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Connecticut in the 17th century


John Winthrop the younger
John Winthrop the younger

The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in Connecticut. In 1614 Dutch mariner Adriaen Block explored the southern shore of Long Island Sound and sailed up the Connecticut River, possibly as far as the Enfield rapids, north of present-day Hartford. Later the Dutch acquired land at the mouth of the Connecticut River and carried on a prosperous trade in furs with the native inhabitants.

English


Early in the 1630s, the fertile river valley began to attract the attention of English settlers from the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies in Massachusetts. In 1633 colonists from Plymouth built a trading post and stockade near the site of present-day Windsor. That same year the Dutch, anxious to protect their claim to the region, erected their first and only fort in Connecticut, at Hartford.

In 1634 and 1635 colonists from Massachusetts Bay founded the towns that formed the core of the Connecticut colony. English trader John Oldham brought a large party from Watertown to settle at Wethersfield. John Winthrop the younger, son of the Massachusetts governor, established Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Named after Lord Saye and Sele and Lord Brooke, two of the colony’s founders, it is part of the present-day towns of Deep River and Old Saybrook. Roger Ludlow led colonists from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to establish their own settlement at Windsor. The largest migration occurred in 1636, when a well-known minister, Thomas Hooker, led about 100 colonists from Newtown (now Cambridge, Massachusetts) to settle at Hartford. Within a few years the English-speaking colonists in Windsor, Wethersfield, Saybrook, and Hartford greatly outnumbered the Dutch.

Relations between Native Americans and the colonists

Most of the Native Americans were generally friendly to the colonists. Some native groups invited the English to settle nearby, hoping for trade and for allies against the aggressive Pequots, who dominated the area. Settlers purchased land from the native people, and though whites often encroached on native territory, disputes were usually settled without violence.

merchant Theophilus Eaton
John Winthrop the younger

The exception to these friendly relations was friction between the Pequots and settlers, which soon escalated into New England’s first major war, the Pequot War of 1637. The causes of the war are unclear, but it involved a series of killings, raids and reprisals on both sides. In May 1637 Connecticut declared war on the Pequots. With the help of both the Mohegan and the Narragansett to the east, the colonists launched a surprise attack on a Pequot village at Mystic River. They set the village on fire and killed Pequot inhabitants as they fled the flames. Hundreds of native villagers died, including many women and children, and most of the remaining Pequots were killed or captured. The few who survived were scattered throughout New England or sold into slavery, and the Pequot all but disappeared. In 1638 and 1639, representatives of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield, the three principal settlements in the Connecticut River valley, met at Hartford to discuss plans to unite the settlements into a single colony.

On January 14, 1639, the colony of Connecticut was formed, and the colonists formally adopted a basic set of laws known as the Fundamental Orders. That document, said to be the first written constitution in history, was a milestone in early American constitutional history. Framed by Hooker, Ludlow, John Haynes, and others, the laws provided for a self-governing colony whose inhabitants were to owe their allegiance to the colony rather than to England. Two general assemblies, one legislative and the other judicial, were set up, and representatives were chosen from each town. Haynes, former governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was chosen as the first governor of the Connecticut colony.

Meanwhile, in 1638, merchant Theophilus Eaton and Puritan minister John Davenport established a trading colony on the former Pequot lands near the site of present-day New Haven. First called Quinnipiac, it was renamed New Haven in 1640. Later settlements at Milford, Stamford, Guilford, Branford, and Southold (on Long Island) joined New Haven to form the New Haven colony. The laws adopted by the New Haven colony were less liberal than the Fundamental Orders of the Connecticut colony. Only members of the Puritan church could vote, and strict laws regulated the religious and moral life of the colonists.

The two colonies remained separate except for a brief period in 1643, when New Haven and Connecticut joined with the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies in a mutual defense pact called the New England Confederation. Both colonies in Connecticut acquired additional settlements, and in 1644 the Connecticut colony purchased the Saybrook colony.

The colonies were never self-sufficient economic units, and engaged in trade from the beginning. The colonists raised grain, especially corn, vegetables, and other crops for their own use, and also kept a few animals. The land in the Connecticut River valley was especially productive and soon provided the colonists with surplus crops and livestock to trade with other settlements on the eastern seaboard. The forests provided wood for fuel and construction, as well as furs, trapped and traded by the Native Americans. "Connecticut" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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