In 1614, the lands along the present-day Connecticut River were explored by the Dutch explorer, Adriaen Block, but the Dutch were slow to do anything about settling the territory. In 1631, William Fiennes, Lord Saye and Sele, obtained right to the Connecticut River Valley from the Earl of Warwick. Warwick had received the grant from the Council of New England years earlier.
The land did not see its first settlement until 1633, when the Dutch erected a fort on the river near present-day Hartford, which they called the “House of Hope.” Although the Dutch asserted their claim to the land at that time, a trading post was established later that same year at present-day Windsor by members of the Dorchester Company of Massachusetts. Wethersfield saw its first settlers in 1634 and Hartford in 1635, when colonists arrived from Cambridge and Watertown, led by the Rev. Thomas Hooker, a prominent minister, who harbored more democratic leanings than those found generally in the Massachusetts Bay. In addition, in 1635 English settlers who had traveled with John Winthrop, Jr. (son of the Massachusetts governor) under the sponsorship of Lord Saye and his associates established Fort Saybrook at the mouth of the river. By this time, the Dutch had resigned to concentrate their settlement efforts on Manhattan Island and never made a serious effort to settle the Connecticut land. Clearly, these and all the earliest Connecticut settlements resulted from a search for fertile farmland, and also from a desire for more religious freedom.
In 1639, the settlers at Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield drafted their FUNDAMENTAL ORDERS, providing for a Governor and Assistants, along with four Representatives from each settlement. While the colonists desired to follow many of the practices of the Colony established in the Massachusetts Bay, this document placed greater limitations on the Governor’s powers and sought to introduce more liberal voting standards. These three settlements were generally referred to as the Colony of Connecticut and the document they followed has become regarded as the first written constitution in America. Soon after its adoption, numerous other settlements were established.
The colony at New Haven, however, would not be part of Connecticut for some time. New Haven, located on the Long Island Sound, was established in 1638 by Theophilus Eaton and the Rev. John Davenport who believed they had been divinely guided to establish a new settlement because the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay lacked adequate enforcement of moral standards. Unlike the more democratic Connecticut Colony, voting privileges were restricted to church members. Seemingly, only two things of great importance were shared among the colonists of the Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and New Haven: their common fear of hostility from the natives, and their loathing of Rhode Islanders.
The colonies of Connecticut and New Haven existed as separate political entities until after 1662, when a Royal Charter was granted to the Connecticut Colony. The Charter included a 73-mile-wide swath of land from Rhode Island to the ocean. Although New Haven colonists were less than pleased about being absorbed by their larger Connecticut neighbor, they consented to the merger out of fear of being annexed to New York. In 1664 New Haven officially became part of the Connecticut Colony.
Following is a list of settlements that ultimately comprised the Colony of Connecticut, all of which were founded by 1662 when the Royal Charter was granted:
Branford, 1639 * Derby, 1651 * Fairfield, 1639 * Farmington, 1640
Greenwich, 1640 * Guilford, 1639 * Hartford, 1635 * Middletown, 1651
Milford, 1639 * New Haven, 1638 * New London, 1646 * Norwalk, 1649
Norwich, 1659 * Saybrook, 1635 * Stamford, 1641 * Stonington, 1649
Stratford, 1639 * Wethersfield, 1634 * Windsor, 1635
New England Hereditary Societies