Gabriel Ferrel Legacy
Thomas Hooker
Minister, Father of American Democracy

b. July 1586  Marfield, Leicestershire, England

d. 1647  (fever, epidemic illness)

Ancestral great Grandfather

Thomas Hooker was one of the most prominent of the New England puritan ministers and a leader in the founding of Hartford, Connecticut.  Thomas Hooker was born in England about 1586. He attended Emmauel College in Cambridge, England where he studied for the ministry. A gifted preacher, he soon held a position at the St. Mary's Church in Chelmsford, England.  It was there that Arch-Bishop William Laud objected to some of his puritan teachings which were considered contrary to the established Church of England.  Though 50 of his fellow clergy signed a petition in support of his ministry and character, Thomas Hooker found himself in more and more trouble with the Arch-Bishop. In 1630, he was to be put on trial before an Ecclesiastical Court, but instead fled to Holland.

He returned to England in 1633, but before being arrested, he fled once more with his family and a group of friends. This time, his destination was not Holland, but the New World.  He arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts in the ship Griffin on September 3, 1633, just 13 short years after the Mayflower had landed there with the Pilgrims. 

Thomas and his followers settled in Newtowne, Massachusetts where he was chosen to be the Pastor.  (Newtowne was later renamed Cambridge and is currently the sight of Harvard Square.)  There are several reasons Thomas Hooker and his followers decided to seek a new home only a couple years after arriving there.  First, it was getting crowded.  More and more people were arriving in Massachusetts every year.  Arch-Bishop Laud was on a rampage, and many Puritan ministers and their followers were fleeing the persecution in England. Secondly, Thomas Hooker had some theological disagreements with the church leaders in Hartford.  Reverend John Cotton was the most prominant minister in Boston at  the time, and there was friction between the two.  The third, and I believe, primary reason for his move is best described by Walter Seth Logan, a fellow Hooker Descendant, in a paper he wrote in 1905:

"He moved from Massachusetts to Connecticut for the same reason that he had moved from England to Holland and from Holland to America, to find a place not so much where he could worship God as he chose as to work out his own destiny for himself and to found a real democracy for himself and for his devoted followers.  He moved from the valley of Charles to the valley of Connecticut to escape from government theocratic in its origin and inevitably aristocratic in its nature, to a place where a real democratic government could be established - where the people could rule... Well may we claim for Thomas Hooker the title - to my mind the noblest title ever borne by the son of woman - the First American Democrat"

In 1636, Thomas Hooker led about 100 of his followers: men, women and children, on a 100 mile journey through the wilderness of Massachusetts and Connecticut to the site of a small Dutch trading post on the Connecticut River.  There they settled, and Hartford was born.

By 1638, the settlements at Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield had created a General Court (legislature) together and established the Connecticut Colony. On May 31, 1638, Thomas Hooker preached the opening serman at a  meeting of that court convened to frame a set of laws to govern the colony.  The themes of that sermon were used in establishing the new written constitution.  Among them: the choice of leaders belongs to the people, public service is a trust to be used for the good of the people and the public has the right to limit the power of their leaders.  He ends his sermon with the statement, "As God has given us liberty let us take it." These were some radical ideas at the time, but they became the foundation for the new Connecticut Constitution and later for the Constitution of the United States.

Thomas Hooker lived another eight years under the government that he helped establish.  Connecticut thrived as a Colony and today Thomas Hooker can be remembered for his part in History.

 

Table marking the burial location of Thomas Hooker reads:
IN MEMORY OF THE REV THOMAS HOOKER
WHO IN 1636 WITH HIS ASSISTANT MR STONE REMOVED
TO HARTFORD WITH ABOUT 100 PERSONS WHERE HE
PLANTED Y FIRST CHURCH IN CONNECTICUT
AN ELOQUENT ABLE & FAITHFUL MINISTER OF CHRIST
HE DIED JULY 7TH 1647  AE LVI
 

Gabriel Ferrel Legacy  webmaster:cziebart@aol.com   Updated 05/06/2012

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