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Connecticut's 375th: Settlement Date Established By Variety Of Factors


August 09, 2010

Connecticut is celebrating the 375th anniversary of its founding with special events all year. This is the first installment of an occasional series looking back at the earliest chapters in the state's history.

It's hard to imagine today the scenery that greeted the Dutch trader Adriaen Block when he sailed up the Connecticut River in 1614.

When Block arrived in the area that would eventually become the first three settlements in Connecticut, it was a wilderness populated by Native Americans, a chilly place gripped by the "Little Ice Age" that dropped average temperatures worldwide.

The goal of the early explorers was to find a good place to trade fur, and Connecticut was alluring because of its waterways. Trading posts began to pop up by 1633.

A 375th anniversary seems like a formal affair, celebrating a specific date. But Connecticut had a complicated birth. For instance, why does Connecticut claim it's 375 years old when it didn't become a state until 1788?

Connecticut's founding date was determined by a historical organization, which in 1928 began to prepare for the 300th anniversary in 1935, said State Historian Walter Woodward. A few years later, the group decided the date of the state's founding should be when the area was first settled, Woodward said.

But there was no universally agreed-upon settlement date, he said.

"States are not like people," Woodward said. "They have multiple birthdays."

Woodward said the organization finally picked 1635 because the state's three original towns were founded by that time: Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield. Also, by picking 1635, Connecticut's anniversary wouldn't conflict with Rhode Island's 1636 founding date (and it would be a year older).

The 1635 date has been frequently challenged.

Some argue that Hartford and Windsor were only trading posts and didn't have settlers who planned to stay. The House of Hope was established as a Dutch trading post in Hartford in 1633, but it wasn't until 1636 that Thomas Hooker led a group from Massachusetts to settle in the area.

A group from Plymouth, Mass., settled in Windsor in 1633, bringing a prefabricated trading post with them and prompting the town to claim the title as Connecticut's first.

Wethersfield, founded in 1634 by a group of Puritans led by John Oldham, claims precedence because its first residents were families.

To this day, Woodward said, there are still disputes about which town was founded first. The 1635 date, however, remains the benchmark, he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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