“In the year 1633 King Charles I made William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury. Now the Archbishop of Canterbury was the highest officer in the English Church. It was his business to see that the laws of the Church were obeyed. This William Laud hated the Puritans and everybody knew that he would treat them very harshly… [Puritan minister] John Davenport had escaped punishment, for not many knew that he was a Puritan. But William Laud found it out before he was made Archbishop. Mr. Davenport soon learned that it would not be safe for him to stay in England. So before he could be arrested he fled to Holland. He went to Amsterdam where he preached for several years. But he did not like it there and wanted to be with his own people and friends. Just about that time Reverend John Cotton wrote him a letter from Boston urging him to come there. So in 1636, disguising himself as a country gentleman, he went back to England to see if he could get some of his friends to go with him to New England.
Now it so happened that Mr. Eaton wanted to go, too, for his brother, Samuel Eaton, who was a Puritan minister, had been arrested and put in prison by the Court of High Commission. Although he was freed again it was not safe for any of the family to remain in England longer.
Mr. Eaton was a rich man; and if the King learned that he was a Puritan, he would find some way to get his money.
There were a good many other Puritans who were anxious to go to New England at that time, also, for they were being treated more cruelly than ever by Archbishop Laud. Besides they wanted to bring up their children in the Puritan faith. To do that they must live in a land where they could worship God in their own way.
Under the leadership of Mr. Davenport and Mr. Eaton a Company was formed to go to New England and found a new colony. People from different parts of England joined it. There were a good many from London and some from Yorkshire in the northern part of England. Others were from Herefordshire near Wales. Still others came from Kent in the South of England. Many of them were merchants, but some of them were country gentlemen and farmers. It was not an easy matter to get away from England in 1637, for when the King found that wealthy Puritans were taking a great deal of money from the country he tried to stop them; and Archbishop Laud would not let them get away and escape punishment if he could help it. It is certain that Mr. Davenport and Mr. Eaton did not let them know they were going. As it was they had a great deal of trouble in hiring ships to take them across the ocean. But they finally got two. The name of one was the Hector.
It was quite an undertaking to move from old England to New England in those days. People had to take with them nearly every- thing they would need in the new settlement. There were then no stores in New England where they could buy everything. So they had to take tables and chairs, beds and pillows, blankets and clothing, plates and knives, books and candles, hammers and saws, axes and shovels and numerous other things. They packed them up in trunks and boxes and bundles and stowed them away in the hold of their ship. Sometimes they carried bricks to build chimneys. Very often they took cows and sheep, for they must have milk and wool. So it was a busy time getting ready to go.
Then there was a great deal of business to settle up before they could leave. There were debts to collect and bills to pay. Things they could not carry with them must be sold or given to friends and neighbors. At last there were ‘goodbyes’ to say, and the parting from friends and relatives they never expected to see again, for they were leaving the homeland forever, to live and die and be buried in a strange country.
The good ship Hector and her companion, bearing those who were destined to found New Haven, set sail from London sometime in April, 1637. The voyage across the Atlantic in those days was a very long and tiresome one. The ships were small and uncomfortable. It was often cold and rainy and the wind whistled through the rigging so shrilly it frightened the children. Of course many were seasick. The food was bad and they could have no fresh meat or vegetables. There was no room for the children to run about and the sailors liked to play jokes on them. The voyage usually lasted two months, and sometimes it was much longer. So everybody was glad enough when land was reached and they could get out and stretch their legs and have something fresh to eat and drink.
Mr. Davenport and Mr. Eaton with their company of Puritan colonists reached Boston in June, 1637. The first thing they did was to thank God for bringing them safely to the end of their voyage. Then they had to unload their goods and find a place to stay. They received a warm welcome from the Boston people for many of them were old friends. They probably brought letters and messages from relatives and certainly they told them the latest news from England. They, in turn, heard what was going on in New England; how Thomas Hooker and his friends were building a new colony over on the Connecticut river, and how many of their soldiers had gone off to the war against the Pequot Indians.
When they left England Mr. Davenport and Mr. Eaton did not know in what part of New England they would settle. They decided to go to Boston and stay there until they could find just the place they wanted. Their Boston friends urged them to stay there, for such rich men as Mr. Eaton and his companions would make a fine addition to the Massachusetts Bay colony. They were even offered a place for a new town wherever they might choose. But they did not care to stay in Massachusetts for several reasons. In the first place there was a quarrel in the church at Boston over a woman named Ann Hutchinson, who was preaching some new and strange doctrines. Everybody was excited over her. Mr. Davenport did a great deal to quiet this excitement and put an end to the quarrel. But he and Mr. Eaton both feared their people would become mixed up in similar religious disputes if they remained in Massachusetts. Then in the second place they wanted to found a colony of their own where they could govern themselves in their own chosen way. They had heard, too, that the King was about to send a Governor to Massachusetts and they did not wish to be ruled in that way. Finally they were very desirous of founding a commercial city, where there was a good harbor. In Massachusetts they would be too near Boston.
While the ship Hector was sailing across the Atlantic in that spring of 1637, the English settlers of New England were having a fierce war with the Pequot Indians. In the month of May the Puritan soldiers burned the Indian fort near New London and killed many hundreds… Those who escaped fled westward along the shore of Long Island Sound. The soldiers from Massachusetts and the other colonies pursued them and killed nearly all of them in a swamp near Fairfield.
As the soldiers followed the Indians along the shore they stopped several days at a place called Quinnipiac, (or Long-water-land) for they thought some of the Pequots were hidden there. The English liked the place very much and Captain Stoughton wrote to Boston that it was the best place for a settlement that he had seen anywhere. When he went home from the war in August he told Mr. Eaton all about it, describing the fine harbor with the rivers emptying into it and the broad rich meadows on all sides. Mr. Eaton was so much interested in this ac- count that he thought he would go and see for himself. So he took a number of men from his company and sailed around to the harbor at Quinnipiac.
Just what Mr. Eaton did while he was there isn’t known. But he probably tramped through the woods to see if the trees were good for timber and masts; he looked over the meadows and examined the harbor to see how deep the water was; he found the best landing places and perhaps caught some fish and clams. He probably looked for springs of good water and hunted up the Indians to learn how many there were and if they were friendly to white men. Perhaps he climbed to the top of East Rock to look over the surrounding country, who knows? Whatever he did it is certain that he was so well pleased with Quinnipiac that he decided to leave some of his men there to spend the winter and make a beginning of a new settlement. It was too late in the year to go back to Massachusetts and get the rest of the company. It would be better for them to spend the winter in Boston and not move until spring.
Mr. Eaton himself went back to Boston and reported what he had done. It was quickly decided that Quinnipiac should be the place for their settlement. Then all looked eagerly forward to the early spring-time when they could go there and begin the building of their new homes. How slowly the time seemed to go! Many a long winter evening was spent in planning their houses or get- ting their tools in readiness for the work. It is not hard to imagine that Mr. Eaton made a rough map of Quinnipiac and discussed with the rest how they should lay out their town, and where each should have his house and lot. Then they could go right to work when they reached there.
If it seemed a long winter at Boston it must have seemed a much longer one to the men left at Quinnipiac. There were seven of them under the leadership of Joshua Atwater. They lived in a small hut which they built near what is now the corner of Congress avenue and Meadow street. No doubt they found enough to do to keep them busy. They cleared away the underbrush; they cut down trees and sawed them into boards; they built a few huts for those who were coming in the spring; they set traps to catch beaver and rabbits; they traded with the Indians and bought their furs. At times they suf- fered great hardship. It was a very cold winter and the snow lay deep. One of their number became sick and died. His companions buried him near the hut. So they were glad enough when spring came and the snow began to melt and the ice went out of the rivers, for soon they would see their friends sail into the harbor to join them.
About two hundred and fifty persons came to New England with Mr. Davenport and Mr. Eaton; of these about fifty were men, the rest women, children and servants. By the time they were ready to leave Boston and go to Quinnipiac, quite a number of Massachusetts people had joined them. So, the small schooner which carried them from Boston to their new home was pretty heavily loaded. Perhaps that was one reason they were so long on the voyage for it took them two weeks to reach the end of their journey. The water was probably rough and the wind cold and raw, for they sailed during the early April of a very backward spring.
As the founders of the future city of New Haven sailed into the harbor of Quinnipiac that April day in 1638, how strange every thing looked to them and how different from that of to-day!
No lighthouses guided the sailors,
No breakwater sheltered the bay;
No bridges of steel spanned the rivers —
Just wilderness bordered the way.
Coming slowly up the harbor they looked eagerly and curiously about them. Toward the East they saw low-lying hills covered with small oak trees, and toward the West great forests of savins or pines, which in later years, were to give a name to one of New Haven’s popular shore resorts. Tall rushes lined the shore on both sides of them. In the distance loomed up the Red Hills, as the Dutch called them, now known as East Rock and West Rock.
After they passed the mouth of the West River and neared the head of the harbor, they saw two deep creeks extending some distance into the country and at almost right angles to each other. They called one of these East Creek and the other West Creek. Both have entirely disappeared. The tracks of a great railroad lie on the bed of one and the other has become a busy street. Small vessels could enter the East Creek as far as the corner of the present State and Chapel streets. But the Puritan settlers sailed up the West Creek where their friends, who had spent the long winter there, were awaiting them. They made a landing near what is now the corner of George and College streets. Perhaps a rude wharf had been built for their use.
Tradition says that the schooner came to anchor in the creek on Friday but that a landing was not made until the next day. What a busy Saturday that must have been! Everybody was up bright and early getting ready to land. Their friends ashore were eagerly waiting to welcome them and no doubt some of the neighboring Indians were looking curiously on and wondering at the strange dress of the women, for most of them had never seen white men’s wives before.
Soon they had landed and were hard at work. The first thing they had to do was to make some kind of shelter for themselves. The weather was still quite cold and snow often covered the ground. A few huts had been built for them beforehand, but these were not enough. Some tents which they had brought with them in the vessel were taken ashore and set up. Then more rude huts were built and even wigwams such as the Indians used. But strangest of all were the cellars which some dug in the side of the bank along the creek. These, when covered over, were very comfortable in dry weather, but damp and unhealthy when it rained.
While the men were putting up the tents and building huts, the women were busy get- ting out the beds and clothing and pans and kettles, for they must have a place to sleep and something to eat. The boys and girls helped to carry things from the landing place to the huts but the smaller children clung tightly to their mothers’ skirts frightened at the Indians and the strangeness of the place. What a tired lot of people that night! And how glad they were that the next day was Sunday!
We may be very sure that one of the first things taken ashore at Quinnipiac that Saturday was Mr. Davenport’s Bible and the sermon he was to preach the next day. Sunday was a day of rest and worship with those Puritan founders of New Haven and they hoped it would be with those who should come after them for all time. Although they were very busy getting settled no work could be done on the Sabbath Day. If anyone forgot to take some needed thing ashore the day before he had to get along without it until Monday. They had no church but that did not matter; a large oak tree with spreading branches which stood near their landing place, was good enough for them until they could build a church.
With his people gathered about him seated on logs and stumps and the Indians standing around in awe, Mr. Davenport preached that first Sunday morning at Quinnipiac on the ‘temptations of the wilderness.’ This stern Puritan minister was wise enough to foresee unusual temptations. In a new and strange country the people would be tempted to do things which they would not think of doing at home. The desire to build their new homes as soon as possible would tempt them to neglect their religious duties. They would be tempted to cheat the Indians… So there was need for such a sermon. Just what Mr. Davenport said that April Sunday, 1638, we do not know, but we may be very sure the people believed his words and tried to do as he said. In the afternoon, another minister, Mr. Prudden, preached, so the whole day was spent in worship and the people had no time for labor had they wanted it.
Monday morning found them again hard at work. It probably took them several days to unload everything from the vessel and get it under cover. Meanwhile leading men like Mr. Eaton and Mr. Goodyear were looking around to see just where to lay out the town. As most of them expected to engage in trade they wanted to live near together and within a short distance of the harbor. So they did not plan large farms for each family but small lots each just big enough for a house and garden. Now among these settlers was a young man named John Brockett who was a surveyor. It is said that he left his home in England because he wanted to marry a Puritan maiden who was in the company. With his help a half-mile square was marked out and divided into nine equal parts. One side of this square lay along the West Creek and is now George street. At right-angles to this was another side which bordered the East Creek and forms the present State street. Grove and York streets were the other two sides of the square. What are now Church, College, Chapel, and Elm streets divided it into nine equal parts which they called ‘quarters.’ The central quarter was set apart for a market-place, and has now become the beautiful Green.
The other quarters were fenced in as soon as possible and divided among the ‘free planters.’ The free planters were those who had united to form the company and had given money to pay the cost of moving to New England and building a new colony. So each free-planter was given a lot. The size of the lot depended partly on the amount of money he had given, and partly on the number of persons in his family. Mr. Eaton, who gave the most money and had the largest family, of course, had the largest lot. Those who were old friends and those who had come from the same part of England were given lots in the same quarter where they could be near neighbors. As there was not land enough for all in the half-mile square, some were given lots outside. Some of these lots lay between what are now Meadow and lower State streets; others were on the other side of the West Creek.
The woods were not very thick where the town was laid out. In some places, where the Indians had planted corn, there were no trees, but only tangled bushes and briers. As soon as possible the trees were cut down and fences built. Some of the latter were made of pickets and others of rough logs. Then they made ready the ground for their gardens. While many were busy in this way others were getting lumber ready for use in building houses. As they had no saw-mill, they had to saw the logs by hand. This was slow and hard work. We may be very sure there was many a backache when night came during all that first summer at Quinnipiac. Then, too, there were wells to be dug and boats to be built.
So the summer of 1638 was a very busy one for the new colony, and a hard one as well. The spring was late, the cold lasting until May. In some places corn had to be planted two or three times over, for it rotted in the ground. But the harvest was a good one and there was plenty to eat. In June, a terrible earthquake frightened the people and shook the little colony to its foundation. But they kept right on building, and by late fall most of those who came in April had their houses ready to live in. Some were probably log-cabins not much better than the huts they had made at first except that the cracks were stopped up with clay. Others were rude frame buildings made from squared timbers and covered with rough boards or shingles. But a number were quite large and stately houses, and, it is said, were better than any other houses in New England. It took much longer to build these, of course, and probably they were not finished during the first year. But before the first snow fell in the next winter the new town was well started on its career.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the Internet Archive, The Library of Congress, “Stories of Old New Haven,” by Ernest Hickock Baldwin, 1907