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New Haven Colony

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The New Haven Colony was a small English colony in North America, in what is now the state of Connecticut, from 1637 to 1664.


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The history of the colony was a series of disappointments and failures. The most serious problem was that New Haven colony never had a charter giving it legal title to exist. The larger, stronger colony of Connecticut to the north did have a charter, and Connecticut was aggressive in using its military superiority to force a takeover. New Haven had other weaknesses as well. The leaders were businessmen and traders, but they were never able to build up a large or profitable trade, because their agricultural base was poor, and the location was isolated. Farming on the poor soil of the colony was a formula for poverty and discouragement. New Haven's political system was confined to church members only, and the refusal to widen it alienated many people. More and more it was realized that the New Haven colony was a hopeless endeavor. Oliver Cromwell recommended that they all migrate to Ireland, or to Spanish territories that he planned to conquer. But the Puritans of New Haven were too conservative, and too wedded to their new land. One by one in 1662-64 the towns joined Connecticut until only three were left and they submitted to the Connecticut Colony in 1664. It became the modern city of New Haven.

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In 1637 a group of London merchants and their families, discomfitted with the high Church Anglicanism around them, moved to Boston with the intention of creating a new settlement. The leaders were John Davenport, a Puritan minister, and Theophilus Eaton, a wealthy merchant who brought £3000 to the venture. Both had experience in fitting out vessels for the Massachusetts Bay Company. The two ships they chartered arrived in Boston on June 26, 1637. Hearing reports of the area around the Quinnipiac River from militia engaged in the Pequot War, in late August, Eaton set sail to view the area. The site seemed ideal for trade, with a good port lying between Boston and the Dutch city of New Amsterdam (New York City), and good access to the furs of the Connecticut River valley settlements of Hartford and Springfield.

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When Eaton set out on his return to Boston, he left seven of his men to remain through the winter and make preparations for the arrival of the rest of the company. The main body of settlers, numbering about 250, with the addition of some from Massachusetts, landed on April 14, 1638. A number of the early dwellings were caves or "cellers", partially underground and carved into hillsides.

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The settlers had no official charter. While Channing says they were squatters, Atwater holds that a land purchase from the local natives had been effected sometime before their arrival in April, although no written deed was signed until November 24, 1638. A second deed of a tract north of the first purchase was made December 11, 1638. The Indian deed of Wepowauge (Milford) was executed February 12, 1639; and that of Menunkatuck (Guilford) on September 29, 1639.

Fundamental Agreement

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In 1639 the colonists adopted a "Fundamental Agreement" for self-government, partly as a result of a similar action in Connecticut Colony. Pursuant to its terms, a "Court" composed of sixteen burgesses was established to appoint magistrates, officials and conduct the business of the colony. Only "planters" who were members "...of some or other of the approved Churches of New England" were eligible to vote. This excluded indentured servants, temporary residents, and transient persons, who were considered to have no permanent interest in the community.

They further determined "...that the word of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in ordering the affairs of government in this plantation." Theophilus Eaton was chosen first Magistrate.

On October 23, 1643 New Haven, and the independent towns of Milford and Guilford were combined and called the New Haven Colony. Eaton was chosen Governor.

Minister Davenport was an Oxford-educated intellectual, and he set up a grammar school and wanted to establish a college. Yale College was opened in 1701, long after his death. Eaton served as governor until his death in 1658. The leaders attempted numerous merchandising enterprises, but they all failed. Much of the money went into a great ship sent to London in 1646, with £5000 in cargo of grain and beaver hides. It never arrived.

They imposed harsh blue laws, and carefully regulated the behavior of servants. Since the Bible contained no reference to trial by jury, they eliminated it, and magistrates sat in judgment.

United Colonies of New England Confederation

The colony's success soon attracted other believers, as well as those who were not Puritans. They expanded into additional towns (then called plantations): Milford and Guilford in 1639, Stamford and Southold across Long Island Sound to the south on the North Fork of Long Island in 1640, forming the original component of the confederation which called itself "The United Colonies of New England.".

Later Branford joined in 1643 and was the last official "plantation" in the New Haven Confederation. They based their government on that of Massachusetts but maintained stricter adherence to the Puritan discipline. The colony's "blue laws," dictated standards of personal morality, were based on the Bible and only full church members had a voice in government.

New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Pacific Ocean

In 1641 the colony claimed the area that is now South Jersey and Philadelphia after buying the area south of Trenton along the Delaware River from the Lenape tribe. Among the communities that were to be founded were Cape May, New Jersey and Salem, New Jersey.

The treaty which placed no westward limit on the land west of the Delaware was to be the legal basis for a Connecticut "sea to sea" claim of owning all the land on both sides of the Delaware from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This set the stage for the Pennamite-Yankee War of 150 years later.

In 1642 fifty families on a ship captained by George Lamberton settled at the mouth of Schuylkill River around to establish the trading post at what is today Philadelphia. The Dutch and Swedes who were already in the area burned their buildings. A court in New Sweden was to convict Lamberton of "trespassing, conspiring with the Indians."

The New Haven Colony would not get any support from its New England patrons and Puritan Governor John Winthrop was to testify that the "Delaware Colony" "dissolved" owing to summer "sickness and mortality."

The Phantom Ship

In the first years of the colony it only had ships capable of coastal travel. Trade with England was done with the Massachusetts Bay Colony as the middleman. In 1645 the Colony built an 80-ton ocean-going ship to be captained by George Lamberton, of New Haven, who was a merchant gentleman and a sea captain from London, England. He, and in the company of others, tried to establish a settlement in Delaware, but were resisted by the Swedes who had settled there. He was one of the original founders of the Colony of New Haven. He was allotted land in block 7 and owned over 266 acres. Captain Lamberton and others from New Haven built one of the first ships out of New England for a commercial venture to the West Indies. The ship disappeared in 1646; its fate is the theme of Longfellow's poem "The Phantom Ship".

According to legend, six months later, following a June thunder shower near sunset, an apparition of the ship appeared on the horizon. Those on shore were said to have recognized their friends on deck. The ship's masts then appeared to snap, and in the pitch the passengers were thrown into the sea and the ship capsized. Town fathers were to say the event gave them closure.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem "The Phantom Ship" about the event which includes the lines:

A ship sailed from New Haven,And the keen and frosty airs,That filled her sails at parting,Were heavy with good men's prayers."O Lord! if it be thy pleasure"—Thus prayed the old divine—"To bury our friends in the ocean,Take them, for they are thine!"But Master Lamberton muttered,And under his breath said he,"This ship is so crank and waltyI fear our grave she will be!"

The disasters in Philadelphia and sinking of its ship were to weaken the Colony's future negotiating position.

Pursuit of the regicide judges

Eaton stayed as governor until his death in 1658, when leadership of the Colony was given to Francis Newman, followed by William Leete in 1660.

In 1661, the judges who had signed the death warrant of Charles I of England in 1649 were pursued by Charles II. Two judges, Colonel Edward Whalley and Colonel William Goffe, fled to New Haven to seek refuge from the king's forces. John Davenport arranged for these "Regicides" to hide in the hills northwest of the town. They purportedly took refuge in the "Judges' Cave", a rock formation in West Rock park that today bears a historical marker in their name. A third judge, John Dixwell, joined the other regicides at a later time.

Merger with Connecticut Colony

New Haven urgently needed a Royal charter, but after hiding and protecting the regicides it had so many enemies in London that was impossible.

An uneasy competition ruled New Haven's relations with the larger and more powerful Connecticut River settlements centered on Hartford. New Haven published a complete legal code in 1656, but the law remained very much church-centered. A major difference between the New Haven and Connecticut colonies was that the Connecticut permitted other churches to operate on the basis of "sober dissent" while the New Haven Colony only permitted the Puritan church to exist. When a royal charter was issued to Connecticut in 1662, New Haven's period as a separate colony ended and its towns were merged into the government of Connecticut Colony in 1664.

Many factors were to contribute to the loss of power including the loss of its strongest governor Eaton, the economic disasters of losing its only ocean-going ship and the Philadelphia disaster, as well as the regicide case. The New Haven Colony harbored several of the regicide judges who sentenced King Charles I to death. The New Haven Colony was absorbed by the Connecticut Colony partly as royal punishment by King Charles II for harboring the regicide judges who sentenced King Charles I. At the same time the Connecticut Colony had seen its star rise.


A group of New Haven colonists led by Robert Treat moved to establish a new community in New Jersey in 1666 with more religious freedom. Treat wanted to name the new community after Milford, Connecticut. However Abraham Pierson was to urge that the new community be named "New Ark" or "New Work" which was to evolve into the name Newark, New Jersey.


New Haven Colony Wikipedia