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- Once Upon A Time In Connecticut - 2/19 -


Farmington, where Windsor is to-day, he set up the first frame house in Connecticut and surrounded it with a palisade for protection.

Other Englishmen from Massachusetts Bay, hearing of these new fertile lands and of friendly Indians and a profitable fur trade, came overland, making their way through the wilderness. By and by their numbers were so great that the Dutch were crowded out and driven away and Connecticut was settled by the English.

One of the most interesting parties of settlers who came from Massachusetts to Hartford was "Mr. Hooker's company." Thomas Hooker, the minister in Cambridge, led one hundred members of his church overland to new homes in Connecticut in June, 1636. These people had come from England a few years before, hoping to find religious and political freedom in America, and, after a short stay in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they decided to remove to Connecticut. Their journey was made in warm weather, under sunny skies, with birds singing in the green woods. They traveled slowly, for there were women and little children with them, old people too, and some who were sick. Mrs. Hooker was carried all the way in a litter. They followed a path toward the west which by that time had probably become a well-marked trail. Part of it, no doubt, led through deep forests. Sometimes they passed Indian villages. Sometimes they forded streams. They drove with them a herd of one hundred and sixty cattle, letting them graze by the way. They had wagons and tents, and at night they camped, made fires, and milked the cows. There were berries to be picked along the edges of the meadows and clear springs to drink from, and the two weeks' journey must have been one long picnic to the children.

When "Hooker's company" arrived on the banks of the Connecticut River, three little English settlements had already been made there. They were soon named Hartford, Windsor, and We(a)thersfield. These three settlements were the beginning of the Connecticut Colony.

At first the people were under the government of Massachusetts because Massachusetts thought they were still within her borders. But before long it became necessary for them to organize a government of their own. They had brought no patent, or charter, with them from England, and so, finding themselves alone in the wilderness, separated by many long miles of forests from Massachusetts Bay, they determined to arrange their own affairs without reference to any outside authority. They set up a government on May 1, 1637, and the next year, under the leadership of such men as Thomas Hooker, John Haynes, who had once been Governor of Massachusetts Bay, and Roger Ludlow, who had had some legal training, this government, made up of deputies from each of the three little settlements, drafted eleven "Fundamental Orders." These "Fundamental Orders" were not a written constitution, but a series of laws very much like those of the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. There is a tradition that they were read to the people and adopted by them in the Hartford Meetihg-House on January 14, 1639.

Connecticut continued under this form of government, which she had decided upon for herself, for more than twenty years--until after the civil war in England was over. Then, when royalty was restored and Charles the Second became king, in 1660, the people feared that they might lose something of the independence they had learned to love and value, and they sent their governor, John Winthrop, to England to get from the king a charter to confirm their "privileges and liberties."

Winthrop was a man who had had a university education in England and the advantages of travel on the continent of Europe. He had a good presence and courteous manners. Best of all, he had powerful friends at court. There is a story that in an audience with the king he returned to him a ring which the king's father, Charles the First, had given to Winthrop's grandfather, and that the king was so pleased with this that he was willing to sign the charter Winthrop asked for. Whether this is true or not, the king did sign one of the most liberal charters granted to any colony in America. It gave the Connecticut people power to elect their own governor and to make their own laws. This is the famous charter which is said to have been hidden later in the Charter Oak Tree. Two copies were made of it, and one of these Governor Winthrop sent home, September, 1662, in an odd-shaped, leather-covered box. This box, which is lined with sheets from an old history of King Charles the First and has a compartment at one side that once held the royal seal of green wax attached to the charter, can be seen to-day in the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society.

When the people understood what a good charter they had received they were greatly pleased. The record of the General Assembly for October 9, 1662, says, "The Patent or Charter was this day publickly read to the Freemen [that is, the voters] and declared to belong to them and to their successors"; and October 29 was appointed a "Thanksgiving Day particularly for the great success God hath given to the endeavors of our Honored Governor in obtaining our Charter of His Majesty our Sovereign." Samuel Wyllys, in front of whose home stood the oak tree which was afterward to become known as the "Charter Oak," was appointed one of the first keepers of the charter.

For about a quarter of a century the government of Connecticut was carried on under the charter. Then King Charles the Second died, and his brother, the Duke of York, became king. The advisers of the new king, James the Second, wished to unite all the little scattered New England colonies under one strong government which should be able to resist not only Indian attacks, but also attacks from the French on the north. So in 1686, James sent over Sir Edmund Andros, who had once been Governor of New York, with a commission as Governor of the Dominion of New England. It was the duty of Andros to take over the separate governments of the different colonies and to demand the surrender of their charters.

But the people of New England did not like the new policy. Each colony wished to preserve its independence; each wished to be left entirely free to manage its own affairs, yet each expected help from England against its enemies. England, on the other hand, felt that the isolation of these small colonies, their jealousy of one another and their frequent quarrels, were a source of weakness, and that a single strong government was necessary to preserve order, to encourage trade, and to secure defense. The plan of union, however, as has been said, was greatly disliked by the colonies, and Connecticut sent a petition to the king praying that she might keep her privileges and her charter, and meanwhile she put off submission to the new governor as long as possible.

At last, however, Sir Edmund Andros wrote from Boston to Governor Treat of Connecticut that he would be "at Hartford about the end of the next week." This was on October 22, 1687. He left Boston on the 26th. A record written at that time says, "His Excellency with sundry of the Council, Justices and other gentlemen, four Blue Coats, two trumpeters, 15 or 20 Red Coats, with small Guns and short Lances in the tops of them, set forth in order to go to Connecticut to assume the government of that place." He reached Hartford on the 31st, having crossed the Connecticut River by the ferry at Wethersfield. "The troop of horse of that county conducted him honorably from the ferry through Wethersfield up to Hartford, where the train-bands of divers towns united to pay their respects at his coming" and to escort him to the tavern.

Governor Andros had come from Norwich since morning, a forty-mile ride over rough roads and across streams without bridges or ferries, and it was late when he arrived. The fall days were short and probably candles were already lighted in the court chamber where the Assembly was in session. The Connecticut magistrates knew something of Sir Edmund Andros. Twelve years before, while he was Governor of New York, he had appeared at Saybrook and demanded the surrender of the fort and town by order of the Duke of York who claimed part of Connecticut under his patent. The claim was not made good, for Captain Bull, who commanded at Saybrook, raised the king's colors over the fort and forbade the reading of the duke's patent, and Andros, not wishing to use force and pleased with this bold action although it was against himself, sailed away. Now, however, the Duke of York had become King of England with a new policy for the colonies, and Andros was obeying the king's orders.

He was a soldier who had served with distinction in the army and had held responsible positions. He was also a man used to courts as well as to camps, for as a boy he had been a page in the king's household and later was attached to the king's service. He must have presented a contrast in appearance and manner to the Connecticut magistrates who so anxiously awaited his coming.

When he entered the room he took the governor's seat and ordered the king's commission to be read, which appointed him governor of all New England. He then declared the old government to be dissolved and asked that the charter under which it had been carried on should be given up to him. The Assembly was obliged to recognize his authority and to accept the new government; but a story of that famous meeting has been handed down in Connecticut from one generation to another telling how the people contrived to keep their charter, the document they loved because it guaranteed their freedom.

"The Assembly sat late that night," says the story, "and the debate was long." When Sir Edmund Andros asked for the charter it was brought in and laid on the table. Then Robert Treat, who had been Governor of Connecticut, rose and began a speech. He told of the great expense and hardship the people had endured in planting the colony, of the blood and treasure they had expended in defending it against "savages and foreigners," and said it was "like giving up life now, to surrender the patent and privileges so dearly bought and so long enjoyed." Suddenly, while he was speaking, all the candles went out. There was a moment of confusion; then some one brought a tinder-box and flint and the candles were relighted. The room was unchanged; the same number of people were there; but the table where the charter had lain was empty, for in that moment of darkness the charter had disappeared.

No one knew who had taken it. No one could find it. No one saw the candles blown out. Was it done on purpose, or did a door or a window fly open and a gust of the night wind put them out? It chanced that the night was Allhallowe'en, when the old tales say that the witches and fairies and imps are abroad and busy. Were any of them busy that night with Connecticut's charter?

"Two men in the room, John Talcott and Nathaniel Stanley, took the charter when the lights were out." So said Governor Roger Wolcott long afterward. He was a boy nine years old at the time and had often heard the story. But these two men never left the


Once Upon A Time In Connecticut - 2/19

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