Thomas Hooker 1586-1647

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Thomas Hooker 1568-1647 was a Congregational minister who 3 times evaded the Church of England authorities seeking to punish him for his religious beliefs. Finally he fled to Colonial America in 1633. Finding Puritan Massachussets not to his liking, he moved his family and his congregation to what is today Hartford, Connecticut. He is credited with founding the British colony of Connecticut and for inspiring the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1638), the first example of a constitution for a representative government. These Orders were, in turn, inspirational for the authors of the Constitution of the United States. He was also a gifted speaker much respected and admired by his congregation and beyond.

Thomas was a complex man. His person and his importance have been interpreted in many different ways. Generally the understanding of the man seems to meet the needs or the purposes of the person or groups doing the understanding. He could have been all the things attributed to him with just a shift in emphasis or focus. Maybe there is no contradiction between his troubled mind and anger, his harsh Calvinism and his belief that the basis of power resides with the governed, his seemingly overarching need to control both himself and others and his ability to attract friends/colleagues for life and devoted congregations. His congregation of some 100 individuals was devoted enough to follow him on a 2 week sojourn through the wilderness of Massachussets in order to establish a new settlement in Connecticut. This was at the outset of one of the most horrible Colonial wars, the Pequot War, and the route led through Pequot territory.

Thomas Hooker has always been considered to have been a significant person in American history. He was a master of Elizabethan rhetoric in a way not totally dissimilar to the poet John Donne. There were ‘rules’ for how to make an argument — or a poem — and Thomas Hooker was a master craftsman.

Some found his excellence to be doctrinal. Cotton Mather claimed that no one was Hooker’s superiour when it came to easing a troubled soul. Between 1650 and 1700, Hooker’s book The poor doubting Chistiian drawn to Christ sold in at least 17 editions. The historian, Perry Miller called him ‘the mighty Thomas Hooker’ … the greatest of all New England ministers. More recently Baird Tipson finds him to be the quintesential father of the unique brand of American evangelism (although he admits that the content of evangelicalism has changed over the centuries).

Others site his political vision. In 1638 Thomas Hooker held a speech/sermon about the fundamental basis for government. In that speech he not only rejected the divine right of kings, he argued that the basis for government resides with the governed and that they have the right and the obligation to regulate the ruler’s powers.


Cotton Mather, Grandson of Thomas’s rival John Cotton, once described him as having a choleric disposition that was like a ‘mastiff dog on a chain’.

Angry, perhaps, but certainly deeply troubled. He had a dream about 1617, recounted in Hartford Purtanism: Thomas Hooker, Stephen Stone and their Terrifying God (Baird Tipson), and when he awoke an overwhelming sense of “the Just Wrath of Heaven … fill’ d him with most unusual Degrees of Horror and Anguish”. Alone in the night, Hooker faced the anger of a terrifying God.” Tipson argues that this event, together with the central shift in the Reformation from sacrament and ritual to personal experience evangelism go a long way toward explaining Hooker.

The account of the dream comes from Cotton Mather, so Thomas shared this experience with more than one person.

Interesting that Tipson does not seek any psychological explanation for Hookers terror.

Tipson goes on to relate that as his Cambridge, Emmanuel colleague, John Eliot, remembered it-Hooker “had a Soul Harassed with much Distresses.” Hooker’s College Sizar, Simeon Ashe, offered to help, and it was Ashe who brought Hooker through the torment. Only after much struggle did he finally convince himself that his God had not abandoned him to the devil. For the rest ofhis life Hooker took careful steps to prevent a recurrence. As he lay down to sleep, he would “Single out some certain Promise of God, which he would Repeat, and Ponder, and Keep his,Heart,close unto it, until he found that satisfaction of Soul wherewith he coul~ say, I. will Lay me down in Peace, and Sleep; for thou, 0 Lord, makest me Dwell in Assurance”.

A headhunted dissenter

Although many clerics protested in writing, Archbishop Laud sought to silence Thomas Hooker, first by refusing to allow him to continue preaching at Chalmsworth Cathedral, or, in fact, anywhere, and then by seeking to have him arrested. This was part of the reign of King Charles’ repression of Puritanism in favor of a form of catholicism which emphasized ritual and sacrament and which celebrated an elitist clergy. The dissenters denied the divine right of kings and sought a personal experience of God through prayer, self denial, an educated ministry to lead the flock, predestination with the necessity of personally establishing a ‘covenenant’ with God. Your path to salvation was preordained, but you had to strive to deserve it.

Laud was a favorite of King Charles for propagating the belief in the divine right of kings. This was total anathema to the Puritans. Many, many other details divided the Church of England believers from the Puritans, but Charles was probably right about at least one thing: It was all about political power.

Furthermore they sought to impose their world view on England making them the political targets of the reigning king and paving the way for the English Civil War and the exodus to North America.

Thomas Hooker the escape artist

Thomas was an adroit evader of Church of England authorities and an escape artist. When Thomas left his studies at Cambridge University he had a series of jobs before he went to Chelmsford where he worked as a teacher at the Chelmsford Cathedral. He was a very popular speaker and a dissenter. For his refusua to conform, he was silenced and forced to leave Chelmsford. and was later summoned to a judicial hearing.

49 members of the clergy wrote a letter of support for Thomas Hooker. Archbishop Laud took no notice.

The judicial hearing would have been an act of the Court of High Commission that has been described as being different from the Inquisition in name only. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Puritanism was added to the list of offences the Court should pursue. Hooker had every reason to be fearful. George Leon Walker writes in Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat (1891) that another dissenter the very same year that Hooker was called to court, 1631, was pilloried, whipped, branded, slit in the nostrils, and deprived of his ears by successive mutilations.

Instead of attending his trial and risking an almost certain imprisonment and who knows what else, he forfeited his bond and escaped to The Netherlands. His escape was hasty and he had his wife send him clothing. This story comes to light because the shipping company somehow lost the chest of clothing and Susannah sued them.

According to Cotton Mather in his Magnalia, the escape was highly dramatic. With the pursuers hot on his heels, Hooker clambered on board and the wind shifted, blowing the boat out of the bailiffs reach.

Letter defending Thomas Hooker:

Thomas Hooker’s hasty escape:

When Thomas returned to England in 1633 he found he was still a fugitive. He had a narrow escape when visiting with the Rev. Stone, a lifelong friend and colleague. The authorities heard that Thomas might be at Stone’s house. Stone, however, convinced them that Thomas was in a different house and Thomas once again evaded imprisonment. He only managed to stall the officers because Stone was outside smoking and it did not seem reasonable to them that a visitor would be inside.

The final escape was to New England. Thomas managed to evade detection by hiding somewhee on the Griffen. Accompanying him was the very heavily pregnant Susannah and their three daughters, Joanna, Mary and Sarah and son John. Son Samuel was born shortly after arrival.

John Cotton was on the same ship. John Cotton and Hooker became rivals once in Massachussets, each one leading their own congregation. Thomas’ lifelong friend and colleague, Stephen Stone, as also on board. According to Cotton Mather the thee each gave a sermon every single day of the 8 week journey over the Atlantic.

I am not so sure how deep that rivalry was. Cotton Mather, grandson of John Cotton and Increase Mather, writes copiously and admiringly of Thomas. Have not seen any written evidence of a rift between the 2 ministers. John Mather himself once said that it was more likely that two such great men as himself and Thomas Hooker could probably do more good ‘asunder than together’.

Exodus to Connecticut

In 1636 Thomas Hooker, his family and some 100 members of his congregation left the Puritan colony of Massachusetts for Connecticut. They walked through the wilderness with their belongings and their livestock along an ancient path used by Native Americans. The path they took exists today and is called The Old Connecticut Path. Hooker could not agree with John Cotton about the principles of government. He chose to form a community based on his convictions. The church was still the focal point but Thomas Hooker would not restrict voting rights to members of the church (freemen). Two years later his principles were enshrined in the constitution for the British colony of Connecticut.

There were settlements along the way between Boston and Hartford and there were other Europeans in Connecticut and, more specifically, in Hartford. These were mostly Dutch and they were basically traders. There were some French fur trappers too, but neither group had any intention of colonizing the area. Of course, there were Native American habitations all along the route.

Thomas picked a strange time to make his journey as it was timed with or maybe just before the outbreak of the brutal Pequot War and his wife was so indisposed that she lay on a gurney. The party arrived safely, however, with no reported episodes after trekking some 200 miles through the wilderness over a period of 2 weeks.

There is a bit of deception in nearly every narrative of Hooker moving his tribe to Connecticut. Rev. Stephen Stone had scouted the area the year before and secured rights to the land. It was not a miraculous ‘find’, it was a carefullly choreographed move of a community.

See Videos about the Old Connecticut Path

Jason Newton has made many videos dealing with various aspects of the path and of his Hooker ancestry. Jason is the descendant of Thomas’ daughter, Mary.

His videos are long and chatty, but also very interesting and informative.

19th century romantisist view

Hooker’s exodus captured the imagination of Americans in the 1800s. Truly grist for the mill for American Romanticists. All the elements were there: wild nature, rugged individualism, the noble savage, heroics, piety, nation building, etc. etc. There were, of course, elements overlooked like wars with the Native Americans, slavery, the role of the indentured servants (c. 50% of the population in the 1600s), etc. The romantic view was depicted in numerous sketches and paintings:

The painting above from 1846 is probably the most famous celebration of Hooker’s journey. The artist is Frederic Edwin Church. Hooker is portrayed as a modern Moses leading his people into the promised land. Church’s own ancestor was in the group that followed Thomas Hooker to Connecticut.|


This is no place to delve into the Puritan theology, but Susan Drinker Moran, has a nice, suscinct explanation of what Hooker saw as his primary role: being a physician for the soul. She writes in her Gathered in the Spirit : beginnings of the First Church in Cambridge: “As he approached the healing process, Hooker proceeded from his careful knowledge of the anatomy of the soul. The soul was composed of three parts: understanding, will, and affections. The understanding receives and analyzes information, passing along a reasoned recommendation to the will, which either accepts or rejects it. The affections respond to the determination of the will with fear, love, hate, or desire, and action follows. In their state of perfect grace before the fall, Adam and Eve understood God’s will for them; by their own wills they followed him; and through their affections they were moved in love toward obedience and perfect harmony. For their descendants after the fall, this natural order has been dislocated. Human beings often do not recognize God’s will, or turn from a dim perception of it in fear, selfishness, or apathy. Therefore, they need a physician of the soul to prepare them for healing.”

The first church in Hartford, Connecticut. Notice the stocks right outside the church door.

Thomas Hooker and the Doctrine of Conversion:


In 1638 Thomas Hooker held his now famous sermon declaring that the ‘ foundation of authority is laid firstly, in the free consent of the people‘. This statement has been taken to mean all sorts of things. His sermon was instrumental for the drafting of the Connecticut Constitution and it provided inspiration for the founding fathers when they drafted the Constitution for the United States of America. Given his need to control himself and others, what exactly does this mean?

Hooker was not proposing universal suffrage when he preached in 1638 that the foundation of authority rests with the governed. He disagreed with the Massachuttets Puritan political belief that only freemen could determine who should be able to govern. Freemen were members of the church. They had to apply, be thoroughly examined and then accepted by the church elders. Everyone had to attend church, but everyone did not have to be a member. Hooker adamantly believed that all Christian males should have a say in who should govern them. Subtle difference since it was still only white males of a similar persuasion who governed. But it is a significant difference. Hooker was laying the foundations for the separation of church and state as well as rejecting the divine right of kings in favor of a limited democracy.

The founding of the Colony of Connecticut

Spouses and Children

There are varying accounts of the number of children Thomas and Susannah had.

It is a common supposition that Susannah was his second wife. There are no records of that first marriage and all the children were apparently born after the marriage in 1621. However, there are some biographers claiming that the oldest 2-3 were born prior to 1621. All except Samuel, 1633, were born in England. That makes sense. In 1633 she was 40 years old. She must have been a tough lady though as she was pregnant with Samuel on the ship from England to America — roughly 8 weeks under deck and I think roughly says a lot. She also had the primary care of a number of small children, the oldest being only 11! Just imagine being on a ship under the deck for about 6 weeks, pregnant and with 4 small children. You were sharing your space with countless others and where were the animals kept? what did they sleep on? how did they make food?

  1. unknown – it is possible that Joanna and Mary were born earlier and to this unknown mother.
  2. Susannah Harkes Garbrand 1593-1676

Thomas died some 30 years before Susannah. He left her a wealthy woman with the right to live in the spacious Hooker residence. His fortune came, no doubt, from her inheritance from the Garbrand family. The will makes for interesting reading. Click on the triangle to open the will.

Thomas Hooker’s will

The last Will and Testament of Mr. Thomas Hooker, late
of Hartford, deceased.
I, Thomas Hooker, of Hartford, upon Connecticutt in New
England, being weake in my body, through the tender visita
tion of the Lord, but of sound and perfect memory, doe dis
pose of that outward estate I haue beene betrusted withall by
him, in manner following:—
I doe giue vnto my sonne John Hooker, my howsing and
lands in Hartford, aforesaid, both that which is on the west,
and allso that which is on the east side of the Riuer, to bee
inioyed by him and his heires for euer, after the death of my
wife, Susanna Hooker, provided hee bee then at the age of one
and twenty yeares it being my will that my said deare
wife shall inioye and possess my said howsing and land
during her naturall life ; and if shee dye before my sonne
John come to the age of one and twenty yeares, that the
same bee improued by the ou’seers of this my will for the
maintenance and education of my children not disposed of,
according to theire best discretion.
I doe allso giue vnto my sonne John, my library of printed
bookes and manuscripts, vnder the limitations and provisoes
hereafter expressed. It is my will that my sonne John deliuer
to my sonne Samuell, so many of my bookes as shall be valued
by the ouerseers of this my will to bee worth fifty pounds
sterling, or that hee pay him the some of fifty pounds sterling
to buy such bookes as may bee vseful to him in the way of his
studdyes, at such time as the ouerseers of this my will shall
judge meete ; but if my sonne John doe not goe on to the per
fecting of his studdyes, or shall not giue vpp himselfe to the
seruice of the Lord in the worke of the ministry, my will is
that my sonne Samuell inioye and possesse the whole library
and manuscripts, to his proper use foreur ; onely, it is my will
that whateuer manuscripts shall be judged meete to bee
printed, the disposall thereof and advantage that may come
thereby I leaue wholly to my executrix; and in case shee departe
this life before the same bee judged of and settled, then
to my ouerseers to bee improued by them in theire best dis
cretion, for the good of myne, according to the trust reposed
in them. And howeuer I do not forbid my sonne John from
seeking and taking a wife in England, yet I doe forbid him
from marrying and tarrying there.
I doe giue vnto my sonne Samuell, in case the whole library
come not to him, as is before expressed, the sum of seuenty
pounds, to bee paid vnto him by my executrix at such time,
and in such manner, as shall be judged meetest by the ouer
seers of my will.
I doe allso giue vnto my daughter Sarah Hooker, the sum
of one hundred pounds sterling, to bee paid vnto her by my
executrix when she shall marry or come to the age of one and
twenty years, which shall first happen; the disposall and fur
ther education of her and the rest, I leaue my wife, advising
them to attend her councell in the feare of the Lord.
I doe giue vnto the two children of my daughter Joannah
Shephard deceased, and the childe of my daughter Mary New
ton, to each of them the sum of ten pounds, to bee paid vnto
them by my son John, within one yeare after hee shall come
to the possession and inioyment of my howsings and lands in
Hartford, or my sonne Samuell, if by the decease of John, hee
come to inioye the same.
I doe make my beloued wife Susannah Hooker, executrix
of this my last Will and Testament, and (my just debts being
paid), do giue and bequeath vnto her all my estate and goods,
moueable and imoueable, not formerly bequeathed by this my
will. And I desire my beloued frends Mr. Edward Hopkins
and Mr. William Goodwyn, to affoard their best assistance to
my wife, and doe constitute and appoint them the ouerseers
of this my will. And it hauing pleased the Lord now to visitt
my wife with a sickness, and not knowing how it may please
his Matie to dispose of her, my minde and will is, that in case
shee departe this life before shee dispose the estate bequeathed
her, my aforesaid beloued frends, Mr. Edward Hopkins and
Mr. William Goodwyn, shall take care both of the education
and dispose of my children (to whose loue and faithfulness I
commend them, and of the estate left and bequeathed to my
wife, and doe committ it to theire best judgment and discretion
to manage the said estate for the best good of mine, and to
bestow it vpon any or all of them in such a proportion as shall
bee most sutable to theire owne aprhensions; being willing
onely to intimate my desire that they which deserne best may
haue most; but not to limitt them, but leaue them to the full
scope and bredth of their owne judgments; in the dispose
whereof, they may haue respect to the forementioned children
of my two daughters, if they see meeet. It being my full will
that what trust I haue committed to my wife, either in matter
of estate, or such manuscripts as shall bee judged fitt to bee
printed, in case shee Hue not to order the same herselfe, bee
wholly trasmitted and passed ouer from her to them, for the
ends before specified. And for mortality sake, I doe put power
into the hands of the forementioned beloued freinds, to consti
tute and appoint such other faithfull men as they shall judge
meete, (in case they bee deprived of life or liberty to attend the
same, in theire owne persons,) to manage, dispose and per
forme the estate and trust committed to them, in as full manner
as I haue committed it to them for the same end.
This was declared to bee the last Will and
Testament of Mr. Thomas Hooker, the
seuenth day of July, 1647.
In the presence of

i s. d.
In the new Parlour ; It. : 3 chaires, 2 stooles, 6 cush
ions, a clock, a safe, a table, window curtaines, &c., 05 00 00
In the Hall ; It. : a chest of drawers, and in it, 2 dozen
of dishes, a pewter flagon, basons, candlestocks,
sawcers, &c., 06 00 00
It. : in ammunition, 41. It. : in a table, & forme, and 4
wheels, 11. (OS 00 00)
In the ould Parlour ; It. : 2 tables, a forme, 4 chaires, 4
stooles, 4 table carpetts, window curtaines, andirons
and doggs, &c., in the chimny. 09 00 00 00
In the Chamber ouer that ; It. : a featherbed and boulster,
2 pillowes, a strawbed, 2 blankitts, a rugg, and
couerlitt, darnix hangings in 7 pieces, window cur
taines, curtaines and valence to the bed, a bedstead,
2 chaires, and 3 stooles, andirons &c. in the chimny,
& a courte cubberd 14 05 00
It. : curtaines and valence to the same bed, of greene
say, and a rugg of the same, with window curtaines 05 00 00
In the Hall Chamber ; It. : a trunck of linnen, cont. : 20
pr. sheets, 8 table cloaths, 5 doz. napkins, 6 pr. of
pillow beers, and towells, 27 00 00
It. : a bedstead, two truncks, 2 boxes, a chest &c a
chaire 03 05 00
In the Kittchin Chamber ; It. : a featherbed, a quilt
bed, 2 blankitts, 2 couerlitts, 1 boulster, a flockbed
and boulster, a rugg and blankitt, a chest & ould
trunck, and a bedstead 12 00 00
In the Chamber oner the new parlour ; It.: 2 featherbeds,
2 boulsters, a pr. of pillows, 5 blankitts and 2
ruggs, stript valance and curtaines for bed & windowes,
a chest of drawers, an Alarum, w boxes, a
small trunck, 2 cases of bottles, 1 pr. of dogs, in the
chimney 21 00 00
In the garritts ; It. : in come and hoggsheads and other
household lumber 14 15 00
It. ; in apparrell and plate 40 00 00
In the Kittchin ; It. : 2 brass kettles, 3 brass potts, 2
chafing dishes, 2 brass skilletts, a brass morter, a
brass skimmer, and 2 ladles, 2 iron potts, 2 iron
skilletts, a dripping pann, 2 kettles, 2 spitts, & a
jack, a pr of cobirons, a pr of andirons, a pr of
doggs, fire shouell and tongs, 2 frying panns, a
warming pann, a gridiron, 7 pewter dishes, 2 por
ringers, 1 pr of bellowes, a tinn dripping pann, a
roster, & 2 tyn couers, potthooks and trammells ; all
valued at 12 10 00
In the Brew House ; It. : a copper mash tubbs, payles,
treyes, &c. 04 10 00
In the sellars ; It. : 2 stills, and dairy vessels, 06 00 00
It. : in yearne ready for the weauer 03 00 00
It. : 2 oxen, 2 mares, 1 horse, 2 colts, 8 cowes, and 2
heifers, 3 two years ould and 6 yearlings, valued at 143 00 00
It.: Husbandry implements 05 00 00
It. : Howsing and Lands within the bounds of
Hartford, on both sides of the Riuer 450 00 00
It. : Bookes in his study &c. valued at 300 00 00
It.: an adventure in the Entrance 50 00 00
£1136 15 00
The foregoing particulars were prised the day and yeare aboue
written, according to such light as at p’sent appeared,

It is generally thought that Susannah married a man named William Goodwin after Thomas’ death. All that is known for certain is that William Goodwin married a woman from Hartford whose name was Susannah. However, Goodwin was well known in the Hooker residence and at one point a disgruntled person accused Susannah of having adulterous relations with William Goodwin. She sued and won her case.

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