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Quinnetukut

Known in Mohegan as Quinnetukut, Connecticut is a state with a rich and varied history. It was the land of as many as 30,000 migratory Native Americans. They moved from one part of the state to another with the changing seasons. Translated, Quinnetukut means, "Long River Place" and "Beside the Long Tidal River," both references to the Connecticut River. Among the Native Americans living here were Mohawks, Algonquins and Pequots.

The Dutch were the first to really explore the territory. In 1614, Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed along the coast of what today is Long Island Sound until he discovered the yawning mouth of the Connecticut River. From there, he sailed up river as far as current-day Hartford.

There, Dutch traders set up a trading post on the banks of the Connecticut River which splits Vermont from New Hampshire, bisects Massachusetts and Connecticut, then deltas at Long Island Sound at Old Saybrook, Connecticut on its west bank and Old Lyme, its east bank.

The Dutch didn't settle here, at least not to the degree that the Puritans did. Joined at the trading post by fellow Dutch, they established a lucrative trading business where they traded furs with the Native Americans. The Dutch West India Company took over the post in 1623, and not long after built a fort around it as protection from Pequot Native Americans and British settlers.

As was often the case at the genesis of the settlement of New England, for some time after the Europeans arrived on the shores of Massachusetts and made their way south and west, permanent, largely Puritan settlements began to spring up. The Puritans bought land from the Native Americans for all manner of compensation. Government control was elastic and ill-defined, but it was decided that religious differences and the inability to communicate in a timely manner with Plimoth and the Bay Colony, the British and Puritans moving to Connecticut would establish their own government.

It wasn't long before there were far more British and Puritans than Dutch settling the land, especially around the fort in Hartford. As the first British ship sailed up river, when they reached the trading post, they were warned not to proceed or they'd be fired upon. Ignoring the threat, they called the bluff and continued without so much as being aimed at by a canon or musket. From then on, coming from Plimoth Colony and the Bay Colony in Massachusetts, English settlers moved west into Connecticut in ever-growing numbers.

The Puritans and colonists followed Thomas Hooker "The Father of Connecticut" to the state, where they established the first settlement at Windsor in 1633. Some moved on to Wethersfield in 1634, which became the first bona fide settlement in Connecticut. Others traveled to the Connecticut shore.

William Hyde was one of the founders of Old Saybrook, where Bay Colony immigrants built a fort. He then moved north and was among the founders of Norwich. Finally, following Hooker to Hartford, he is on the list of that city's founders.

Competing with the Dutch, the British set up a number of trading posts, including one in Windsor that gave Native Americans better access to trade their furs, so they started trading there.

Losing business, the Dutch engaged in some early American marketing and, in 1633, sent a party north to what is Springfield, Massachusetts today. Along the way the group presented gifts to the Indians they encountered in hope of encouraging their return to the Dutch trading post in Hartford. It was an unmitigated disaster.

The Dutch gifts, at first well received, quickly lost their luster when small pox decimated the Native American population, taking from it some 6,000 Indians and leaving only about 2,000. While that was horrific to the Indians, it opened up large tracts of land that had been owned by the 6,000, most of which had mastered farming and had helped to make the soil rich for easy growth of almost any kind of vegetables.

The Indian response was to solidify the support of various tribes, especially along the Connecticut River in Southeast Connecticut to protect it from the settlers. In addition, they began to conduct raids against European settlements, first Saybrook in 1636 and then Wethersfield in 1637.

Ratcheting up the response to that, the colonists declared war on the Pequot Indians. Colonel John Mason mustered 90 men and attacked the Pequot in Mystic, where they dispatched 600 men, women and children. A remnant of the tribe had escaped to Fairfield. But they were discovered there and decimated. Those who survived became slaves to tribes more sympathetic to the British, and no further challenges by Native Americans were waged.

The British and Puritans settled on the fertile, open lands and quickly surpassed the Dutch population. In 1639, Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor crafted and approved "The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut," the first constitution in the United States. On today's Connecticut license plates is stamped the nickname, "The Constitution State." The settlers considered themselves to be an independent commonwealth, and dubbed the new state the "The Connecticut Colony."

The Dutch, feeling threatened by Native Americans and the British settlers, signed the Treaty of Hartford, which caused the vast majority of the them to move out in 1654.

After the territorial dispute with the Dutch, it became clear that laying claim to the land had to be a priority. In 1662, Governor John Winthrop, Jr. convinced King Charles II to give the settlers a remarkable charter. It granted the inhabitants independence. It also merged towns to the north, Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor, with the New Haven Colony, much to New Haven's consternation. Political and religious issues had kept them at odds with each other for some time.

Perhaps more generous that independence were the boundaries defined by the Charter of 1662. They ran from Massachusetts to the east, south to Long Island Sound and from Narragansett Bay to the Pacific Ocean!

This brought no end of difficulty to Connecticut in later years when the states surrounding Connecticut began to gel and harden and their borders were better defined, in particular Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Border conflicts were common until circa the 1750s.

That Charles II was the grantor of this expansive and generous charter has intrigued our family for centuries. William Hyde, mentioned earlier, is our direct ancestor (as is John Alden of Mayflower fame) and a close relative of Edward Hyde, Lord Chancellor to Charles II, first Earl of Clarendon and Baron of Hindon.

When Cromwell came to power, Edward Hyde spirited then Prince Charles to Belgium, where he schooled him in all things having to do with the monarchy in addition to educating him in the curriculum of the times.

When Cromwell's brother died, Edward Hyde restored Charles to the throne. One has to wonder if the generous nature of the charter had anything to do with the relationships between Edward and William Hyde, and Charles II. William was a close friend of Governor Winthrop. While we tend to pass it off as coincidence, it still has us wondering.

In any event, the charter itself came under fire from an unlikely source, James II, Charles' brother and the king who, as prince, impregnated Edward Hyde's daughter, Anne, out of wedlock. Charles agreed with James' desire to marry her, despite Edward's protestations that she was a commoner and therefore would despoil royal blood. They did marry and she later bore him three queens, one being Mary. But he caused havoc in New England.

He grew uncomfortable with the independence granted by the charter. James II decided that New England should be governed by one person or political organization representing the crown. Despite Connecticut's vehement protestations, James II sent Edmund Andros to the fledgling country to be the governor of New England.

What happened next has defined Connecticut for centuries, bravely outsmarted a king and kept its independence. It has intrigued many a historian or history student ever since.

Andros arrived first in Boston and demanded that all charters be surrendered to him immediately. Connecticut said, "Uh uh." So Andros traveled to Hartford with a contingent of soldiers to seize control of the government and the charter. Having his men rattle their sabers, he was told that the charter would be surrendered at an upscale establishment (one of two places: Sanford's Tavern; or the Meeting House).

Legend has it that, as Andros was talking to Connecticut's leaders, all of the candles suddenly went out. The charter was handed to Capt. Joseph Wadsworth through an open window. He ran to an old oak tree nearby with a hole in it and hid the charter there.

The tree became known as the "Charter Oak."

Stymied but determined, Andros took control of the government, claimed the charter had no political force, and remained in power until James was overthrown. No longer supported by the Crown, Andros left, and government was restored in 1689 per the charter. That meant that the state was practically independent from British monarchical rule. Except for James' and Andros' power grab--for nearly all of its first century, Connecticut had been independent.

While the people lived independent of rule from the throne, Connecticutters found themselves under rule from the Puritan pulpit and the Congregational church.

To the Puritans, who hadn't the means to take care of the ill, insane or criminal, it was up to each family to make certain that all were schooled in the ways of the Puritan lifestyle and to take care of their sick, remonstrate law breakers and in all ways run things as Puritans wished them to be run. Analogous to the Taliban today, Puritans made certain that they controlled all aspects of life.

They, unlike the Pilgrims, believed that the Church of England needed only to rid itself of Catholic ritual, while Pilgrims believed that the church needed to be built anew from the ground up.

Regardless, the Puritans comprised the general Assembly and the Judiciary, with many of those being Yale graduates. Connecticut was still living under the belief that the Charter of 1662 gave them the right to govern independently, so they built their own government based on "The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut," the first Constitution.

Puritanism held sway until the early 1700s when the population grew and diversified. Before the "Great Awakening" plowed across the land, the Puritanical lifestyle was the only permissible lifestyles. Anyone not a Puritan arriving into Connecticut was unceremoniously told to leave.

But as the population moved more into the hills of the northeastern and northwestern corners of the state, new lifestyles emerged, as did new beliefs. Much of the population had believed itself to be damned and that only the "Elect" were to be shown the way to heaven. And it was they and landowners only who could go to church or vote.

Commonality manifested in the form of an agrarian lifestyle. For many, farming was for subsistence. For others, growing crops was for export. For still others in the south, shipbuilding was the preferred occupation. But in all cases, instead of trading with England, as did other colonies, shipbuilders and other exporters sent their goods to Boston and New York, and the state thrived in relative prosperity.

But, as Evangelicals and Methodists arrived, the thinking changed and Puritanism as the rule of law and spirituality began to thaw rapidly. There became two types of Connecticutters, the "Old Lights," who subscribed to Puritanical beliefs and the "New Lights," those who learned that God's grace, not being among "The Elect," is what gets one to heaven's gate. The slow but massive change earned the name "The Great Awakening" and with it came "The Great Sleep" for Puritans. With the "Great Awakening," Connecticut changed forever.

The Revolution

During the American Revolution, Connecticut played a pivotal role. Regiments and irregulars from the state fought from Quebec to the Carolinas.

Playing one of the most renowned roles during the Revolution was General Israel Putnam. It was he who shouted at the battle of Bunker Hill: "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!"

Later, when he was at a tavern in Greenwich, word arrived that the British were coming. Putnam, who was a very large man, jumped on his horse and ran him down steps that are still extant today and escaped.

They are darkened brown by time, but a large plaque at the top of the steps explains his exploit. The steps are on the side of the Post Road, which, if you are driving West are on the right just past the Greenwich High School football field. If you're driving East, they are on the left of the Post Road opposite a large synagogue. A restored, red saltbox is the tavern in which the general was sitting.

Nathan Hale, another Revolutionary War hero, was also a Nutmegger. His infamous statement resonates still: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

To George Washington, Connecticut was "The Provision State" because of supplies contributed to his army by Gov. Jonathan Trumbull - the only Colonial governor to support the cause of America's independence from Great Britain.

From 1703 to 1875, Connecticut had two capitals; sessions of the General Assembly met alternately in Hartford and New Haven. Since then, the capital has been Hartford.

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