REV. THOMAS HOOKER
July 5, 1586 – July 7, 1647




Thomas Hooker was probably the pre-eminent founder of the Colony of Connecticut. He was born in Marefield, Leicestershire, England. After his religious conversion, he rose into the leadership of the Puritan movement in England due to his keenly reasoned reflections upon Christian life and the meanings of Biblical passages.

An excellent discussion of Thomas Hooker's life was written by Benjamin Hart, published by the Christian Defense Fund as Lesson Seven, with the title "Thomas Hooker Tries Democracy". The following is a brief paragraph that I found extremely interesting:

Hooker was the most famous of all the English preachers to make the journey to New England. He was a learned scholar, widely published, and his preaching had electrified the English countryside, winning converts by the thousands. As Perry Miller recounts in his book (Errand Into the Wilderness), Samuel Collins, an agent of Archbishop Laud, warned in 1629 that Hooker had become too powerful, and threatened to undermine the established church:

"I . . . have seen the people idolizing many new ministers and lecturers; but this man surpasses them all for learning. . . [and] gains more and far greater followers than all before him."

Full Chapter.

Hooker was forced into exile by the persecution exacted on the Puritans by Archbishop William Laud.* He traveled first to Holland and then, following the example of the Mayflower Pilgrims, made the holy pilgrimage to Massachusetts Bay in 1633. But even after his departure from England, Collins acknowledged that Hooker's "genius" still "haunts all the pulpits."


* William Laud was born of comparatively low birth, his father a cloth merchant. Laud was a loyal Englishman, and a sincere Anglican, and rose through the ranks in the Church of England. By 1633, he held the highest position in the Church -- Archbishop of Canterbury.

His theology was influenced by the teachings of the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius who emphasised free will over predestination and an acceptance of ordered and uniform practices of worship. As the highest church authority in the land, Archbishop Laud prosecuted aggressive high church policies which were seen by people of opposing views as persecution. The Puritans in particular felt threatened, for one thing because the Counter-Reformation was succeeding abroad. In addition, the Thirty Years' War wasn't progressing to the Protestants' advantage.

Puritans saw Laud's "Arminianism" as dangerously close to Roman Catholicism. Laud worked closely with King Charles in attempting to unify Church and State. His attempts to force uniformity of worship on every parish in England ran contrary to all shades of Puritan opinion. Puritans believed Laud was intent on returning the Church of England to Roman Catholicism. Though this wasn't true, Laud did regard Puritanism as a greater threat to the Church than Catholicism. His persecution of Puritan preachers and pamphleteers fed the suspicions of the Protestants.

One year after his appointment as Archbishop, the ship "Griffin" left for America, carrying religious dissidents such as Anne Hutchinson, among others. Another was Rev. Thomas Hooker, the subject of our sketch.

Laud was intolerant of any opposition or criticism and made full use of the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission to inflict savage punishments on his critics. For instance, in 1637, the "religious radicals" William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick were tortured and imprisoned for speaking and writing against Laud's policy, which succeeded in making them into Puritan martyrs. They were convicted of seditious libel and had their ears cropped and their cheeks or foreheads branded with "SL" ("seditious libeller"). Prynne reinterpreted the letters as "Stigmata Laudis". In 1638, the rabble-rousing "Freeborn John" Lilburne was persecuted, provoking further popular outcry against Laud and his bishops.

Archbishop Laud insisted on conformity also from congregations in Ireland and Scotland, and even from the American colonies. In Ireland, he collaborated with the Earl of Strafford's ruthlessly efficient "Thorough" policy by which they managed the administration of Church and State during the period of the King's "Personal Rule". But Laud's attempt to force an authorised Prayer Book in Scotland met with disaster. There were riots in Edinburgh which escalated into a national movement against interference by the King and bishops in Scottish affairs. The Scots repulsed King Charles's attempt to enforce his authority in the Bishops' Wars (1639-40).

Parliament was summoned in November 1640 in response to the crisis brought about by the Bishops' Wars. Early on they moved against the King's "evil councillors", the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud. In December, an order of the House of Commons impeached Laud for high treason at the bar of the House of Lords. The next February (1641), articles of impeachment were brought up, Laud being accused of assuming tyrannical powers in Church and State, of subverting the true religion with popish superstition and of causing the recent disastrous wars against the Scots.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London from 1641, and was finally brought to trial before the House of Lords in March 1644. The prosecution was led by William Prynne, one of those with the cropped ears seven years earlier. Although the Lords who remained at Westminster were unanimously prejudiced against him, Laud defended himself ably, and the Lords adjourned without coming to a vote. In November, the House of Commons abandoned its impeachment of Laud and condemned him by special decree. This passed in the Commons on the 15th of November and in the House of Lords two months later. Archbishop Laud was beheaded on Tower Hill on the 10th of January 1645.

William Laud is remembered in both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America with a Commemoration on 10 January.






See Resources, where you can read more about William Laud.






John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts, recorded in his famous journal, the arrival of the ship “Griffin”, eight weeks out of England. On board was the Rev. Thomas Hooker, who went immediately on to Newtown, Massachusetts (now Cambridge), where some of his English congregation had gone ahead a year earlier. Hooker became the first pastor to this transplanted group of believers. His home was on land which today is part of the Harvard Yard.


CONFLICT

It wasn't very long at all before Hooker was in conflict with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He disagreed with Gov. Winthrop over who could take part in the civil government. Winthrop held that only admitted members of the Puritan church could vote and hold office. Hooker maintained that any adult male property owner could vote and participate in the government, regardless of church membership. This conflict for Hooker was unresolvable.




In 1634, Hooker and his congregation applied to the General Court for permission to remove to Connecticut, citing as their reasons:

  1. there wasn’t enough land for expansion in Newtown;
  2. they feared that otherwise Connecticut might fall into the hands of other English or the Dutch; and
  3. “the strong bent of their spirits to remove thither.”

The Court feared that a defection such as this would weaken the Colony and refused the request. The majority of the deputies were in favor of letting Hooker leave if he wanted; the majority of the magistrates were not. As could be guessed, the larger deputy group was more popular and more democratic than the magistrates group. Debate went on to see if the deputies' votes would outrule the magistrates, and so the vote was postponed. Newtown's townsmen were granted more land rights in their own neighborhood, and they waited.


In 1635, the legislature granted permission to the towns of Watertown, Roxbury, and Dorchester to move anywhere, provided that they continue subordinate to the Massachusetts government. This was something the government really had no legal right to impose. But, leave it to a government to press the issue a step further than allowed. A few months later the Colony passed a law that no one could leave the colony without the permission of a majority of the magistrates. Oddly, under an older law, no one could settle in Massachusetts without the consent of the half-dozen or more men in control. So, to get in or go out, one must get permission from the government.

Groups from Dorchester took immediate advantage and by July there were daily departures for the Connecticut River Valley. The folks were unprepared for the severe weather and many of them returned to Boston for the winter. In the spring 1636, Hooker and about 100 of his congregation travelled overland, with their herds of cattle, to the settlement of Hartford on the Connecticut River.

Two of my ancestors went with Rev. Hooker to Hartford. These families are on this side of my ancestry:

John Hopkins
James Olmsted (Gen. 3)




Hooker's party trudged through the wilderness on the Indian trail, known later as the Old Connecticut Path. Once in Hartford, he continued to be in contact with John Winthrop and often travelled back and forth to Boston to help settle intercolonial disputes, using the Old Connecticut Path.

Some of Hooker’s people had gone earlier, and others followed the next year, but the main body went in that Spring. They took with them 160 cattle which provided milk for the journey.

Gov. Winthrop's Journal, dated 5 October 1635, states: “about sixty men, women and little children, went by land toward Connecticut with their cows, horses and swine, and after a tedious and difficult journey arrived safe there.” Rev. Hooker’s wife was too ill to walk and so was carried on a horse-drawn litter.



Their progress was slow, requiring at minimum ten to twelve days. And so began the new settlement at Suckiaug (Hartford).

Hooker's Company reaches the Connecticut



Upon their arrival, they settled north of the Dutch. They originally called their new home Newtown, but changed it to Hartford, probably at the suggestion of Samuel Stone.

By the end of 1636, there may have been 800 people in Connecticut, settled mainly at Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield.*

* At the same time, another settlement was opened up, founded by my ancestor, William Pynchon, which you can read about at the following link: Springfield, Mass.




THE ROUTE

An exhaustive study of land records from Cambridge to Hartford, noting the references to an ancient Indian trail (now known as the Old Connecticut Path), gives us the likely description of their journey:

  • Cambridge to Watertown, Weston, Wayland, Framingham, passing north of Cochituate Pond.
  • Through South Framingham, Ashland, Hopkinton, Westborough, Grafton.
  • Through Millbury, north of Singleton Pond to Oxford.
  • Turning west at the Centre; going through Charlton, whose ancient name was “Quabaug Path.”
  • Probably their first Sabbath at Sturbridge, on the western slope of Fisk Hill, where tradition locates a camping place.
  • Down that slope westward, crossing the brook, they passed the foot of Cemetery Hill, and “Old Tantiusque Fordway,” up the valley through Fiskdale.
  • The path went north of Little Alum Pond to “Little Rest.”
  • North of Sherman Pond and north of Steerage Rock.
  • Descending the slope to the Connecticut Valley at Agawam, now Springfield, Massachusetts.
  • Moving south on the east bank of the Connecticut River, through “Longmeadow Gate” – so named because the shoulder of the hill and the river narrow the space at that point to something like a gateway.
  • From there in a general line (still marked by highways), to what later was known as the “John Bissell ferry” at Windsor.
  • Crossing the river, they ended their journey on the western bank of the Connecticut River at Suckiaug.



THE FUNDAMENTAL ORDERS

Thomas Hooker played a significant role in the creation of "the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut". This document is one of the modern world's first written constitutions and was a primary influence upon the current American Constitution, written nearly a century and a half later.

On May 31, 1638, when a new form of government was under consideration, Hooker preached his famous sermon, in which he laid down the doctrines that “the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance,” and that “they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them,” because “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.”

  • “the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance,”

  • “they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them,” because “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.”



This last principle was not new, to Hooker nor to his fellow Connecticut colonists, either in theory or in practice. Hooker was arguing, not for a democratic government, which they already possessed, but for a fixed code of laws to rule the magistrates in their actions.

See my small web page on The Fundamental Orders.


The next year, the constitution of the new government was adopted by the residents of the plantations of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor. That constitution provided for a General Court, in which each of the three original plantations should be represented by four deputies, and which should pave the authority to incorporate towns. It was only subsequent to the creation of this general government by the inhabitants of the commonwealth, that the towns, as political entities, came into being. Freemen were merely required to pe passed upon by the General Court, no religious qualification being attached to the franchise. It is noteworthy that the governor was not allowed to serve for two successive terms, And that no reference was made to any external authority, rot even to that of the king.

While the descent of the “Fundamental Orders” of Connecticut can be traced in every step from the earliest charters of the trading companies, the transition was now complete. From such as we saw Tudor monarchs granting to merchants in the fifteenth century, past all those which we have noted as milestones by the way, the progress had been as steady as it was unperceived, from the privileges possessed by a few expatriated English traders and their clerks, dwelling among foreigners, to the self-governed commonwealth of a people in a land which they had made their own. While the charters, however, served as the framework of their government, the foundation of their political philosophy was found in the church covenant, which the Separatists had used in Europe for forty years before the Mayflower sailed; and the constitution of Connecticut was thus equally descended from religious theory and from the practice of trade.

Although there was little in the Fundamental Orders, as settled in 1639, which cannot be found in previous custom or legislation in Massachusetts or Plymouth, nevertheless, only those elements which were of a democratic tendency were put into the new constitution, and there was distinctly a more democratic attitude on the part of the leaders and people than in the Bay Colony. Such provisions as that making the governor ineligible for immediate reelection, and the franchise independent of religious qualification, probably show a reaction from the rule of Massachusetts.



The two most influential men in New England in 1640 were John Winthrop (the leader in Massachusetts) and Thomas Hooker (the leader in Connecticut). Winthrop called democracy “the worst of all forms of government”. Hooker, however, believed that the complete control of rulers “belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance.” In the new Connecticut government, Freemen needn't have a religious qualification; governors weren't allowed to serve for two successive terms; and also, importantly, there was not one mention or reference to any outside authority, not even the King.


THE HARTFORD FOUNDERS' MONUMENT

Founders Monument (1986), located in the Ancient Burying Ground, also known as the Center Church Cemetery. Image scanned from The Original Proprietors, by the Society of the Descendants of the Founders of Hartford, Inc. (n.d.). Peter Grant, past Governor of the SDFH, wrote in the 1986 Register that:

"The Council of the Founders organized the Ancient Burying Ground Association in 1982 as a committee of the Founders. An earlier organization of the same name was formed in 1836 and erected the Founders Monument in 1837. A brownstone obelisk which listed the names of the city's founders, the monument had deteriorated severly, despite various conservation efforts.

"The Ancient Burying Ground Association determined that it was impossible to restore the 1837 monument. A replacement monument, carved from beautiful, durable Connecticut granite, was dedicated on August 6, 1986. While the new monument retains the size and proportions of the original, the Founders' names are now listed in alphabetical order. Several names, omitted from the 1837 monument, are now included."





PRIMARY REFERENCES

Thomas Hooker, on Wikipedia.

Founders of Hartford.
This is one page on the website of The Society of the Descendants of the Founders of Hartford.


SECONDARY REFERENCES

Roger Ludlow, The Colonial Lawmaker, by John M. Taylor (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900) 166 pgs.
For details on Rev. Thomas Hooker, see page 87. This book is available on Google.

Historic Sites at Hartford, Connecticut.
On the website of The Society of the Descendants of the Founders of Hartford.

"Thomas Hooker Tries Democracy", by Benjamin Hart.
This is Chapter 7 of his book Faith & Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty (Christian Defense Fund, 1997).
This is a wonderful discussion of Hooker's life and philosophy. The whole book is available on the Leadership U website (a project of Christian Leadership Ministries, a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, International).

History and Genealogy of the Gov. John Webster Family of Connecticut, by W. H. Webster & Rev. M. R. Webster (Rochester, NY: E. R. Andrews Printing Co., 1915), as featured on Paul Lange's family website.
See Part 1 for details Hooker's journey and the route taken; and Part 2 for a description of the broohaha that happened in the Church after Hooker's death. This led to the foundation of Hadley, Mass.

John Winthrop Jr. - Governor of the Colony of Connecticut, 1657, 1659-1676, as presented on the Connecticut State Library website. A good, well referenced, presentation.

The Pynchons and the People of Early Springfield, includes the background of Thomas Hooker, but is primarily about Springfield and the Pynchons.
From the excellent website "American Centuries: Views from New England," presented by the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Mass. It includes a large library of primary resources, curricula, and interactive student activities; most of them presented in age-appropriate, user-friendly formats.
The author, Stephen Innes, presents Lesson 4 of Unit 1 ("The Colonial Period 1680-1720"), which is part of a broad high-school, online, social studies course entitled "The Nile of New England: A Study of the History of a Connecticut River Valley Town Over Three Centuries." Innes is the author of Early Settlement in the Connecticut Valley (Westfield, MA: Westfield State College, 1984).

Picture "Hooker's Company reach the Connecticut" was published History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts by Samuel Adams Drake (1880, vol. 1). Copyright was claimed in 1879 by Estes & Lauriat, publishers.

William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury:











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