Settlement of Connecticut Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A second wave of Puritans, seeking the prime land that had already been occupied in Massachusetts by the first wave of settlers, found and colonized the Connecticut River Valley, expanding British holdings in the Americas and creating a new government markedly different from the one developing in the Massachusetts Bay.

Summary of Event

As more and more settlers poured into Massachusetts Bay as part of the Great Puritan Migration Great Puritan Migration Migration;Puritans into Massachusetts , towns that at first had seemed only partly settled began to seem congested. The first settlers obtained the best agricultural land; those who came later were left with second-best. New groups often brought their favorite pastor with them, but these Puritan pastors often found their ideas of the Puritan way of life somewhat at odds with those espoused by the earlier groups. Both these forces worked to motivate the groups coming later to seek new ground to found settlements of their own. [kw]Settlement of Connecticut (Fall, 1632-Jan. 5, 1665) [kw]Connecticut, Settlement of (Fall, 1632-Jan. 5, 1665) Expansion and land acquisition;Fall, 1632-Jan. 5, 1665: Settlement of Connecticut[1190] Colonization;Fall, 1632-Jan. 5, 1665: Settlement of Connecticut[1190] American Colonies;Fall, 1632-Jan. 5, 1665: Settlement of Connecticut[1190] Connecticut Colonization;England of Connecticut

In the fall of 1632, Edward Winslow Winslow, Edward of the Plymouth Colony explored westward and discovered the Connecticut River Valley, the site of some of New England’s most productive farmland. Moreover, the most desirable land was cleared land, and the river valley contained extensive meadows that had few trees because of the frequent flooding. News of the rich meadows to the west rapidly reached the congested settlements in Massachusetts Bay, and a number of settlers attached to the minister Thomas Hooker Hooker, Thomas resolved to move to the new area. Although the Dutch traders centered at Albany had earlier laid claim to the portion of the river valley near the present site of Windsor, the English settlers chose to ignore this claim. Instead, they bought the claim Winslow’s explorations had created from Plymouth, and in 1635, they moved to the site of the present city of Hartford. Other groups soon followed, settling at Windsor and Wethersfield on the Connecticut River.

Robert Rich, second earl of Warwick Warwick, second earl of and president of the Council for New England, had secured a patent for at least part of what is now Connecticut; the boundaries of the patent were ill-defined, however. In 1635, Warwick and his associates authorized John Winthrop, Winthrop, John, Jr. Jr., son of the leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Massachusetts Bay Colony , to build a fort and create a settlement at the mouth of the Connecticut River, where it flows into Long Island Sound. He negotiated an agreement with the followers of Thomas Hooker, proposing to settle in the Connecticut River Valley, as a result of which Winthrop became governor of the colony.

Because Winthrop’s authority did not include the right to establish a governing body, he secured the cooperation of the Massachusetts General Court, which authorized the establishment of basic government institutions similar to those existing in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These institutions provided for the participation of all Christian freeholders in the election of individuals to office in the towns and in the General Court for Connecticut. This franchise—relatively broad compared to that in the older colony, which restricted participation to those who were recognized members of a church—has led many commentators to view Connecticut as fundamentally more democratic than the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In 1637, the first General Court of Connecticut met at Hartford, comprising representatives of the towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield. This general court prepared for war against the powerful Pequots Pequots , whose lands lay between these settlements and the coast. In a three-week campaign, the settlers vanquished the Pequots and eliminated them as a threat to the new colony. Shortly after the victory over the Pequots, a new group of settlers, under the leadership of John Davenport Davenport, John and Theophilus Eaton, Eaton, Theophilus founded a new colony at New Haven. The coastal settlement proved successful, and soon other groups settled in the vicinity.

The settlers in the Connecticut River Valley, flush with their victory over the Pequots, immediately turned their attention to creating a stable government for the colony. They drew up a constitution, called the Fundamental Orders Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) , that provided for a General Court, or legislature, to meet twice a year and created the office of governor. Representatives of the towns sat in the General Court; every qualified householder could vote in the Town Meeting to choose the town’s representatives, but only settlers who were freemen and held substantial property were eligible to serve in the General Court. The settlers around New Haven were not included, as they were a separate colony. Attempts were made to include representatives from the settlements on the eastern end of Long Island, but the difficulties of travel ensured that they would rarely participate in governmental decisions. The formal drafting of the Fundamental Orders relied heavily on the advice of Roger Ludlow, Ludlow, Roger the only one of the earlier settlers with legal training.

All these settlements flourished under the neglect of the British government, for during most of the first thirty years of Connecticut settlement, the British were wholly preoccupied with their own Civil Wars and the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. With the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, the lack of a royal charter for any group in Connecticut (in contrast to Massachusetts Bay) became an urgent issue. In 1661, John Winthrop, Jr., was commissioned to go to England and secure a royal charter. Winthrop proved to be a highly successful maneuverer, and in 1662, he won for Connecticut the desired charter, issued on May 3. On January 5, 1665, although somewhat reluctantly, the independent colony at New Haven agreed to be incorporated into Connecticut. The conquest of New Amsterdam by the English that same year eliminated any foreign competition for control of Connecticut.


Overall, the first thirty years of settlement in Connecticut brought many new émigrés from England, although new immigrants were few during the 1640’. The supply of good land during these years ensured that this overwhelmingly agricultural society would remain relatively homogeneous socially. Although some who came subsequently left, those who stayed were soon able to acquire enough land for a “competency,” that is, a standard of living that enabled them and their families to live with modest comfort. Few would have been able to achieve this level had they remained in England. For them, living in Connecticut was the realization of a dream.

Connecticut is also particularly important to the history of colonial America as a result of the Fundamental Orders, framed by Hooker and Ludlow. This document, one of the most important and elaborate early American constitutions, was a model for later such documents and enshrined the principle of separation of church and state that was eschewed by the nearby theocracy of Massachusetts Bay.

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles II (of England); Oliver Cromwell; John Davenport; Thomas Hooker; Roger Ludlow; John Winthrop. Connecticut Colonization;England of Connecticut

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