About 30 heads of households settled in Farmington before 1655. Most of Farmington’s first settlers were men of modest though respectable rank in England – husbandmen, artisans, and yeomen, but among the first proprietors of the town (men who owned land but didn’t actually become settled inhabitants) men of gentry status in England and of the highest rank in the new colony, such as were Edward Hopkins, George Wyllys, and John Haynes, all of Hartford.
A large proportion of the settlers and proprietors of Farmington were from Essex County. Seven of the 65 earliest landowners of Farmington were from the parish of Braintree, a town known for cloth production. Religious persecution was not the only reason for the sizable migrations from Essex and the surrounding counties. There was also a serious economic crisis during the 1630s that affected both cloth workers and small farmers. Food was scarce and a shortage of meadowland kept land prices high and the average holding small. In northwest Essex, 75% of the holdings were under 20 acres; in West Essex, almost 50% of the tenant farms were leased parcels of less than five acres. Survival for a household required at least five acres of arable land. The typical peasant leaseholder was forced to work as a day laborer to make ends meet.
The dislocation of the cloth trade in England and widespread unemployment among textile workers also provided a base of social unrest that played an essential role in the large-scale migration of the 1630s. Such tradesmen were susceptible to literature promoting the new world and they were easily influenced by the popular Puritan preachers’ arguing for removal to New England.
Equally measured was the persecution of Puritans in England by King Charles I and Archbishop William Laud. The leadership of the first planters of New England was shared by men of the gentry class like John Haynes and by Puritan ministers like Thomas Hooker. They both arrived in Boston in 1633, and Hooker proceeded immediately to Newtown to become the pastor of a community of some 42 families. Within three years of his ordination in Newtown, he was leading half of his congregation to a new settlement on the Connecticut River.
Within months of Hooker’s arrival in Massachusetts Bay, there were stirrings of restlessness. Reports reached the Boston area of fertile land along the Connecticut River in an area where Indians were depleted by smallpox. Newtown was a town inconveniently shaped like an hourglass, eight times longer than it was wide. Its soil was found to be too sandy and dry for cultivation. On 15 May 1634, its inhabitants complained to the Massachusetts General Court “of straitness for want of land, especially meadow, and desired leave of the court to look either for enlargement or removal.” Watertown and Dorchester experienced the same “want of accommodation.” By September the Newtown men had opted for removal to Connecticut; advancing to the Gneral Court three reasons:
Their want of accommodation for their cattle, so as they were not able to maintain their ministers, nor could receive any more of their friends to help them; and here it was alleged by Mr. Hooker, as a fundamental error, that towns were set so near each to other.
The fruitfulness and commodiousness of Connecticut, and the danger of having it possessed by others, Dutch or English.
The strong bent of their spirits to remove thither.
Permission was not granted, but that winter a party from Watertown encamped on the Connecticut River and in May and June 1635 the General Court gave leave to Dorchester and Watertown “to remove whither they pleased, so as they continued under this [Massachusetts] government.” During the summer of 1635, plans were laid in Dorchester, Newtown, and Watertown to remove to Connecticut, and by the end of 1636 about 800 settlers from Massachusetts had formed three plantations on the west side of the Connecticut River – Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford.
The next four years were momentous ones in the life of the new colony. In April 1637, Pequot Indians raided Wethersfield, murdered 6 men and 3 women, and kidnapped 2 girls. It was the final provocation in a series of acts and set off what the English believed was a purely defensive war. Thomas Barnes and John Brownson, both of Hartford and later Farmington, were among the 90 militiamen who destroyed the Pequot ribe and gave to the other Indian tribes of southern New England visible demonstration of the military superiority of the new English settlers. The need for a common defense led to the formation of the General Court, which held its first session in May 1637. During the next few years the Genearl Court concluded the terms of peace with the Pequots, levied taxes, and created a permanent militia. The Court also came to terms with the uncertain nature of its own authority by adopting a writen constitution – the Fundamental Orders. Borrowing from the religious covenants of New England’s Congregational churches, the Fundamental Orders bound the “godly property owners” of the three river towns together in a Puritan commonwealth under God. The new constitution established a framework of government that would last until 1818.
With the Indian threat contained, the population of Connecticut began to grow and to press for further expansion to unsettled areas. New arrivals in 1638 and 1639 and rumors of future additions stimulated a search for “farther fields afresh.” New Haven was settled in 1638; Fairfield, Milford, and Stratford followed in 1639. The ministry of Thomas Hooker in Hartford was without discord, but the men who settled after 1636 found the best land already distributed; they were granted “courtesy lots” by the town and accepted as inhabitants but were not admitted as full proprietors with a share in the undivided lands of the town. With “a fine church and a hundred houses” by 1638, Hartford had already reached its 17th-century limits. Young mnen with little land, inconvenient house lots, and no proprietor rights were considering their next move. At the same time, Hartford’s more substantial property owners, anxious to invest in fertile land and with sons to consider, were ready to speculate in new settlements and new land purchases from the Indians.
When the fertile lands at Tunxis Sepus first came to the attention of Hartford settlers is uncertain. The Indians at Farmington may have encountered Europeans for the first time when the Dutch arrived in Hartford to erect a permanent fort in 1633; but the Dutch were interested in trade, not settlement, and had no need to penetrate the interior in search of pelts.
The earliest conveyance of Suckiaug, or Hartford, by the River Indians to the whites appears to have included lands belonging to the Tunxis Indians. The first deed of sale has not survived, but a confirmatory deed of 1670 does exist. It states that the original purchase of Hartford was made of Sequassen by Samuel Stone and William Goodwin “about the year sixteen hundred thirty-six”. The bargain was made in the presence of many of the natives of the place and English inhabitants.
The Farmington deed of 1640 has also failed to survive, but a confirmatory deed from 1650 states as its first item that it is “taken for granted that the magistrates bought the whole country to the Moohaks country of Sequasen the chief sachem.” It appears, then, that Sequassen, sachem of the River Indians, did bargain away the lands of Tunsix Sepus, but the Tunxis Indians led by Pethus insisted on reaching their own terms with the whites around 1640.
Planting a new settlement within the colony of Connecticut required the permission of the General Court, which wanted to be sure that the land to be improved was fertile enough to support a community of no less than 30 families and an orthodox minister. Title to the land was usually secured from the Indians who occupied the tract, and formal consent to settle was then requested. (In 1663 the General Court ruled that all land purchases from the Indians had to be approved by the Court.) In the case of Farmington, it can only be said that the Court’s approval to settle occurred in the same year that a purchase was made from the Tunxis. Sometime in 1640, John Haynes, governor of Connecticut, negotiated a new purchase of land at Tunxis Sepus on behalf of an unidentified group of proprietors.
On 16 January 1639/40, the General Court ordered “for the satisfaction of those of Hartford & Windsore, who formerly mooved the Court for some inlargement of accomodacon, and also for o[u]r neighbors of Wethersfeeld who desire a plantcon there” that a committee of six men ws to view those parts of Tunxis Sepus “wch may be suitable for those purposes” and report at the next meeting of the Court on February 20. Winter weather evidently prevented the “neighbors of Wethersfeeld” from viewing the proposed site, but the report made later in the year was obviously favorable, for on June 15, 1640, the General Court ruled that “the prtculer Courte is to conclude the conditions for the planting of Tunxis.” No further details regarding the conditions of settlement appear in the colonial records.
In December 1645, five years after permission to settle was granted, the plantation of Tunxis became the town of Farmington. The General Court set bounds, entreated John Steele of Hartford to become the first recorder or town clerk, and extended to Farmington the same privileges assigned to other towns. Two deputies would henceforth represent the town in the General Court.
In any of these new towns and villages, decisions regarding land use and settlement were some of the most important decisions the settlers could make. For Farmington, decisions were made during the years 1640-45. These early decisions were probably reached by a committee of the earliest proprietors.
The New England land system in the 17th century was based on grants of land to town proprietors who collectively understood to plant or settle an area. These town proprietors formed something similar to a joint-stock company with all the stockholders holding an interest in the undivided lands of the tract. The extent of an individual’s share varied with the size of his initial investment or, in some cases, according to his social and economic status. Permission to plant or settle an area had to be secured from the General Court, which wanted assurances that the land was sufficiently fertile to attract enough settlers (around 30 families) to support a minister and provide for self-defense. Before a plantation became a town, decisions about the size of house lots and the distribution of meadowlands were usually made by a committee of proprietors. Once the General Court was satisfied that the plantation had attracted enough colonists to support itself, it granted the town charter. Upon in corporation, the body of proprietors was absorbed by the town, and decisions about the distribution of land were made in open town meetings. There followed a period of time when proprietor status was easily achieved. If the town was willing to accept a person as an inhabitant, he had established his rights as a town proprietor. For the first thirty years of Farmington’s existence, the individual’s willingness to settle in the community, build a house, and cultivate the soil, conditional on the approval by the town, was all the investment a new resident had to make in order to qualify as a town proprietor.
Farmington grew slowly and, in an informal and implicit way, admitted new inhabitants to proprietor status until February 18, 1672/73, when the number was fixed at 84. After that date new settlers, if judged worthy, were admitted to the town and granted house lots, but they could not gain proprietor status unless they inherited or acquired the rights of one of the 84 proprietors. The large expanse of undivided land were thus preserved for a privileged group within the town – the descendants of the men who settled Farmington between 1640 and 1672/73.
Farmington was settled almost entirely from Hartford, and a large proportion of the early landowners were nonresident proprietors who continued to live in Hartford. The original purchase of Farmington was made from the Indians by John Haynes on behalf of the settlers of Hartford. The deed was dated 1640. The earliest-known Farmington landowners with the possible exception of Nathaniel Watson and Ezekiel Banks, whose origins have not been traced, were all Hartford men. After, or at the time of, the purchase of Tunxis lands from the Indians, the original Hartford proprietors sought and secured the permission of the General Court to settle the tract. Establishing a plantation at Tunxis Sepus must have been welcome to the magistrates sitting in Hartford. Such a settlement on the Tunxis River would push the frontier farther west, give added security to Hartford, and establish some control over the Indians of western Connecticut. The meadows would help feed cattle needed in Hartford for export as well as for consumption. Permission to settle the land was thus readily given, but the terms or conditions placed on the proprietors and the names of the early grantees of 1640 are not known with any certainty. Several of the principal magistrates of Connecticut were also among the purchasers of the tract guaranteeing approval and insuring that the terms for the settlement of Tunxis Sepus would be favorable to Hartford investors.
Many of the new plantations’ original proprietors preferred to remain in Hartford. Farmington is unusual among 17th-century towns in the large number of nonresident, or absentee, proprietors, usually considered a feature of settlement in the 18th century. Massachusetts Bay, in contrast, did not permit absentee proprietors, requiring grantees of land to move into the new town. Of the earliest 37 landowners in Farmington (all of whom came from Hartford), 18 remained Hartford inhabitants. Twelve of them appear to have received more than 1,200 acres in the first distribution of land at Tunxis Sepus, roughly 50% of the lands set out before 1655. These grants consisted mainly of large parcels of choice meadowland. John Haynes received three allotments for his efforts in acquiring Tunxis Sepus from the Indians – a parcel of 120 acres in “Great Meadow,” a house lot of 5 acres, and 8 acres in “Little Meadow.” There was no indication of permanent settlement in the lands awarded to George Wyllys and Edward Hopkins, prominent Hartford men of gentry status; neither received a house lot. Wyllys was given a single tract of 120 acres and Edward Hopkins a single piece of land as well.
Farmington was not settled, as many early Connecticut towns were, by the movement of a covenanted group, an entire congregation. towns like Hartford had the advantages of a minister, a church covenant, and a structured leadership even before settlement began. Farmington settlers, on the other hand, were content to remain under the pastoral care of Thomas Hooker; their original motivation was not to split off completely from Hartford but to enlarge their estates by farming the rich meadowland of the Farmington valley. It appears also that some Farmington landowners, residents of Hartford, came to the village in summer and fall during the planting and the harvesting and returned comfortably to Hartford by the first snowfall. They had no difficulty conforming to the Sabbath laws requiring attendance at the meetinghouse on Sundays and lecture days. All Farmington inhabitants, the town's permanent residents, whether members of Hooker's church or not, were also required by law to repair to some meetinghouse for church services whether in fine weather or foul. The long trip by horseback along a narrow cart path to Hartford was tedious under the best of circumstances; bad weather rendered the passage hazardous as well.
Enforcement of the Sabbath law must have been tempered with understanding, for no Farmington men were prosecuted in the first decades for Sabbath breaking. If conditions prevented travel to Hartford, the spirit of the Puritan Sabbath was well and truly served by family worship, Bible study and, catechizing the children. Edward Johnson noted of Watertown, Mass., that its many rivulets caused in habitants "to scatter in such manner, that thier Sabbath-Assemblies prove very thin if the season fabour not." The records indicate that Farmington families traveled to Hartford in all seasons; Farmington marriages, deaths and baptisms were recorded in Hartford in all months of the year until October 1652.
There is a rather complete section on the founding of the First Church of Christ and the choice of pastors to begin it, in Farmington, on pp. 59ff. of the Farmington in Connecticut volume.
OUR FARMINGTON ANCESTORS
WEBSITES OF INTEREST
The Farmington Historical Society has maps of the various land divisions but they are too large and too faint to be copied. Even for those familiar with local history, it is difficult to relate the map to present areas. Farmington Historical Society has burial records for the old burial ground in Farmington, but no record for John Bronson. They have only three pre-1700 stones that have survived. Probate records ought to be in Hartford, since the Farmington probate district was not established until the early 1700s. If they aren’t in Hartford, one could try to State Library (probate and church records). Farmington Town Clerk has all vital records (everything that was registered).
SOME FARMINGTON LINKS
Bickford, Christopher. Farmington in Connecticut. Canaan NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1982. At Salt Lake City, Utah: FHL 974.62/F1 H2b. Have pp.
The map, pg. 20 – the Brownson (Bronson) house that still exists is #75 the old map. The Orton lots were #11, and #99. Neither of the Orton houses have survived. Loomis. Kellogg.
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