In his book, “The English Home and Ancestry of Richard Seamer…” (Stanhope Press, F.H. Gilson Company, 1917), George D. Seymour states that “… it was probable that the emigration of Richard Seamer to New England was due to the influence of Rev. Thomas Hooker.”
So, who was this man? Why did Richard Seymour leave England to follow this guy?
Rev. Hooker was a prominent Puritan minister and British American colonist. He was well-known as an amazing public speaker, advocate for universal (albeit Christian males, regardless of church affiliation) suffrage, and he argued for greater religious tolerance for all Christian denominations. In my research, I also found that he argued for the separation of church and state, although this is questionable (in my opinion).
In England, Hooker was a lecturer at St. Mary’s parish church (now Chelmsford Cathedral). He drew very large crowds and a lot of scrutiny. In 1629, Archbishop William Laud suppressed church lecturers, an attempt to silence any Puritan leaders who wanted to reform the Church of England. Hooker refused to comply. Soon after, he was brought a summons ordering him to appear before High Commission, also known as the “Star Chamber.” Hooker refused. He jumped bond and fled to Holland. From there, after a brief trip back home to put affairs in order, he emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony with a slew of followers to escape any further persecution.
Rev. Hooker arrived in Boston in 1633 and later settled in Newton (or perhaps New Towne – regardless, it’s now Cambridge). At this time, voting in Massachusetts was limited to those who were prominent church members with property who also went through extensive questioning. Critical of this view, in 1634, Hooker applied to the General Court in Massachusetts for permission to remove to Connecticut, citing:
- there wasn’t enough land for expansion in Newtown;
- they feared that otherwise Connecticut might fall into the hands of other English or the Dutch; and
- “the strong bent of their spirits to remove thither.”
The court believed this would weaken the colony, so refused the request initially. However, a year later after more people poured into the colony, the legislature granted permission to the towns of Watertown, Roxbury, and Dorchester to move anywhere, provided that they continue to be subordinate to the Massachusetts government. They really had no legal right to impose this, but they tried.
Groups took immediate advantage. There were daily departures for the Connecticut River Valley. Most were unprepared for the severe weather and many returned to Boston for the winter. In the spring 1636, Hooker, his assistant (Rev. Samuel Stone), and about 100 of his followers (known as “Mr. Hooker’s Company”) traveled with their herds of cattle to the settlement they named Hartford on the Connecticut River.
The settlement of Hartford (named after Hertford in England) was founded in 1636 and The First Church of Hartford was opened in 1638. In the opening sermon on May 31st, Rev. Hooker preached (just to give you an idea):
“the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people…”
“…the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance”
“They who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power also to set the bounds and limitations of the power and the place unto which they call them.”
The founders of Hartford used this sermon as the basis of their government. On January 14, 1639, the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” were ratified, the first ever known written constitution. Many of the principals in this document were used when creating the United States government and the Constitution of the United States.
Rev. Hooker died July 7, 1647 during an “epidemical sickness.” He was 61 years old. Many believe he’s buried in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground , although nobody knows for sure.
“The Ancient Burying Ground is the oldest historic site in Hartford, and the only one surviving from the 1600s. From 1640 until the early 1800s, anyone who died in Hartford, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnic background, economic status, or religious faith, was interred here. The oldest gravestone is believed to be that for Timothy Stanley, who died in 1648.“
There was no known portrait of Rev. Hooker. The statue of him (shown at the top), was sculpted from the likenesses of his descendants.