Our region has been inhabited for about nine thousand years (Russell 3). Initially there were nomadic hunters and gathers that followed the large herds of caribou into the area as the glaciers retreated. The forested Connecticut of the pre-colonial period had probably been populated for about a thousand years, with more or less well-established native boundaries and hunting grounds. It was the cultivation of the soil that had allowed for the permanent habitation. Once settled systems of art and government began to develop. Estimates of the number of natives vary greatly but Russell states, “Considering all data, we judge that a total of at least 60,000 natives in what are today the three southern New England states and New Hampshire . . . “ (27) In the early seventeen hundreds the natives were cultivating six major crops, “maize, pumpkin, squash, beans, sweet potatoes and tobacco”(Van Dusan 32). An interesting extension is to identify the cultivated vegetables, fruits, nuts, flowers and shrubs that are native to our hemisphere. As early as 1602 sea captains visited Plymouth and gathered sassafras for medicinal purposes. In England it was a high priced cure-all. Of equal or perhaps more interest is a comparison of the New and Old World animals. Children’s interest is usually piqued when asked, Why didn’t native children drink milk as we do? The answer is that it was the colonists that introduced the cow as well as the horse and many other animals to this continent.
The first documented European account of the New England coastal region was done for Francis I of France in 1524 by Giovanni de Verrazano. He traveled up to fifteen miles inland at intervals along the coast so he could give a comprehensive description of the land. He stated the land was, “‘as pleasant as it is possible to conceive,” with “open plains as much as twenty or thirty leagues in length, entirely free from trees”; and so fertile, he judged, “that whatever sown there will yield an excellent crop.”’(Russell 8). It wasn’t until 1614 that a more explicit documented account of the Connecticut coastline and waterways was available. The Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed a forty-four-foot ship, the Restless, into our waters. In his log he referred to the land surrounding an excellent harbor as “Roodeburg” meaning red town or place. The harbor was flanked by two red hills, no doubt East and West Rocks. Block also sailed up the Connecticut River to at least Hartford and perhaps as far as the present day Enfield. The Dutch didn’t follow up Block’s explorations by actively colonizing the area. They did trade over the following ten years with the local natives in the Hartford area for beaver skins. Amazingly enough it is estimated that up to 10,000 skins annually may have changed hands.
It was in the same year that John Smith mapped the Massachusetts shoreline and named a spot Plymouth. It was to this location that the Mayflower sailed in 1620. In the six short years between Block’s and Smith’s mapping voyages and the Mayflower’s arrival the native population had been decimated. The Europeans had inadvertently brought with them either small pox or bubonic plague and from Maine to New York the Native population had been ravaged. The result was that the settlers really didn’t come to and establish their communities in a ‘wilderness’. It may have been a very difficult lifestyle change from urban European to new World agricultural but, “‘the land affords void ground” and “in many places, much cleared ground for tillage.”’ A Captain Thomas Dermer at this times added, “‘Ancient plantations, not long since populous, now utterly void.”’(Russell 12). It is not uncommon to find mention of fields of up to fifty acres in size. The Pilgrims of Plymouth interpretation of what had happened is reflected in the following statement, “‘It pleased Almighty God to plant them upon the seate of an old town . . . abandoned of the Indians,”’(Russell 12).
With the availability of now uncontested deared land and the religious fervor of groups of Englishmen a land rush of sorts began. In 1633 the Massachusetts Colony was bursting with groups with slightly different points of view but the same high degree of evangelical commitment. Differing on the oath required of freemen, the necessity of a small ruling body and the desire for a free church caused Roger Williams to be banished. With a group of followers he went to the Rhode Island area and established an independent colony. Similar, nearly as serious, dissatisfaction among the preachers John Cotton, John Haines, Roger Ladle and Thomas Hooker coupled with their desire for the fertile land of the Connecticut river Valley caused a good deal of unrest in the Plymouth area. It wasn’t a matter of just moving out, the Massachusetts General Court had to grant permission. The Court also insisted that any newly established colony continue under Massachusetts’ rule. As fate would have it the prior to the departure of some of the Massachusetts groups the Dutch erected a small two cannon fort in the Hartford area. In 1633 William Holmes brazenly dared them to fire as he sailed by. His group built a fort just to the north at Windsor and successfully held off the Dutch. Two years later Roger Ludlow lead a group to Windsor. This was the beginning of the migration to Connecticut. During the two-year interval John Oldham traveled overland to the Wethersfield area of the Connecticut River Valley. The winter of 1635-36 was particularly severe and the Windsor settlement suffered greatly. Spring brought relief in the form of a fairly large number of settlers coming to both the Windsor and Whethersfield areas. This set the stage for Thomas Hooker, in June of 1636, to travel across land to Connecticut in what was the most famous rnigration to the Connecticut Valley from the Bay Colony. Hooker’s group had about one hundred people and one hundred sixty head of cattle, goats and swine. They settled at Hartford. The Dutch that remained were assimilated into the new community. In 1637 it is estimated the Windsor, Hartford and Whethersfield area was made up of sixty or seventy families, representing a population of about eight hundred people. (Van Dusan 3 5).
New Haven began as a self-governing commonwealth. New Haven was an independent colony. It was not a colony supported by Royal Charter or legal title from the English government. The independence of New Haven rested upon the chance that the English government would be friendly or too preoccupied to interfere with their affairs. It was both a Puritan community, dedicated to God and at the same time a commercial enterprise. The Bible contained the word of the Lord. It contained the rules of conduct that individuals must follow and a pattern from which they could draw a plan of social organization. The Colonists perceived no conflict between their religious beliefs and pursuing economic advantages.
Two schoolmates had become the organizers of this company of faithful. The Reverend John davenport and Theophilus Eaton personified the themes of Puritan community and mercantile enterprise. Eaton was a successful businessman and an administrator familiar with the operation of the joint stock companies of the day. He was a staunch Puritan. John Davenport had been the Vicar of Saint Stephen’s Parish in London. In that role he was expected to be a participant in the “prudential and secular affairs” of his parish.(Osterweis 7). He had left England for Holland in 1633, but the fear of his parishioners straying from their beliefs and his communications with Reverend John Cotton, whose accounts of New England were exciting, provoked Davenport to return to England. He joined with Eaton to embark on a business venture to establish a plantation with a good harbor for shipping and at the same time allow the unrestricted practice of their religious beliefs. These settlers were, “the wealthiest group of merchants to come to any New England settlement before 1660”(Shumway 11). They would have attempted to fit into the Boston community if they had not encountered a Puritan church crisis. Anne Hutchinson had scandalized the Boston congregation with her beliefs that divine inspiration came directly from God to the individual and that our earthly conduct had little to do with salvation(Floyd 36). Such a dispute was so offensive to the newly arrived group that Davenport and Eaton immediately sought refuge in another part of this land outside the Massachusetts’ charter area. They heard of our area most likely from Captain Mason, who had pursued that aggressive Pequots through the area a few years earlier. Eaton and other members of the group went to the area the summer before the rest of the company followed. In the fall seven remained at the Quinnipiac site, while the others returned to encourage the rest of the company to follow in the spring. There was cleared land, a good harbor and the chance of developing a good fur trade. It thought that it was during the winter stay that the nine square pattern for the city was developed. Thus actually we may agree with the comment that New Haven was “America’s first planned city”(Sledge 1). It took two weeks for the Hector and another unnamed sister ship to sail from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Quinnipiac harbor. Finally, Saturday, April 24, 1638 about five hundred settlers disembarked.
The location had been well chosen. There were to the east and west successive smaller harbors, estuaries of rivers that suggested good locations for settlement. The Quinnipiac harbor was also about half way between the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In addition, there was virtually no threat from the area natives. Less than sixty natives in two small groups remained In order to establish some title to the land treaties with the chiefs, Momauguin and Montowese, were signed in late 1638. The town fathers felt that in order that New Haven become a new trading center they should create a series of communities in the area. These communities would deliver their products to New Haven for export. In 1639 Milford and Guilford were established by the Reverends Peter Prudden and Henry Whitfield respectively. The Henry Whitfield House is still standing and may be visited. Stamford, further west along the coast and Southold, on Long Island, were incorporated in 1 64 1. The last member of this network of local communities was Branford, it came into the fold in 1644. The coastline provided the New Haven Colony with an area from which to seek commercial expansion and financial reward.