Colonization of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut

George Bancroft, historian,
(1800-1891)

HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, BY GEORGE BANCROFT

Volume I, Chapter 16: Colonization of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut

RHODE ISLAND was the offspring of Massachusetts; but the loss of a few inhabitants was not sensibly felt in the parent colony. When the first difficulties of encountering the wilderness had been surmounted, and an apprehension had arisen of evil days that were to befall England, the stream of emigration flowed with a full current to Massachusetts; “Godly people there began to apprehend a special hand of Providence in raising this plantation, and their hearts were generally stirred to come over.” The new settlers were so many that there was no room for them all in the earlier places of abode; and Simon Willard, a trader, joining with Peter Bulkeley, a minister from St. John’s College in Cambridge, a man of wealth, benevolence, and great learning, became chief instruments in extending the frontier. Under their guidance, at the fall of the leaf in 1635, a band of twelve families, toiling through thickets of ragged bushes, and clambering over crossed trees, made their way along Indian paths to the green meadows of Concord. A tract of land six miles square was purchased for the planters of the squaw sachem and a chief to whom, according to Indian laws of property, it belonged. The suffering settlers burrowed for their first shelter under a hillside. The cattle sickened on the wild fodder; sheep and swine were destroyed by wolves; there was no flesh but game. The long rains poured through the insufficient roofs of their smoky cottages, and troubled even the time for sleep. Yet the men labored willingly, for they had their wives and little ones about them. The forest rung with their psalms; and “the poorest people of God in the whole world,” unable “to excel in number, strength, or riches, resolved to strive to excel in grace and in holiness.” That New England village will one day engage the attention of the world.

Meantime, the fame of the liberties of Massachusetts extended widely. Among those who came in 1635 was the fiery Hugh Peter, who had been pastor of a church of English exiles in Rotterdam, a republican of energy and eloquence, not always tempering enterprise with judgment. At the same time came Henry Vane, the younger, “for conscience sake.” “He liked not the discipline of the church of England, of which none of the ministers would give him the sacrament standing.” “Neither persuasions of the bishops nor authority of his parents prevailed with him;” and, from “obedience of the gospel,” he cheerfully “forsook the preferments of the court of Charles for the ordinances of religion in their purity in New England.”

The freemen of Massachusetts, pleased that a young man of his rank and ability agreed with them in belief and shared their exile, in 1636, elected him their governor. The choice was unwise, for neither age nor experience entitled him to the distinction. He came but as a sojourner, and was not imbued with the genius of the place; his clear mind, fresh from the public business of England, saw distinctly what the colonists did not wish to see—the wide difference between their practice under their charter and the meaning of that instrument on the principles of English jurisprudence.

At first, the arrival of Vane seemed a pledge for the emigration of men of the highest rank. Several English peers, especially Lord Say and Seal, a Presbyterian, a friend to the Puritans, yet with but dim perceptions of the true nature of civil liberty, and Lord Brooke, a man of charity and meekness, an early friend to tolerance, had begun to negotiate for such changes as would offer them inducements for removing to America. They demanded a division of the general court into two branches, that of assistants and of representatives—a change which, from domestic reasons, was ultimately adopted; but they further required an acknowledgment of their own hereditary right to a seat in the upper house. The fathers of Massachusetts promised them the honors of magistracy, and began to make appointments for life; but, as for the establishment of hereditary dignity, they answered by the hand of Cotton: “Where God blesseth any branch of any noble or generous family with a spirit and gifts fit for government, it would be a taking of God’s name in vain to put such a talent under a bushel, and a sin against the honor of magistracy to neglect such in our public elections. But, if God should not delight to furnish some of their posterity with gifts fit for magistracy, we should expose them rather to reproach and prejudice, and the commonwealth with them, than exalt them to honor, if we should call them forth, when God doth not, to public authority.” The people, moreover, were uneasy at any permanent concession of office; Saltonstall, “that much-honored and upright-hearted servant of Christ,” loudly reproved “the sinful innovation,” and advocated its reform; nor would the freemen be quieted till, in 1639, it was made a law that those who were appointed magistrates for life should yet not be magistrates except in those years in which they should be regularly chosen at the annual election.

The institutions of Massachusetts were likewise in jeopardy from religious divisions. In Boston and its environs, the most profound questions relating to human existence and the laws of the moral world were discussed with passionate zeal; the Holy Spirit was claimed as the inward companion of man; while many persons, in their zeal to distinguish between abstract truth and the forms under which truth is conveyed, between unchanging principles and changing institutions, were in perpetual danger of making shipwreck of all religious faith.

Amid the arrogance of spiritual pride, the vagaries of undisciplined imaginations, and the extravagances to which the intellectual power may be led in its pursuit of ultimate principles, two distinct parties may be perceived. The first consisted of the original settlers, the framers of the civil government and their adherents; they who were intent on the foundation and preservation of a commonwealth, and were satisfied with the established order of society. They had founded their government on the basis of the church, and church membership could be obtained only by an exemplary life and the favor of the clergy. They dreaded unlimited freedom of opinion as the parent of ruinous divisions. “The cracks and flaws in the new building of the reformation,” thought they, “portend a fall;” they desired patriotism, union, and a common heart; they were earnest to confirm and build up the state, the child of their cares and their sorrows.

The other party was composed of individuals who had arrived after the civil government and religious discipline of the colony had been established. Their pride consisted in following the principles of the reformation with logical precision to all their consequences. Their eyes were not primarily directed to the institutions of Massachusetts, but to articles of religion; and they resisted every form of despotism over the mind. To them, the clergy of Massachusetts were “the ushers of persecution,” “popish factors” who had not imbibed the true principle of Christian reform; the magistrates were “priest-ridden” under a covenant of works; and they applied to the influence of the Puritan ministers the principle which Luther and Calvin had employed against the observances and pretensions of the Roman church. Standing on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, they derided the formality of the established religion; and by asserting that the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer, that the revelation of the Spirit is superior “to the ministry of the word,” they sustained with intense fanaticism the paramount authority of private judgment.

The founder of this party was Anne Hutchinson, a woman of such admirable understanding “and profitable and sober carriage” that her enemies could never speak of her without acknowledging her eloquence and ability. She was encouraged by John Wheelwright, a silenced minister, who had married her husband’s sister, and by Henry Vane, the governor of the colony; while a majority of the people of Boston approved her rebellion against the clergy. Men of learning, members of the magistracy and of the general court, accepted her opinions. The public mind seemed hastening toward an insurrection against spiritual authority; and she was denounced as “weakening the hands and hearts of the people toward the ministers,” as being “like Roger Williams, or worse.”

Nearly all the clergy, except Cotton, in whose house Vane was an inmate, clustered together in defence of their influence, and in opposition to Vane; and Wheelwright, who, in a sermon on a fast day appointed in March, 1637, for the reconciliation of differences, maintained that “those under a covenant of grace must prepare for battle and come out and fight with spiritual weapons against pagans, and anti-Christians, and those that runne under a covenant of works,” in spite of the remonstrance of the governor, was censured by the general court for sedition. At the ensuing choice of magistrates, the religious divisions controlled the elections. Some of the friends of Wheelwright had threatened an appeal to England. The contest appeared, therefore, to the people, not as the struggle for intellectual freedom against the authority of the clergy, but for the liberties of Massachusetts against the interference of the English government. In the midst of such high excitement that even Wilson climbed into a tree to harangue the people on election day, Winthrop and his friends, the fathers and founders of the colony, recovered power. But the dispute infused its spirit into everything; it interfered with the levy of troops for the Pequod war; it influenced the respect shown to the magistrates; the distribution of town-lots; the assessment of rates; and in May the continued existence of the two opposing parties was held to be inconsistent with the general welfare. To prevent the increase of a faction esteemed so dangerous, it was enacted by the party in power that none should be received within the jurisdiction but such as should be allowed by some of the magistrates. The dangers which were simultaneously menaced from the Episcopal party in the mother country gave to the measure an air of magnanimous defiance; it was almost a proclamation of independence. As an act of intolerance, it found in Vane an inflexible opponent; and, using the language of the times, he left a memorial of his dissent. “Scribes and Pharisees, and such as are confirmed in any way of error”—these are the remarkable words of the man, who soon embarked for England, where he pleaded in parliament for the liberties of Catholics and dissenters—”all such are not to be denyed cohabitation, but are to be pitied and reformed. Ishmael shall dwell in the presence of his brethren.”

The friends of Wheelwright could not brook his censure; but, in justifying their remonstrances, they employed the language of fanaticism. “A new rule of practice by immediate revelations” was to be the guide of their conduct; not that they expected a revelation “in the way of a miracle;” such an idea Anne Hutchinson rejected “as a delusion;” they only slighted the censures of the ministers and the court, and avowed their determination to follow the free thought of their own minds. But individual conscience is often the dupe of interest, and often but a specious name for self-will. The government feared, or pretended to fear, a disturbance of the public peace. A synod of the ministers of New England was therefore assembled, to settle the true faith. Numerous opinions were so stated that they could be harmoniously condemned; and vagueness of language, so often the parent of furious controversy, performed the office of a peace-maker. After Vane had returned to England, it was hardly possible to find any grounds of difference between the flexible Cotton and his equally orthodox opponents. The triumph of the clergy being complete, the civil magistrates proceeded to pass sentence on the more resolute offenders. Wheelwright, Anne Hutchinson, and Aspinwall were exiled from the territory of Massachusetts, as “unfit for the society” of its citizens; and their adherents, who, it was feared, “might, upon some revelation, make a sudden insurrection,” and who were ready to seek protection by an appeal from the authority of the colonial government, were required to deliver up their arms.

The principles of Anne Hutchinson are best seen in the institutions which were founded by her associates. Wheelwright and his friends removed to the banks of the Piscataqua; and, at the head of tide-water on that stream, they founded the town of Exeter, one more little republic in the wilderness, organized on the principles of natural justice by the voluntary combination of the inhabitants.

A larger number, led by John Clark and William Coddington, proceeded to the south, designing to make a plantation on Long Island or near Delaware bay. But Roger Williams persuaded them to plant in his vicinity. In March, 1638, a social compact, signed after the precedent of New Plymouth, founded their government upon the universal consent of the inhabitants; the forms of administration were borrowed from the Jews. Coddington, who had been one of the magistrates in Massachusetts, and had always testified against their persecuting spirit, was elected judge in the new Israel. Before the month was at an end, the influence of Roger Williams and the name of Henry Vane prevailed with Miantonomoh, the chief of the Narragansetts, to make them a gift of the beautiful island of Rhode Island. Under this grant, they clustered round the cove on the north-east part of the island; and, as they grew rapidly in numbers, in the spring of 1639, a part of them removed to Newport. The colony rested on the principle of intellectual liberty; philosophy itself could not have placed it on a broader basis. In March, 1641, it was ordered by the whole body of freemen, and “unanimously agreed upon, that the government, which this body politic doth attend unto in this island and the jurisdiction thereof, in favor of our prince, is a DEMOCRACIE, or popular government; that is to say, it is in the power of the body of freemen orderly assembled, or major part of them, to make or constitute just lawes, by which they will be regulated, and to depute from among themselves such ministers as shall see them faithfully executed between man and man.” “It was further ordered that none be accounted a delinquent for doctrine;” the law for “liberty of conscience was perpetuated.” The little community was held together by the bonds of affection and freedom of opinion; and “the signet for the state” was ordered to be “a sheafe of arrows,” with “the motto AMOR VINCET OMNIA: Love shall conquer all things.” A patent from England was necessary for their security; and in September they obtained it through the now powerful Henry Vane.

Of these institutions Anne Hutchinson did not long enjoy the protection. Recovering from dejectedness, she gloried in her sufferings, as her greatest happiness; travelled from Massachusetts to the settlement of Roger Williams, and from thence joined her friends on the island. Young men from other colonies became converts to her opinions; and she excited such admiration that to the leaders in Massachusetts it “gave cause of suspicion of witchcraft.” One of her sons and Collins, her son-in-law, ventured to expostulate with the people of Boston on the wrongs of their mother. Severe imprisonment for many months was the punishment for their boldness. Rhode Island itself seemed no longer a safe refuge; and the family removed beyond New Haven into the territory of the Dutch. There Kieft, the violent governor, provoked an insurrection among the Indians; in 1643, the house of Anne Hutchinson, then a widow, was attacked and set on fire; herself, her son-in-law, and all their family, save one child, perished by the savages or by the flames. The river near which stood her house is to this day called by her name.

Williams and Wheelwright and Aspinwall suffered not more from their banishment than some of the best men of the colony encountered from choice.

The valley of the Connecticut, as early as 1630, became an object of competition. In the following year the earl of Warwick became its first proprietary, under a grant from the council for New England; and it was held by Lord Say and Seal, Lord Brooke, John Hampden, and others, as his assigns. Before any colony could be established with their sanction, the people of New Plymouth, in October, 1633, built a trading-house at Windsor, and conducted with the natives a profitable commerce in furs. For the same trade, “Dutch intruders” from Manhattan, ascending the river, raised at Hartford the house “of Good Hope,” and struggled to secure the territory to themselves. In 1635, the younger Winthrop returned from England with a commission from its proprietaries to erect a fort at the mouth of the stream, and the commission was carried into effect. Other settlements were begun by emigrants from the environs of Boston at Hartford and Windsor and Wethersfield; and, in the last days of October, a company of sixty, among whom were women and children, removed to the west. But their journey was undertaken too late in the season; their sufferings were severe, and were greatly exaggerated by malicious rumor to deter others from following them.

In the opening of 1636,” the people, who had resolved to transplant themselves and their estates unto the river Connecticut, judged it inconvenient to go away without any frame of government;” and, at their desire, on the third of March, the general court of Massachusetts granted a temporary commission to eight men, two from each of the companies who were to plant Springfield, Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield. At the budding of the trees and the springing of the grass, some smaller parties made their way to the new Hesperia of Puritanism. In June, led by Thomas Hooker, “the light of the western churches,” the principal body of about one hundred persons, many of them accustomed to affluence and the ease of European life, began their march. Traversing on foot the pathless forest, they drove before them herds of cattle; advancing hardly ten miles a day; subsisting on the milk of the kine, which browsed on the fresh leaves and early shoots; having no guide but the compass, no pillow for their nightly rest but heaps of stones. How did the hills echo with the unwonted lowing of herds! How were the wilds enlivened by the loud piety of Hooker, famed as “a son of thunder”! The emigrants had been gathered from among the most valued citizens, the earliest settlers, and the oldest churches of the bay. Roger Ludlow, the first named in the commission for government, unsurpassed in his knowledge of the law and the rights of mankind, had been deputy governor of Massachusetts; John Haynes had for one year been its governor; and Hooker had no rival in public estimation but Cotton, whom he surpassed in force of character, in liberality of spirit, in soundness of judgment, and in clemency.

The new settlement so far toward the west was environed by perils. The Dutch indulged a hope of dispossessing them. No part of New England was more thickly covered with aboriginal inhabitants than Connecticut. The Pequods could muster at least seven hundred fighting men; the white men, in number less than two hundred, were incessantly exposed to an enemy whose delight was carnage.

In 1633, some of the Pequods had murdered the captain and crew of a small Massachusetts vessel trading in Connecticut river. With some appearance of justice, they pleaded the necessity of self-defence; and in November, 1634, the messengers, whom they sent to Boston to ask the alliance of the white men, carried great store of wampum peag, and bundles of sticks in promise of so many beaver and otter skins. The government of Massachusetts accepted the excuse conditionally, and reconciled the Pequods with their hereditary enemies, the Narragansetts. No longer at variance with a powerful neighbor, the Pequods did not deliver up the murderers. In July, 1636, John Oldham, an enterprising trader, returning from a voyage to the Connecticut river, was murdered, and his men carried off by the Indians at Block island. To punish the crime, Massachusetts sent out ninety men under the command of Endecott. Conforming as nearly as they could to their sanguinary orders, they ravaged Block island, and then, re-enforced by volunteers from Connecticut, they undertook the chastisement of the Pequods. That warlike tribe sought the alliance of its neighbors, the Narragansetts and the Mohicans. The general rising of the natives against the colonists could be frustrated by none but Roger Williams, who was the first to give information of the impending danger. Having received letters from Vane and the council of Massachusetts, requesting his utmost and speediest endeavors to prevent the league, neither storms of wind nor high seas could detain him. Shipping himself alone in a poor canoe, every moment at the hazard of his life, he hastened to the house of the sachem of the Narragansetts. The Pequod ambassadors, reeking with blood freshly spilled, were already there; and for three days and nights the business compelled him to lodge and mix with them, having cause every night to expect their knives at his throat. The Narragansetts were wavering; but Roger Williams succeeded in dissolving the conspiracy. It was the most intrepid achievement of the war, as perilous in its execution as it was fortunate in its issue. The Pequods were left to contend single-handed against the English.

Continued injuries and murders roused Connecticut to action; and, on the first of May, 1637, the court of its three infant towns decreed immediate war. Uncas, sachem of the Mohegans, was their ally. To John Mason the staff of command was delivered at Hartford by Hooker; and, after nearly a whole night spent, at the request of the soldiers, in importunate prayer by the very learned and godly Stone, about sixty men, one third of the whole colony, aided by John Underhill and twenty gallant recruits, whom the forethought of Vane had sent from the Bay State, sailed past the Thames, and, designing to reach the Pequod fort unobserved, entered a harbor near Wickford, in the bay of the Narragansetts. The next day was the Lord’s, sacred to religion and rest. Early in the week, the captains of the expedition, with the pomp of a military escort, repaired to the court of Canonicus, the patriarch and ruler of the tribe; and the younger and more fiery Miantonomoh, surrounded by two hundred of his bravest warriors, received them in council. “Your design,” said he, “is good; but your numbers are too weak to brave the Pequods, who have mighty chieftains, and are skilful in battle;” and, after doubtful friendship, he deserted the desperate enterprise.

To the tribe on Mystic river their bows and arrows seemed formidable weapons; ignorant of European fortresses, they viewed their palisades with complacency; and, as the English boats sailed by, it was rumored that their enemies had vanished through fear. Hundreds of the Pequods spent much of the last night of their lives in rejoicings, at a time when the sentinels of the English were within hearing of their songs. On the twenty-sixth, two hours before day, the soldiers of Connecticut put themselves in motion; and, at the early dawn, they made their attack on the principal fort, which stood in a strong position at the summit of a hill. A watch-dog bays an alarm at their approach; the Indians awake, rally, and resist, as well as bows and arrows can resist weapons of steel. The superiority of number was with them; and fighting closely, hand to hand, victory was tardy. “We must burn them!” shouted Mason, and cast a firebrand to the windward among the light mats of their cabins. Hardly could the English withdraw to encompass the place before the encampment was in a blaze. About six hundred Indians men, women, and children—perished; two only of the English had fallen.

With the light of morning, three hundred or more Pequod warriors were descried, approaching from their second fort. As they beheld the smoking ruins, they stamped on the ground and tore their hair; but it was in vain to attempt revenge; then and always, to the close of the war, the feeble resistance of the natives hardly deserved, says Mason, the name of fighting; their defeat was certain, and with little loss to the English. They were never formidable till they became supplied with European weapons.

A portion of the troops hastened homeward to protect the settlements from any sudden attack, while Mason, with about twenty men, marched across the country from the neighborhood of New London to the English fort at Saybrook. He reached the river at sunset; Gardner, who commanded the fort, observed his approach; and never did a Roman consul, returning in triumph, ascend the capitol with more joy than that of Mason and his friends when they found themselves received as victors, and “nobly entertained with many great guns.”

In a few days the troops from Massachusetts arrived, attended by Wilson; for the ministers shared every danger. The remnants of the Pequods were pursued into their hiding-places. Sassacus, their sachem, was killed by the Mohawks, to whom he fled for protection. The few that survived, about two hundred, surrendering in despair, were enslaved by the English, or incorporated among the Mohegans and the Narragansetts. “Fifteen of the boys and two women” were exported by Massachusetts to Providence isle; and the returning ship brought back “some cotton, tobacco, and negroes.”

The vigor and courage displayed by the settlers on the Connecticut, in this first Indian war in New England, secured a long period of peace. The infant was safe in its cradle, the laborer in the fields, the solitary traveller during the night-watches in the forest; the houses needed no bolts, the settlements no palisades. The constitution which, on the fourteenth of January, 1639, was adopted, was of unexampled liberality.

In two successive years, a general court had been held in May; at the time of the election the committees from the towns came in and chose their magistrates, installed them, and engaged themselves to submit to their government and dispensation of justice. “The foundation of authority,” said Hooker, in an election sermon preached before the general court, on the last day of May, 1638, “is laid in the free consent of the people, to whom the choice of public magistrates belongs by God’s own allowance.” “They who have power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place into which they call them.”

Winthrop, of Massachusetts, held it to be an error in the sister colony “that they chose divers men who, though otherwise holy and religious, had no learning or judgment which might fit them for affairs of government; by occasion whereof the main burden for managing state government fell upon some one of their ministers, who, though they were men of singular wisdom and godliness, yet, stepping out of their course, their actions wanted that blessing which otherwise might have been expected.” In a letter, therefore, written to Hooker, in the midsummer of 1638,” to quench these sparks of contention,” Winthrop made remarks on the boundary between the states, and on the rejected articles of confederation which would have given to the commissioners of the states “absolute power;” that is, power of final decision, without need of approval by the several states. He further “expostulated about the unwarrantableness and unsafeness of referring matter of counsel or judicature to the body of the people, quia the best part is always the least, and of that best part the wiser part is always the lesser. The old law was: Thou shalt bring the matter to the judge.”

In reply, Hooker expressed an unwillingness in the matter of confederation “to exceed the limits of that equity which is to be looked at in all combinations of free states.” As to the manner of conducting their separate governments, he wrote unreservedly: “That, in the matter which is referred to the judge, the sentence should be left to his discretion, I ever looked at as a way which leads directly to tyranny, and so to confusion; and must plainly profess, if it was in my liberty, I should choose neither to live, nor leave my posterity, under such a government. Let the judge do according to the sentence of the law. Seek the law at its mouth. The heathen man said, by the candle-light of common sense: ‘The law is not subject to passion, and, therefore, ought to have chief rule over rulers themselves.’ It’s also a truth that counsel should be sought from councillors; but the question yet is, who those should be. In matters of greater consequence, which concern the common good, a general council, chosen by all, to transact businesses which concern all, I conceive, under favor, most suitable to rule, and most safe for relief of the whole. This was the practice of the Jewish church, and the approved experience of the best ordered states.”

From this seed sprung the constitution of Connecticut, first in the series of written American constitutions framed by the people for the people. Reluctantly leaving Springfield to the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, on the fourteenth of January, 1639, “the inhabitants and residents of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield, associated and conjoined to be as one public state or commonwealth.” The supreme power was intrusted to a general court composed of a governor, magistrates, and deputies from the several towns, all freemen of the commonwealth, and all chosen by ballot. The governor was further required to be “a member of some approved congregation, and” to have been “formerly of the magistracy;” nor might the same person be chosen to that office oftener than once in two years. The governor and the magistrates were chosen by a majority of the whole body of freemen; the deputies of the towns, by all who had been admitted inhabitants of them and had taken the oath of fidelity. Each of the three towns might send four deputies to every general court, and new towns might send so many deputies as the court should judge to be in a reasonable proportion to the number of freemen in the said towns; so that the representatives might form a general council, chosen by all. The general court alone had power to admit a freeman, whose qualifications were required to be residence within the jurisdiction and preceding admission as an inhabitant of one of the towns; that is, according to a later interpretation, a householder. By the oath of allegiance, as in Massachusetts, every freeman must swear to be true and faithful to the government of the jurisdiction of Connecticut; and of no other sovereign was there a mention. The governor was in like manner sworn “to maintain all lawful privileges of this commonwealth,” and to give effect “to all wholesome laws that are, or shall be, made by lawful authority here established.” The oath imposed on the magistrates bound them “to administer justice according to the laws here established, and for want thereof according to the word of God.” The amendment of the fundamental orders rested with the freemen in general court assembled. All power proceeded from the people. From the beginning, Connecticut was a republic, and was in fact independent.

More than two centuries have elapsed; but the people of Connecticut have found no reason to deviate essentially from the frame of government established by their fathers. Equal laws were the basis of their commonwealth; and therefore its foundations were lasting. These unpretending emigrants invented an admirable system; for they were near to Nature, listened willingly to her voice, and easily copied her forms. No ancient usages, no hereditary differences of rank, no established interests, impeded the application of the principles of justice. Freedom springs spontaneously into life; the artificial distinctions of society require centuries to ripen. History has ever celebrated the heroes who have won laurels in scenes of carnage. Has it no place for the wise legislators, who struck the rock in the wilderness, so that the waters of liberty gushed forth in copious and perennial streams? They who judge of men by their services to the human race will never cease to honor the memory of Hooker, and will join with it that of Ludlow, and still more that of Haynes.

In equal independence, a Puritan colony sprang up at New Haven, under the guidance of John Davenport as its pastor, and of his friend, the excellent Theophilus Eaton. Its forms were austere, unmixed Calvinism; but the spirit of humanity sheltered itself under the rough exterior. In April, 1638, the colonists held their first gathering under a branching oak. Beneath the leafless tree the little flock was taught by Davenport that, like the Son of man, they were led into the wilderness to be tempted. After a day of fasting and prayer, they rested their first frame of government on a simple plantation covenant, that “all of them would be ordered by the rules which the scriptures held forth to them.” A title to lands was obtained by a treaty with the natives, whom they protected against the Mohawks. When, after more than a year, the free planters of the colony desired a more perfect form of government, the followers of Him who was laid in a manger held their constituent assembly in a barn. There, by the influence of Davenport, it was resolved that the scriptures are the perfect rule of a commonwealth; that the purity and peace of the ordinances to themselves and their posterity were the great end of civil order; and that church members only should be free burgesses. A committee of twelve was selected to choose seven men, qualified for the foundation-work of organizing the government. Eaton, Davenport, and five others, were “the seven pillars” for the new House of Wisdom in the wilderness.

In August 1639, the seven met together. Abrogating every previous executive trust, they admitted to the court all church members; the character of civil magistrates was next expounded “from the sacred oracles;” and the election followed. Then Davenport, in the words of Moses to Israel in the wilderness, gave a charge to the governor to judge righteously; “the cause that is too hard for you,” such was part of the minister’s text, “bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” Annual elections were ordered; and God’s word established as the only rule in public affairs. Eaton, one of the most opulent of the comers to New England, was annually elected governor for near twenty years, till his death. All agree that he conducted public affairs with unfailing discretion and equity; in private life, he joined the stoicism of the Puritan to innate benevolence and mildness.

New Haven made the Bible its statute-book, and the elect its freemen. As neighboring towns were planted, each constituted itself a house of wisdom, resting on its seven pillars, and aspiring to be illumined by the eternal light. The colonists prepared for the second coming of Christ, which they confidently expected. Meantime, their pleasant villages spread along the Sound and on the opposite shore of Long Island, and for years they nursed the hope of “speedily planting Delaware.”

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Americanist History is researched, compiled, formatted, and edited (with all edits strictly limited to explanatory notes, word definitions and spelling modernizations—as needed for clarification) by Steve Farrell.


Formatting, spelling modernization, and other editing Copyright © 2013-2021 Steve Farrell and Self-Educated American. The copyright of the original text of George Bancroft’s History of the United States is held in the Public Domain.


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