Most of the information on the background of John Davenport is taken from a very old and precious volume found in Yale's Sterling Library,
The Lives of John Wilson, John Norton, and John Davenport
. written by A.W. M'Clure in 1846. I also found
The New Haven Colony
by Isabel Calder an invaluable source.I will discuss the influences of protestantism on the pilgrims by discussing the life of John Davenport. When we understand his story and his disagreements we get a better grasp on his motivation and a broader understanding of what was influencing the settlements in New England.
When Henry Vlll established the Church of England he confiscated the wealth of the monasteries of the Church and distributed it to his friends and various lords. Since the medieval times the catholic church had accumulated large amounts of very desirable land for monasteries. This fueled the anti -papal sentiment. English lords resented their presence and wealth. Among the property which was left from the Church it was appropriated to laymen and called "Lay-impropriations." The wealthy noblemen and commoners took advantage of this situation and and bought and sold this property which had once belonged to the church. Only little of the church property remained for the church of England. The greed of the noblemen resulted in a little pittance for the vicar who in turn required the curate who was very poor to carry on the duties of the local Church. The result was that the working clergy was very disadvantaged. This was perceived by educated Puritan leaders as a grave injustice.
The Puritans were considered zealots by the Church of England and the established gentry. The wealthy did not take notice that the "lay impropriation" system had depleted the clerical class to a group of men who were of low qualifications and most often incompetent. The Puritans established a fund to purchase as many lay-impropriations as possible and to support preachers called lecturers. And as M'clure points out it was a sort of Home missionary society which became very successful. It raised over 6,000 pounds and purchased thirteen impropriations. Archbishop Laud was the head of the established Anglican Church under Charles II took alarm at the power of the Puritans. It seemed that they would soon take over all the available church property and establish the Puritans as prominent clergy in the Churches around England.
John Davenport, a young clergyman, was one of the "feoffees in trust" of this newly acquired property. This group was brought before the Court of Exchequer who "condemned the association as dangerous and illegal; confiscated to the king's use the whole of the property it had acquired;".... and condemned of the feofees, as criminals. (M'clure p.262) This act illustrates the tensions of the court and the clergy during the reign of Charles II. When the court deprived the puritan clergy from buying this property it was a clear signal to the protestants that they would be unable to "purify the church." However, the decision was so unpopular that there was no punishment. It is clear that Davenport was a leader who had disagreed with the established authority.This experience may inform the teacher of the influences this experience may have had on John Davenport when he established his colony in Connecticut.
Up till this time John Davenport was a conforming clergyman. He was born in 1597 at Coventry in England. His father had been mayor of his town and his mother died shortly
after he was born. She was a very pious woman and wished her son to be a minister. He was admitted at the age of fourteen to Brazen-Nose College at Oxford in 1611(M'Clure p. 254).
At age nineteen he became an assistant to a clergyman and soon after that he became a vicar of St. Stephen's Church, in Coleman Street London. It was here that he reestablished a childhood friendship with Theophilus Eaton. Theophilus Eaton was a fellow parishioner and a wealthy merchant.This was the very same Theophilus Eaton who founded New Haven with John Davenport and who remained his lifelong friend, neighbor and confident until his death.
While in London John Davenport continued his studies in Oxford. He also became involved with a group of non-seperating Congregationalists. According to the work and research of Isabel Calder this group entered into a covenant which stated "To Walke in the all the Ways of the God so farr as he hath made known to us, or shall make known to us, and to forsake all false ways,"(Calder, p.20). The writings and conversations with the theologins of the time influenced John Davenport to become a Non-conforming Puritan. Among those cited as having influenced John Davenport are John Cotton, prominent minister of Boston and Thomas Hooker, founder of Connecticut Colony.
Another incident occurred which caused John Davenport to come into conflict with the established Church of England. He supported missionaries in the Rhine which was against the orders of Bishop Laud. He was called again to report to the authorities and as a result he resigned as the pastor to Saint Stephen's Church. John Davenport fled to Holland and worked with Rev. John Paget who was a presbyterian. According to the account written by M'Clure all was well until they disagreed on who should be baptized. The Dutch church baptized all children who were presented. Rev. Davenport was against this practice. He felt that children should not be baptized until the character of the parents were taken into consideration that only those children whose parents were saved could be baptized. The conflict of who should be baptized was to become an issue again in John Davenport's life. In 1646 the commissioners of the United Colonies of New England assembled in New Haven and under the influence of John Davenport recommended "that the colonies of New England check spreading error and growing corruption in church and state by holding fast to the original rules and patterns, guarding the doors of God's house, admitting only those effectually called to the churches, and restricting baptism to members and their children"(Calder,p.102).
Finding himself at odds again, he decided to set sail for America. At the age of forty with his faithful friend Theophilis Eaton and a band of faithful followers they set sail aboard the Hector on the twenty- sixth of June, 1637. This was seventeen years after the settlement of Plymouth and seven years after John Winthrop and John Cotton settled in Boston. John Davenport who was the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony had come from a wealthy family in England, a family who had large land holdings. It is important to understand that John Davenport although, a clergyman, was a man who understood the finer things of life and was very pragmatic in this undertaking. Theophilis Eaton was a man of wealth and was in a position to help significantly finance this trip. When he arrived in New Haven Theophilis Eaton built a sixteen room house!