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Thomas Hooker: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Thomas Hooker, a Cambridge-educated Puritan minister from a prominent English family, migrated to America and became known as the 'Father of Connecticut.' Learn how Hooker's religious beliefs and political clout might have had an impact on the U.S. Constitution.

Roots of a Puritan

Though Thomas Hooker seemed like he could never escape controversy, this Puritan divine demonstrated remarkable resiliency and ultimately left an indelible print on Connecticut politics. In an age of learned pastors and theologians, Hooker was considered the most educated and prominent Puritan to migrate to the American colonies. Born in 1586 in Leicestershire, England, Hooker came from an established family and received a first-rate education at Cambridge. He married twice and had several children. He preached frequently at the Chelmsford Cathedral whose surrounding community was known for its wild and boisterous taverns. Hooker did his job well, as he was credited with bringing order to the community.

Trouble soon brewed for Hooker, though, when William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury which was the senior position in the Church of England. As an advisor to Charles I, Laud became a zealous persecutor of Puritans and other nonconformists who deviated in theology and practice from the Anglican Church. Bound to become one of Laud's targets, Hooker was called before the ecclesiastical Court of High Commission, where he lost his parish position. After this blow, Hooker founded a school for children, but tired of the constant harassment by Laud, Hooker relocated to Holland in 1629.

Thomas Hooker in Connecticut
Thomas Hooker in Connecticut

From Holland to Massachusetts

With his credentials, Hooker could have made a permanent home in Holland. In his brief time in Holland, Hooker managed to wield his influence. He was instrumental, for example, in the conversion of John Eliot, who later became famous in the American colonies for translating the entire Bible into the Algonquian Indian language, which subsequently was the first Bible published in colonial America. However, Hooker left for Massachusetts in 1633 as part of the great Puritan migration. He didn't settle long in Massachusetts, either. Hooker soon squabbled with John Cotton, who wanted only church members and property owners to vote while Hooker wanted all men to vote regardless of church membership. Disputes of this nature were very common in early Puritan communities. Unable to resolve their differences, Hooker relocated with about 100 members and started a new settlement in Hartford, Connecticut in 1636.

Hooker Settles in Connecticut

Hooker relocated to the largely unsettled region of Connecticut and founded Hartford, Connecticut where he pastored again and took an active part in politics. At the time, the upstart colony was composed of the three major districts of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield which merged in 1639 to become the Commonwealth of Connecticut. Any self-respecting colony required a constitution, and Hooker's role in the origins of the 'Fundamental Orders of Connecticut' has been disputed in recent scholarship. The Fundamental Orders became the written constitution of Connecticut from 1639-1662 and is often considered the first written democratic constitution in the world. Consistent with Puritan thought, it maintained a religious framework for government, but it allowed all males to vote regardless of church membership, and it made no reference to the English crown as having any governing authority over its affairs. It should be clear from this latter point, that it became a working model for the later U.S. Constitution once the colonies separated from England.

Statue of Thomas Hooker in Hartford, Connecticut
Statue of Thomas Hooker

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