules of Scripture should determine the ordering of the church, the choice of magistrates, the making and repeal of laws, the dividing of inheritances, and all other matters of public import; that only church members could become free burgesses and officials of the colony; that the free burgesses should choose twelve men who should choose seven others, and that these should organize the church and the civil government. In 1643 the jurisdiction of the New Haven colony was extended by the admission of the townships of Milford, Guilford and Stamford to equal rights with New Haven, the recognition of their local governments, and the formation of two courts for the whole jurisdiction, a court of magistrates to try important cases and hear appeals from “plantation” courts, and a general court with legislative powers, the highest court of appeals, which was similar in composition to the general court of the Connecticut Colony. Two other townships were afterwards added to the colony, Southold, on Long Island, and Branford, Conn.
The religious test for citizenship was continued (except in the case of six citizens of Milford), and in 1644 the general court decided that the “judicial laws of God as they were declared by Moses” should constitute a rule for all courts “till they be branched out into particulars hereafter.” The theocratic character of the government thus established is clearly revealed in the series of strict enactments and decisions which constituted the famous “Blue Laws.” Of the laws (45 in number) given by Peters, more than one-half really existed in New Haven, and more than four-fifths existed in some form in the New England colonies. Among those of New Haven are the prohibition of trial by jury, the infliction of the death penalty for adultery, and of the same penalty for conspiracy against the jurisdiction, the strict observance of the Sabbath enjoined, and heavy fines for “concealing or entertaining Quaker or other blasphemous hereticks.”
A third Puritan settlement was established in 1635 at the mouth of the Connecticut river, under the auspices of an English company whose leading members were William Fiennes, Lord Say and Sele (1582–1662) and Robert Greville, Lord Brooke (1608–1643). In their honour the colony was named Saybrook. In 1639 George Fenwick (d. 1657), a member of the company, arrived, and as immigration from England soon afterwards greatly declined on account of the Puritan Revolution, he sold the colony to Connecticut in 1644. This early experiment in colonization at Saybrook and the sale by Fenwick are important on account of their relation to a fictitious land title. The Say and Sele Company secured in 1631 from Robert Rich, earl of Warwick (1587–1658), a quit claim to his interest in the territory lying between the Narragansett river and the Pacific Ocean. The nature of Warwick’s right to the land is not stated in any extant document, and no title of his to it was ever shown. But the Connecticut authorities in their effort to establish a legal claim to the country and to thwart the efforts of the Hamilton family to assert its claims to the territory between the Connecticut river and Narragansett Bay—claims derived from a grant of the Plymouth Company to James, marquess of Hamilton (1606–1649) in 1635—elaborated the theory that the Plymouth Company had made a grant to Warwick, and that consequently his quit claim conferred jurisdiction upon the Say and Sele Company; but even in this event, Fenwick had no right to make his sale, for which he never secured confirmation.
The next step in the formation of modern Connecticut was the union of the New Haven colony with the older colony. This was accomplished by the royal charter of 1662, which defined the boundaries of Connecticut as extending from Massachusetts south to the sea, and from Narragansett bay west to the South Sea (Pacific Ocean). This charter had been secured without the knowledge or consent of the New Haven colonists and they naturally protested against the union with Connecticut. But on account of the threatened absorption of a part of the Connecticut territory by the Colony of New York granted to the duke of York in 1664, and the news that a commission had been appointed in England to settle intercolonial disputes, they finally assented to the union in 1665. Hartford then became the capital of the united colonies, but shared that honour with New Haven from 1701 until 1873.
The charter was liberal in its provisions. It created a corporation under the name of the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Connecticut in New England in America, sanctioned the system of government already existing, provided that all acts of the general court should be valid upon being issued under the seal of the colony, and made no reservation of royal or parliamentary control over legislation or the administration of justice. Consequently there developed in Connecticut an independent, self-reliant colonial government, which looked to its chartered privileges as the supreme source of authority.
Although the governmental and religious influences which moulded Connecticut were similar to those which moulded New England at large, the colony developed certain distinctive characteristics. Its policy “was to avoid notoriety and public attitudes; to secure privileges without attracting needless
- A collection of these laws was published in his General History of Connecticut (London, 1781), by the Rev. Samuel Peters (1735–1826), a Loyalist clergyman of the Church of England, who in 1774 was forced by the patriots or whigs to flee from Connecticut. The most extreme (and most quoted) of these laws were never in force in Connecticut, but the substantial genuineness of others was conclusively shown by Walter F. Prince, in The Report of the American Historical Association for 1898.