Index

Move to Connecticut


The early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay area started arriving in larger numbers arund 1634 and 1635. See Settlement of Massachusetts Bay. The colony became over-crowded and many decided to move to the Connecticut River. Much of the town of Dorchester decided to go, including Thomas Dibble.

Before the move

This is documented in entries from Winthrop's journal. I have added some comments.

In September 1633, a trader, John Oldham, travelled overland to Connecticut He reckoned the journey to be about one hundred and sixty miles. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled from the coast. To get to the Connecticut River by ship required sailing round Cape Cod, so that is why they are interested in getting to the Connecticut River overland.

By October 1633, other settlements have appeared on the river. The Dutch have built a fort at what is now Hartford. English settlers from Plymouth have settled above the Dutch fort, presumably to try to steal the Indian trade travelling down the river. This Plymouth settlement is now Windsor.

In January 1634, travellers to Connecticut reported that small pox had reached the area, so there was no trade. The entry does not mention that this might mean the area was now free for Europeans to move in, but it might have occurred to people.

In July 1634, people from Newton (later Cambridge) went by ship to look at the Connecticut River, intending for Newtown to move there. This led to a General Court in September 1634, where Newton asked for leave to move. Their reasons were inadequate land for their cattle ("and here it was alleged by Mr. Hooker, as a fundamental error, that towns were set so near each to other") and "The fruitfulness and commodiousness of Connecticut, and the danger of having it possessed by others, Dutch or English." However, other people argued against, particularly since it would weaken the Massachusetts Bay Colony if so many left. They might be in danger from the Dutch, the Indians and even the state in England, since they did not have a patent to settle there. There was a vigorous debate, a close vote, a "Day of Humiliation" to clarify their minds and the eventual decision was that Newtown was not allowed to go. They were given extra land close to Newton instead.

By June 1635, the Masschusetts Bay area must have been bulging at the seams. Winthrope says "There came in seven other ships, and one to Salem, and four more to the mouth of the bay, with store of passengers and cattle. They all came within six weeks." This map shows how new towns were being set up along the coast. However, despite the meeting in July, 1634, people were obviously still considering a move to the Connecticut River.

Towns involved in settlement of Connecticut River mid 1630's

In November 1635, John Winthrop (junior) took possession of the mouth of the Connecticut River, at Saybrook. This would obviously hamper any Dutch ambitions along the river.

The move from Dorchester to Windsor

There is a problem with the timing of this move. There are two different groups of evidence.

According to Winthrop

Winthrop's journal gives a straight-forward account. He has already described reasons for the move given by Newton (later Cambridge) for a move: more room for their cattle. There are several entries about Dorchester people transferring to Connecticut, apparently without permission from the Massachusetts General Court. Obviously they had learned not to ask, from Newton's failure!

August 1635"The Dorchester men [are] set down at Connecticut, near the Plymouth trading house". This sounds as if they arrived by ship. Both Plymouth and the Dutch complain about this.
October 1635"About sixty men, women, and little children, went by land toward Connecticut with their cows, horses, and swine, and, after a tedious and difficult journey, arrived safe there."
Feb 1636Rev. John Maverick, one of the two pastors of Dorchester, dies.
Apr 1636"Mr. Mather and others, of Dorchester, intending to begin a new church there, (a great part of the old one being gone to Connecticut,) desired the approbation of the other churches and of the magistrates." There is no mention of Rev. John Warham, the other pastor at Dorchester, so the assumption is that he has already left for Connecticut. The magistrates "thought them not meet, at present, to be the foundation of a church... The reason was, for that most of them (Mr. Mather and one more excepted) had builded their comfort of salvation upon unsound grounds..."
Aug 1636Rev. Mather and others in Dorchester sign a covenant, founding the new church. (See Dorchester Church records.) Presumably, after four months of Rev. Mather's sermons, the congregation of Dorchester are now acceptable as a new church.

This has the timeline: Most of Dorchester moves to what is now Windsor in 1635, either by ship or overland, led by Rev. John Warham, one of their pastors. The other pastor then dies, and Dorchester is left without a pastor, so Richard Mather is appointed. The new church is started in August 1636, and we know exactly who is part of its congregation, as they signed the convenant.

According to Dorchester Town Records

The Dorchester Town records and Old Church records (of Windsor) give a different story. The Old Church records have an interesting entry. It gives "A list of those members of the church that were in Dorchester and came up here with Mr Warham and still are of us". These names are particularly interesting: Rev Warham, Henry Wolcott, John Witchfeld, William Gaylard, Lt. Fyler, Thomas Ford, Matthew Grant, Thomas Deble senr, George Phillups, Jonathan Gillet, Begat Eggelston and George Phelps.

Naturally, my interst started with Thomas Deble senr. The 'senr' shows something about the dating of this list. His son Thomas was born in 1647, and would need to be adult before a list had to specify which Thomas we are talking about. The senior Thomas had land grants in Dorchester Dec 1635 and Jan 1636. Thomas was made freeman of Massachusetts in May 1637. He was made a Connecticut freeman in Apr 1640.

In the Dorchester Town records, in Octber 1634, "it is agreed that there shall be ten men [the select men] chosen to order all the affairs of the plantation, to continue for a year". But until then, the orders were signed by John Maverick, John Warham, William Gaylard and William Rockewell. These were the people running the town. Maverick died in Dorchester, in Feb 1636. Warham and Gaylard are on the list of original settlers at Windsor, and it is known that William Rockewell was in Windsor as well. William Gaylard coninued to be active in Dorchester after 1634. He was appointed a select man in October 1636. Mr. Warham has a land grant (of 2 acres) in Jun 1636, as does William Rockewell. There are no more refences to any of these men in Dorchester after this point

Others on the list appear to be important men in the early days of Dorchester. Her are some of the Dorchester Town records about them, including the last reference.
Matthew Grant was asked to measure in April 1635 and November 1635. In May 1642, there is a reference to land that used to belong to Matthew Grant.
Thomas Ford is active in town affairs, and in July 1636 signs as a select man. In Jan 1637, land is described as formerly belonging to Thomas Ford.
Waler Fyler (or Filer) was chosen as baliff in November 1635, and had a land grant in June 1636. There is no further reference no further reference.
George Phelps was one of the first select men of Dorchester in October 1634. In July 1635, he is granted permission to fence some additional land. In March 1638, there is a reference to Mr Witchfield's house (rather than him personally) and by Oct 1638, this was become the house that late was Mr Witchfield's.
Henry Wolcott was also one of the first select men of Dorchester in October 1634. In April 1635, there is a reference to Mr Wolcott's house.
Begat Eggelston has a land grant in Feb 1635
In July 1636, there is a reference to Jonathan Gillet's pale. By April 1638, there is land which once was Jonathan Gillet's.

Finally, none of these people signed the covenant of Aug 1636 which founded a new church in Dorchester.

There are a couple of things which strike me. First, these are important people in Dorchester. They run the town for a while, they are select men or bayliff. They are referred to as Mr. which is a sign of respect. They have land in the town. They are not recent immigrants hungry for land. Secondly, there are references to them after autumn 1635, which is when the first move to Windsor happened. However, none of them signed the covenant in August 1636, and the references to them drop off sharply at this point. For this group, at least, it seems that there was a relgious argument rather than a desire for land which drove them away from Dorchester.

Perhaps there were two different types of groups who went to Windsor. The first was land-hungry, recent settlers who went in late 1635, and the second were some of the establishment of the town who left because of the covenant in August 1636. But this does not explain why Winthrop says, as early as April 1636, "a great part of the old [church] being gone to Connecticut". Surely the Warham group listed by Matthew Grant in the Old Church Records would be described like this!

Winthrop also mentions people returning from Connecticut. The Connecticut River froze in the autumn of 1635 and this caused hardship. In Novermber 1635, twelve men returned from Connecticut overland, and in December "Seventy men and women came down to the river's mouth to meet the barks which should have brought their provisions; but, not meeting them, they went aboard the Rebecka. They came to Massachusetts in five days, which was a great mercy of God, for otherwise they had all perished with famine, as some did."

So perhaps Warham's group did travel to Windsor in 1635, and returned almost immediately because of the weather. Perhaps they intended to sell their land in Dorchester to return to Windsor, or perhaps they originally had given up the idea of a move, but Mather's covenant was the final straw so they did go after all. There is certainly a long list of Dorchester land ownership in 18 Mar 1638. Perhaps by then it had finally been decided who was going to go, and who stay, so they wanted to define who owned what land.

AS far as my own family are concerned, the father, Robert Deeble, stayed in Dorchester. He signs the covenant, and plays an active part in town affairs until 1642. We hear no more about him. The son, Thomas Dible, does not sign the covenant, and is on Matthew Grant's list of the first settlers in Windsor. He becomes a Connecticut freeman in 1640. It seems a little odd that he was made a freeman of Massachusetts in 1637, but either he was still in Dorchester at this point (presumably hiding from Rev. Mather!) or he had already moved to Windsor, but decided to keep a link with Dorchester. Perhaps it was arranged by his father. It was fairly ambiguous at this time whether the Connecticut River towns were part of the Massachusetts colony, or independent




Other matters

In May 1637, Newtown finally followed Dorchester. "Mr. Hooker, pastor of the church of Newtown, and the most of his congregation, went to Connecticut. His wife was carried in a horse litter; and they drove one hundred and sixty cattle, and fed of their milk by the way."

Towns involved in settlement of Connecticut River mid 1630's

Names of the Connecticut settlements

These settlements went through several changes of name:

Native nameDutch nameEnglish nameModern name (from 1637)
MatianuckDorchesterWindsor
SuckiaugFort Goede HoopNewtownHartford
PyquagWatertownWethersfield

The original English names show where most of the settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony came from.