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Saturday, August 5, 2017


Since Hartford is currently the capitol of Connecticut, it must appear to everyone that it was inevitable that it be so.  

Yet this was not always the case.  

Originally, New Haven was the center of a much more prosperous and more powerful colony and by rights appeared to be the one that would be favored with the title of State Capitol.

The story of how Hartford became the capitol instead, then, is more about the underdog succeeding than anything else.  It is a story integrally intertwined with the fate of two judges who, along with others, were responsible for condemning the King of England, Charles I (1600-1649), to death.

Connecticut was originally split into two colonies--the Hartford Colony and the New Haven Colony. Each was led by the Reverend Thomas Hooker and the Rev John Davenport respectively.  The two ministers both arrived just around the time of the Roger Williams controversy (you know, the guy who wanted to establish freedom of religion, God help us!) and that of Anne Hutchinson (the woman who thought her pastor, John Cotton, was better than all the others!).  

Seeing that things were rather tumultuous in Boston, each of the ministers decided to get the heck out of Boston and move down South to the Connecticut area.  

Rev. Thomas Hooker made the trek by land in 1636 with 100 members of his Congregation and settled in what is now known as the Hartford area.  Somewhat later, in 1638, Rev. John Davenport and his Congregation took the easy route by sea and landed in the harbor at New Haven.  

Rev. Davenport took along his good friend, the merchant Theophilus Eaton, and many others in his Congregation who were rich London businessmen prior to settling in the new world.  Before long, the colony was doing a busy and successful trade all around the area, particularly in New Amsterdam which was under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant.  It didn't hurt that New Haven was right there at a seaport where ships had easy access to the colony.

So right from the beginning you had the somewhat lean Northern side of the state in contrast to the wealthy and prosperous Southern side.  However, this is not what really matters.  The most important point to note is that there were crucial religious differences between the North and South of the State which ultimately led to Hartford seizing control and becoming the State Capitol.  

Rev. Thomas Hooker of Hartford was a bit of a liberal Puritan.  He side stepped the Roger Williams/Anne Hutchinson controversy and decided not to weigh in on it.  In addition, he expressed strong disagreement with the Rev. John Cotton's decision to restrict suffrage to full Church members.  

In addition, it was one of Rev. Hooker's sermons which led to the creation of the Fundamental Orders (1639), the first prototype for the constitution of a democratic form of government. In this sermon, Rev. Hooker expressed his view that government must be grounded in the consent of the people.  

Hooker also agreed to the half way covenant, a very controversial doctrine in his time, which allowed non members a greater role in the life of the Church, extended suffrage to them, and allowed them to baptize their children into the Christian faith.  

Of course, to understand the significance of the half way covenant fully, you really need to understand the requirements for Church membership in the Puritan Church of New England during the 1600s. Originally, in order to be considered a full member of the Church, you had to undergo a conversion experience. However, that alone wasn't enough. In addition, you were required to go before a Committee of Church leaders and respond to questions about your conversion experience in order to make sure that your experience was genuine and that you met the proper standards for a saved person.  

I mean, you wouldn't want to accept into the congregation any slouchy Church members whose conversion experience wasn't stellar enough to meet the standards of a group of people who, after all, referred to themselves as "Saints." A lot of people thought that requirement for Church membership was fairly onerous and preferred to skip it, regardless of whether their conversion experience was perfectly solid or not.  Those were the people for whom the half way covenant was intended.  

In contrast, the Rev. John Davenport led a congregation that maintained strict, conservative views in regard to their faith.  Rev. Davenport strongly opposed the half way covenant because it appeared to undermine the centrality of the conversion experience in the life of the Church congregation.  Under his guidance, suffrage was strictly limited to full church members in the New Haven Colony.

Rev. Davenport's commitment to his faith was so deep that when his congregation built the town of New Haven he guided them to construct it in a strictly biblical manner.  Thus, historian Nancy Finlay states as follows:

"Davenport’s ideas did much to shape the town and colony of New Haven. The first settlers pledged themselves to direct all their affairs according to the Scriptures. Founders designed the town itself (with its nine squares) to reflect the plan of the encampment of the Israelites in the wilderness, the Temple of Solomon, and the New Jerusalem as described by John in the book of Revelation. They intended the physical form of the town to inspire its inhabitants to lead godly lives." 

(As an aside, it is also worth noting that while Rev. John Davenport did not found Yale University in New Haven, he did envision the establishment of the University which took place 30 years later.)

So what does the religious difference between these two  ministers have to do with how Hartford became the capitol?  

I'll tell you how.  

While all Puritans, of course, were truly delighted by Cromwell's revolution and believed that the Civil War (1642 - 1652) and the elimination of King Charles I was the Will of God, most had a pretty common sense reaction to the restoration of the monarchy and the ascension of King Charles II to the throne.  For the better part, they were prepared to act as his loyal subjects.  

Not so, Rev. John Davenport of New Haven.  

At first, he didn't believe it had happened.  

Then, once he realized that Charles II was indeed back on the throne, he failed to show proper obedience.  When royal authorities commanded he hand over two judges* i.e. Edward Whalley and William Goffe, who were among those who sentenced King Charles I to death and had fled to New Haven for sanctuary -- he instead gave the judges succor and hid them. In fact, upon their arrival in New Haven, Rev. John Davenport invited the rogue judges to stay at his home for eight weeks while the pastor wined and dined them!  

Subsequently, for a couple of years the royal authorities chased around the New Haven Colony looking for these judges, but never found them. Local folks in New Haven simply did what was necessary to shield them from being apprehended. From what I gather, there is a place where the judges hid from their royal pursuers for extended periods of time called the Judges' Caves located in West Rock National Park in CT.  

Naturally, it wasn't going to make King Charles II very happy to know that Rev. John Davenport and the people of the New Haven Colony were assisting the judges who were responsible for his father's death.  

Consequently, when Governor John Winthrop, Jr. went to England in 1661 to obtain a Royal Charter for the Hartford Colony and another separate Royal Charter for the New Haven Colony, King Charles refused to give one to the New Haven Colony.  Instead, in 1662, he gave Gov. Winthrop a Royal Charter for the Hartford Colony which incorporated the New Haven Colony into the Hartford Colony.

Upon hearing the news, many in the New Haven Colony refused to accept the situation and headed down for New Amsterdam where Peter Styvesant was in charge.  However, in August 1664, England seized control of New Amsterdam which cut off that avenue of escape.  

Bottom line, however, for the people of New Haven was the fact that folks in Hartford were just nicer and easier to deal with.  Many in the New Haven Colony were really happy to be brought into the Hartford Colony because under its rule they were more enfranchised.  Thus, by 1665, the last holdouts in the New Haven Colony agreed to join with the Hartford Colony.  

Rev. John Davenport was devastated by this situation.  Not long afterwards, he left New Haven to return to Boston where he died of apoplexy five years later, a disappointed and broken man, surrounded by controversy.  

Nancy Finlay refers to Rev. John Davenport as Connecticut's "Forgotten Founder".  In contrast. the Rev. Thomas Hooker is known as "The Father of Connecticut."  

In an interesting final twist, Rev. John Davenport was buried in the same tomb as the Rev. John Cotton.  In contrast, Rev. Thomas Hooker was buried in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground, but no one is quite sure where.  With his body lost, his Spirit, it seems, has infused the entire State.  Thus, Hartford is, and remains, the seat of Government in the State of Connecticut.  

All I can say is,  the New Haven Colony's misfortune is the kind that is likely to come upon you if you get mixed up with a bunch of judges.  

Now, I grant you that there were around 59 judges who were involved in the death of Charles I, so the two Rev. Davenport sheltered were merely a few among a great many, still those minor two were lethal to any pretense New Haven might have had of leading the State of Connecticut into the future.

*There was also a third refugee judge, John Dixwell, but he was not subject to arrest because in England they thought he was dead.  There are three roads in the City of New Haven  each named after one of the three judges.

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