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Thomas Hooker: preacher, populist, and founder of the Connecticut Colony

Ian Harvey

One of America’s most influential pastors, Thomas Hooker, came from Leicester, England and was born there in 1586. 

He attended Cambridge University, where he graduated from Queens College before moving on to Emmanuel College, where he undertook a Masters degree. While at the University, Thomas converted to Puritan faith.

Statue of Puritan Rev. Thomas Hooker, Chief Founder of the State of Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut

Statue of Puritan Rev. Thomas Hooker, Chief Founder of the State of Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut

Suppression of Hooker’s Puritan Ideals

After graduating from Emmanuel College, he became renowned as a preacher, and in 1626 settled at St. Mary’s Church in Chelmsford.  He was singled out as the leader of the Puritans in the area and was eventually summoned to court to defend himself.  When this happened, he knew that he had to leave and fled to Holland, along with many other Puritans looking for a place where they will not persecuted.  Hooker made the decision to leave for the Americas, and he sailed on The Griffin, landing in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the 3rd of September, 1633. Hooker arrived in Massachusetts with his second wife, Suzanne, and she bore him a son, Samuel, born on American soil.

Hooker was appointed as the pastor at The Church of Christ of Cambridge, and he settled as the first pastor in the town. Sadly, once again his Puritan beliefs would cause friction, and he came out in opposition to Pastor John Cotton, who insisted that before a man could vote his beliefs must be examined. This meant that men of the Puritan faith could not vote, as they didn’t belong to the religion of the majority. 

Hooker and a friend, the reverend Samuel Stone, had been granted permission by the Massachusetts Court to set up three towns – Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford– in the newly-formed Connecticut Colony. The name of the colony derived from the local tribal name for the Connecticut River.

Hooker’s Company reach the Connecticut- this image was not directly scanned from the engraved image itself

Hooker’s Company reach the Connecticut- this image was not directly scanned from the engraved image itself

 

Connecticut Colony and its Government

By 1638, Hooker was not only a well-known preacher, but he was active in the politics of the day as well. In May, that same year, he preached a sermon based upon the concept of a social contract.  A social contract expresses the political tenet that government exists to serve the people, the people are the source of the political power enjoyed by the government, and the people can grant or remove this power.

The concept of a social contract was written into the first Constitution ever prepared within America, The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which were drawn up on the 14th of January, 1639. This document became the basis for many other founding documents and was also the basis for the US Constitution.  

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut included a wide range of voting rights for individuals, and also included the oaths of office for magistrates as well as for the governor. There is no record of the people involved in writing The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, but historians believe that Hooker was one of the men who were instrumental in drawing up the document. The paper formed a part of the Royal Charter signed by King Charles II in 1662, combining the Connecticut and New Haven Colonies, thus making the Fundamental Orders part of the political system used by the new colony.

Hooker died in Connecticut in 1647 at age of 61. His final resting place is believed to be in Hartford, although no one seems to know for sure.

Hooker and Company Journeying through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford, in 1636, Frederic Edwin Church, 1846

Hooker and Company Journeying through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford, in 1636, Frederic Edwin Church, 1846

Why was he important?

Thomas Hooker was an important figure in American history as he fought for religious tolerance and ensured people that a man’s religious beliefs would not stop him from having a vote. 

House of Thomas Hooker, Hartford, Connecticut

House of Thomas Hooker, Hartford, Connecticut

He was also a firm believer in the social contract and that the government served the people; not vice versa. While he was a devoutly religious man, he believed that men had to earn God’s grace by avoiding sin, thus preparing them for heaven, About Education reported.

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He was a prolific author and wrote several theological books, including The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ in 1629, and A Survey Of The Summe Of Church-Discipline: Wherein The Way Of The Churches Of New England Is Warranted Out Of The Word in 1648.