Connecticut History Overview

Connecticut, at the time of the first arrival of the English, was possessed by the Pequot, the Mohegan, the Podunk, and other smaller tribes of Indians. The first grant of Connecticut was made by the Plymouth council in England to the Earl of Warwick in 1630. Attracted by the trade with the Indians, some of the settlers of Plymouth had explored the Connecticut River and fixed upon Windsor for the establishment of a trading house. A company from Dorchester settled at Mattaneaug, which they called Windsor; several people from Watertown commenced a plantation at Pauquiaug, which they called Wethersfield, and others from Newtown established themselves at Hartford.

The planters in Connecticut at first settled under the general government of Massachusetts, but the administration of their affairs was entirely in their own hands. The first court, which exercised all the powers of government, was held April 26, 1686, at Hartford, the plantation between Windsor and Wethersfield.

In the year 1636 a large accession was made to the inhabitants on the Connecticut River. Messrs. Hooker and Stone, the ministers of Newtown, near Boston, with their whole church and congregation, travelled in June through a trackless wilderness, driving 160 cattle and subsisting during the journey on the milk of the cows. They settled at Hartford, having purchased the land of an Indian sachem. At the close of the year there were about 800 persons in the colony. The year 1637 is distinguished by the war with the Pequots. A body of troops was sent out under the command of John Mason, and on May 26 they attacked the enemy in one of their forts near New London and killed 600 of the Indians. Only two of the English were killed and sixteen wounded. The Pequots were entirely subdued, and the other Indians of New England were inspired with such terror as to restrain them from open hostilities for nearly forty years.

In 1637 a new colony was commenced in Connecticut. John Davenport, accompanied by Theophilus Eaton and Edward Hopkins, and other persons from London, arrived in the summer at Boston, seeking the unmolested enjoyment of civil and religious liberty. Not finding a convenient place in Massachusetts, and being informed of a large bay to the southwest of the Connecticut River, commodious for trade, they applied to their friends in Connecticut to purchase for them of the native proprietors all the lands lying between the rivers of Connecticut and Hudson. This purchase was in part effected. In the autumn Mr. Eaton and some others of the company made a journey to Connecticut to explore the lands and harbors on the sea coast and pitched upon Quinnipiack, afterwards called New Haven, for the place of their settlement.

The foundation of two colonies was now laid, which were called the colonies of Connecticut and New Haven. The original constitution of the former was established by a convention of all the free planters of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield, which met at Hartford January 14, 1639. It was ordained that there should be annually two general courts or assemblies.

These two colonies remained distinct until the year 1665, when they were united into one; but though distinct in government yet a union, rendered necessary by common danger, subsisted between them. The apprehension of hostilities from the Indians, and the actual encroachments and violence of the Dutch, induced the colonies of New Haven, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Plymouth to adopt articles of confederation, which were signed at Boston May 19, 1643. This union was of the highest importance to the colonies, particularly to Connecticut and New Haven, which were peculiarly exposed to hostilities from the Dutch. It subsisted more than forty years until the abrogation of the charters of the New England colonies by King James II.

The colonies continued to increase, and new towns, purchased of the Indians, were constantly settled. In 1661 Major John Mason bought of the natives all lands which had not before been purchased by particular towns and made a public surrender of them to the colony in the presence of the general assembly. A petition was now prepared to King Charles II for a charter and John Winthrop, who had been chosen governor of Connecticut, was employed to present it. His majesty issued his letters under the great seal, April 2.5, 1662, ordaining that there should be annually two general assemblies, consisting of the governor, the deputy governor, and twelve assistants, with two deputies from every town or city. This charter remained the basis of the government of Connecticut until 1818.

The number of men in Connecticut in 1671 was 2,050. In 1672 the union of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Plymouth was renewed and the first code of Connecticut laws-was published. The Indian wars in 1675 and 1676 occasioned much suffering in the colony. In 1687 an attempt was made to wrest the charter from Connecticut. A quo warranto against the governor and company had been issued two years before, and in October of this year, when the assembly was sitting, Governor Edmond Andros went to Hartford with sixty regular troops, demanded the charter, and declared the government to be dissolved. The subject was debated in the assembly until evening, when the charter was brought and laid upon the table; but the lights being instantly extinguished, Captain Wadsworth of Hartford seized it and secreted it in the cavity of a large oak tree in front of the house of Samuel Wyllys. Andros assumed the government and the records of the colony were closed. He appointed all officers, civil and military. Notwithstanding the professions of regard to the public good, made by the tyrant, he soon began to infringe the rights of the people. After the seizure of Andros by the daring friends of liberty in Massachusetts the old magistrates of Connecticut were induced again to accept the government, at the request of the freemen, May 9, 1689. In 1691 the old charter was resumed, being acknowledged to be valid.

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