1698 — Fitz-John Winthrop

Fitz-John Winthrop, 1638-1707, American colonial governor of Connecticut, born in Ipswich, Mass.; son of John Winthrop (Jr.)(1606–76). He is commonly called Fitz-John Winthrop to distinguish him from his father and his grandfather, John Winthrop, theologian and many time governor of Massachusetts . He left Harvard to serve in the English parliamentary army, returned to America in 1663, and served in King Philip's War (1675–76). He was a member of the council of Gov. Edmund Andros, but after the latter's overthrow he helped restore Connecticut's separate government. After serving as commander of the unsuccessful invasion (1690) of Canada in King William's War, here presented Connecticut in England from 1693 to 1697 and was elected governor in 1698. He served ably until his death.


In 1698 and for the first years of settlement, the Colchester area was filled with conflict and tension. The dispute reached a high-point in 1704 when a case was brought against the Colony of Connecticut by the Mohegan Indians and the heirs of Major John Mason, leader of the Connecticut Militia. The case received a large amount of attention throughout the New England colonies and eventually reached the Royal Court of England and Queen Anne.

The decades before Quarter Master Nathaniel Foote, III received his grant for land in Colchester, the English colonists struggled through a series of difficult conflicts. Shortly after the colonists' victory over an alliance of Eastern Indians in King Philip's War, 1675-1676, trouble began with the French and Indians to the north. King William's War, 1689–1697, was the first in a long series of "wars" with the French colonists and their Indian allies. The "inter-colonial" battles with the French and Indians spread fear throughout New England, including Connecticut's exposed frontier towns. Finding themselves on a frontier of their own, Colchester's early settlers would have been greatly affected by the deadly surprise attacks which ravaged their neighbors in Massachusetts.

While the settlement at Colchester was not directly threatened by King Philip's or King William's War, the settlers there faced many challenges in the midst of great turmoil. A large number of Connecticut men were put into service in the Militia, protecting the Colony borders and lending support to the distressed towns around Northampton, Mass. However, the Colchester settlers also faced serious trouble at home. As soon as the General Assembly approved the new plantation at "Jeremies farme" in 1698, conflicting land claims held by prominent colonial leaders created confusion.

Among the most well-known of the people claiming land in the area was Major Mason. After working closely with the Mohegan Sachem Uncas during the Pequot Wars of the 1630s, and further protection of the Mohegans from the Narragansett Indians in the 1643, Major Mason was rewarded with large land grants. In 1659, the Major received a huge land grant from Uncas, including the area around Norwich. The next year, Major Mason conveyed the rights to the land to the Colony of Connecticut. Problems started in 1671, the year before Mason's death, when the Major deeded most of the land back to Uncas. The ambiguous deed and lack of terms left the rightful ownership of the territory in question. The uncertain disposition of the land would continue to haunt Colchester for years to come.

The claims of Major Mason and the other English landholders were soon followed by the objections of the Mohegan Indians under Uncas' son Owaneco, now Sachem of the tribe. On October 10, 1700 the General Assembly in Hartford reported: "Whereas the Inhabitants of Colchester and those designed to goe and Settle there, meet, with much discouragement in their Planting and Settling By Owaneco and the Moheags, that Claim Land within that township. This assembly being Sensible of the difficulties they meet with and being desirous to promote the Quiet and Comfortable Settlement of the Plantation Doe desire the Honourable Governor with his Council to treat with the Moheags and to agree with them to Quitt their Claim to the Lands within that township, upon as Reasonable termes as may be obtained and also to advise and direct them in going forward in their Plantation worke, and the Worshipful Captn Samuel Mason is desired to improve his interest in the Moheags to Promote their Compliance with the Interest of the people of Colchester…. " The incident was temporarily resolved and the pace of settlement in Colchester began to quicken about 1701.

Then, just as Colchester was getting established, the English were pulled into another conflict with France and Spain, Queen Anne's War, 1702-1713. The French and their Indian allies once again threatened Connecticut and inflicted severe damages on English settlements in Massachusetts and New York. Although the Mohegans under Owaneco remained loyal to the English, there appears to have been some tension between the longtime allies. In May 1703, the General Assembly recorded another disturbance in Colchester: "Whereas complaint hath been made of some Indians coming in a riotous manner to Colchester, which this Court doth highly resent, but said Indians not being present this Court doe not see cause to proceed to any act respecting said Indians, but doe require them to make no more such disturbance but if they have any title to lands there, they may make their application to this Court… and they shall have a hearing and have right done them…." The invitation of the General Assembly to hear the Indian's claims to the land was a hint of the trouble Colchester was soon to face.

The General Assembly took steps to satisfy Owaneco's claims to the area, but unable to find an acceptable solution, a complaint was sent to England. While there is only vague information on the case, it appears the complaints of the heirs of Major Mason and the Mohegan's reached Queen Anne. In 1704, the Queen appointed a committee to investigate the charges. However, at the head of the proceedings was Governor Dudley of Massachusetts, a persistent antagonist of the colonial leaders of Connecticut. Governor Dudley had been involved in an effort of Sir Edmund Andross in the late 1680s to repeal the Charter of the Colony of Connecticut. Although Andross' attempts eventually failed, Dudley remained a problem for Connecticut's leaders for years after. The Mohegan case was also seen as a challenge to Connecticut's Charter and may have been the reason the case received such high-level attention.

In the case brought before the Queen, the family of Major Mason claimed the lands he purchased in 1659 and denied the legality of the surrender to the colony. The Masons claimed they did not surrender the right of property, only the right of jurisdiction. The Mohegan's claim to the land reported that Uncas arranged the transfer to Mason when he was at war with the Narragansetts, but it went into effect only in case of Uncas' death. It was asserted that the deed only entrusted the land to Mason in return for his influence with the colonial leaders and for the use of his name which instilled fear in the enemies of the Mohegans. It was under these terms that Mason had deeded the land back to Uncas in 1671.

On August 23, 1705, Governor Dudley convened a Court at Stonington to resolve the case at hand. The Court was made up of some of the highest ranking officials in New England. The Governor of Connecticut, Fitz-John Winthrop, was ordered to attend, but unfamiliar with commission of the Court, the Governor Winthrop sent a committee to attend. Winthrop's committee was ordered to discover if the Court was organized to gather information or was prepared to act. If the Court was ready to act, the committee was authorized to forbid all the people of Connecticut to testify. The committee was successful in creating a protest and none of the people with interest in the lands appeared at Dudley's Court. After a hearing of a single day, and presented with only facts against Connecticut, the Court ruled in favor of the Masons and the Mohegans. Owaneco was awarded a large tract in New London, nine miles by two miles in Lyme and all of Colchester. The Court continued to listen to the complaints of Owaneco, Mason and others for three days and reported that about 7000 acres were taken from the Mohegans. After adding a bill to the colony for 573 Pounds, Dudley dismissed his Court.

The growing community at Colchester must have been shocked at the news their town was returned to the Mohegans. Responding to the aggressive actions of Dudley, Governor Winthrop notified Sir Henry Ashurst, Connecticut Colony's Agent in London. With great skill and persistence in representing the Colony's side of the case, Ashurst persuaded the Queen to appoint a commission of review. After a review of all the facts, the commission judged in favor of Connecticut and Colchester remained under control of the settlers. The case was appealed by the Mason heirs and reviewed several more times, each time the judgment was in favor of Connecticut. As late as 1767, William Samuel Johnson went to London as the Agent of Connecticut and the final hearing was heard on June 11, 1771.

1698 Bibliography