New Haven Colony

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The New Haven Colony was an English colonial venture in Connecticut in North America from 1637 to 1662. A Puritan minister named John Davenport led his flock from exile in Holland back to England and finally to America in the spring of 1637. The group arrived in Boston on the ship Ann on June 26, but decided to strike out on their own, based on their impression that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was lax in its religious observances.

That fall Theophilus Eaton led an exploration party south to Long Island Sound in search of a suitable site. He purchased land from the Indians at the mouth of the Quinnipiac River. In the spring of 1638 the group set out, and on April 14 they arrived at their 'New Haven' on the Connecticut shore. The site seemed ideal for trade with a good port midway between Boston and New Amsterdam and access to the furs of the Connecticut River valley. However, while the colony succeeded as a settlement and religious experiment, its future as a trade center was some years away.

In 1639 they adopted a set of Fundamental Articles for self-government, partly as a result of a similar action in the river towns. A governing council of seven was established, with Eaton as chief magistrate and Cunningham as pastor. The articles required that "...the word of God shall be the only rule..." and this was maintained even over English common law tradition. Since the bible contained no reference to trial by jury, they eliminated it and the council sat in judgement. Only members of their church congregation were eligible to vote.

The colony's success soon attracted other believers, as well as those who were not Puritans. They expanded into additional towns: Milford and Guilford in 1639, Stamford in 1640, and later to Fairfield, Medford, Greenwich, and Branford. These towns formally joined together as the New Haven Colony in 1643. They based their government on that of Massachusetts but maintained stricter discipline to the Puritan discipline.

An uneasy competition ruled their relations with the Connecticut River settlements centered on Hartford. The colony published a complete legal code in 1656, but the law remained very much church centered. 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. When a new royal charter was issued to Connecticut in 1692, New Haven's period as a separate colony ended and its towns were merged into the government of Connecticut Colony in 1695.

Also see: New Haven, Connecticut, History of Connecticut.

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