It all Started of course with the Indian Population. Before Europeans
came to the area, it was inhabited by many tribes of Indians. Connecticut
is divided in half by the Connecticut River, known to settlers as "The
Great River". Connecticut is Mohegan for "the long river". Originally
quonehtacut, quinnehtukguet, or connittetuck.) To the west lies the
Hudson and Housatonic River valleys inhabited by
Mohawks and Iroquois.
To the east lies the Thames River valley inhabited by
main tribes made up the "River Indians" in the Connecticut River Valley.
They were the Podunks on the east shore and Poquonocks, Saukiogs, and
Tunxis on the west shore. Scantics and Namericks were also on the east
shore but were considered part of the Podunks.
There were three different parties who settled the area, Plus the Dutch who don't really count because they left. They were the Plymouth people, the Dorchester people, and the Lords and Gentlemen.
In 1614 Dutchman Adriaen Block sailed upriver as far as Windsor. They
found an indian fort on the east bank belonging to the Podunks built as a
protection of the river approach from
Pequots. It was between the Scantic and Podunk Rivers. They called themselves
"Nawash" Indians (Named after their sachem Nawash). It is believed that the name
"Podunk" meant fire place.
(potu - "Fire" or "warmth", unk - "standing tree" or "place of")
To the Indians it probably meant "Home".
Block later returned and explored the area as far up as the Enfield falls. The Dutch formed the Dutch West India Company in 1621 to trade in furs and skins with these Indians. Later, the Dutch claimed to have bought the west bank (where Hartford is now) from Sequassen of the Sicaogs so in 1623 they started to erect a fort laying claim to the area. The fort was named "House of Good Hope". It was finished in June of 1633 and had two cannons. That is when they bought the land around them again from Sachem Wapyquart. It was a Dutch mile along the river between the hill and the Little stream (Park River) and a third of a Dutch mile wide. The fort was situated on a Point created by the Park River. They later moved back to New Amsterdam.
In 1609 a congregation of English moved to Holland avoiding religious persecution. It was this congregation under the Reverend John Robinson that left their Dutch home of 11 years for the New World aboard the Mayflower. On December 11, 1620 they landed at Plymouth Rock and began the town of Plymouth. Their near extinction was put off by the local Indians who taught them how to survive the harsh winter. The experiment was a success and the Plymouth colony was established in Massachusetts. The feast of November 1621 to celebrate their survival and new friendship became our Thanksgiving holiday.
Then in 1622, an event which was to have far reaching effects occurred when a Dutch West Indian trader, Jacques Elekens, seized a Pequot sachem named Tatobem the Tyrant near House of Good Hope (Hartford) Connecticut in retaliation for Pequot raids on the trading post. Elekens threatened to kill Tatobem unless he, Elekens, received a "heavy ransom". The Pequots responded with a tribute of one-hundred-forty fathoms of purple and white beads. Since one fathom equals 240 to 260 beads, the total received by the Dutch trader was approximately thirty-five thousand beads. Elekens killed Tatobem anyway.
A few years later the Dutch of New Amsterdam (presently New York) were a little afraid to settle in Connecticut because the Pequots were not very friendly. So in 1627 Captain De Rasiere made the trip to Plymouth to invite the Plymouth Company to settle in the fertile lands of Connecticut with them. They had a nice trade of beaver skins and furs with the River Indians and knew the area to be lush and rich in skins. Plymouth seemed bleak compared to this. The Plymouth Pilgrims questioned their right to the two Valleys and asked them to stop trading at Narragansett (Rhode Island). They also suggested the propriety of a treaty with England. The ever cordial Dutchmen scoffed at the thought of the English telling them whom to trade with and returned to New Amsterdam. They also sent word home to Holland for a reinforcement of forty soldiers.
In 1629, the Charter of Massachusetts Bay was confirmed and the following year at least 17 boats arrived with new settlers from England. The first of which was the "Mary and John", commanded by Captain Squeb. They set sail on March 20, 1630 with 140 persons on board. It was a Community set up in spring of 1629 by the Reverend John White of Dorchester. They chose two ministers, John Maverick and John Warham both graduates of college, and everyday had services aboard ship. Everyone had a purpose in this new community. They arrived on May 30, 1630 at Nantasket and had to send scouts to find a place to settle. They originally wanted to settle on the Charles River and trade for provisions, but the Captain refused to sail up the river for fear of running aground. So they found meadows for the cattle to graze and left no place for future planting. Consequently, the Dorchester colony was left with no food but the scant seafood offered by the shore. Lots of clams, mussels and fish, but no bread, vegetables or Meat. The Indians helped them with corn and grain but this was not enough to sustain them.
In Connecticut, the Pequots in the east and the Iroquois and Mohawks in the
west were both a constant threat to the River Indians, so the four tribes sent
their Sachems to Plymouth in 1631 to invite the White settlers to the area.
Nattawanut of Matianuk's Tunxis tribe, Sheat of the Poquonocks, Sequassen
of the Sicaogs, and Wahguinnacut of the Podunks, all went along. The four
sachems visited Boston, Plymouth, and Dorchester. Sequassen also sent
representatives to New Amsterdam (now New York City) to ask the Dutch.
Their hope was that the white settlers would bring peace to the area because
of their invincible weapons. The Pequots would not attack the area when
protected by European settlers.
The Plymouth and Boston Colonies both sent scouts to explore the area.
Plymouth's Governor Edward Winslow tried to persuade Boston people to come
with him and keep the Dutch out of the area. But Boston saw no need to
upset the Dutch or the Pequots. So Winslow made the journey overland with
Wahguinnacut as a guide, to see for himself if it was as beautiful as had
been reported. He agreed that it was and so ordered Lieut. William Holmes to
sail upriver and set up a trading post at the mouth of the Farmington River
(then called "Little River by us and Tunxis by the River Indians). Holmes
was guided by Nattawanut back to the mouth of the Farmington River. On the
way, while passing the Dutch fort "House of Good Hope" that was completed
only two months before, they were hailed by the fort and asked their intentions.
Holmes replied that his orders from the Governor were to go upriver and trade.
They were ordered to stop and Holmes held steadily on course. Some reports say
they were actually fired upon with one warning shot, while others say they were
On September 26, 1633 they landed and set up a prefabricated building and quickly
surrounded it with a stockade fence to protect it from enemies both Pequot and
Dutch. This was the first permanent settlement of the Connecticut River Valley.
We received tremendous support from the Indians of the area. They sold us the land
and brought us to it, then taught us how to survive here, and we could not have done
it without their support. Only the Pequots didn't like us, for we were going to keep
them from taking over the River Valley.
In October 1633 the ship "Blessing" from Massachusetts sailed to New Amsterdam. It's Captain showed Governor Van Twiller his commission showing that the King of England had granted to his loyal subjects the river and country of Connecticut. The Dutch Governor wrote back a very courteous and respectful letter to the eastern colonies that their discovery, occupation, and purchase claimed it as property of the Dutch West India Company. They asked the Plymouth people not to settle there until an agreement was met by the proper persons, so that they "as Christians, might dwell together in these heathenish parts".
The Plymouth party was now almost 7 miles upriver from the Dutch and therefore
had the trade of all to the north. An official protest and warning to quit was served
on Lieut. Holmes by an army of seventy Dutch men. Holmes refused to write an official
answer but restated their will to stay. The army was there to intimidate him and his
handful of men, but he remained undaunted and the army returned to their fort without
firing a shot.
The Dutch made more attempts to trade upriver from the Plymouth people. They were going to win the friendship of the Indians and get them to come to Hartford in the spring, past the Plymouth party. They went up to Warannoc (now Westfield Mass.) where a group of Indians dwelt. Within weeks they were all decimated by a plague of Small Pox. 1000 Indians perished leaving about 50 survivors. They could not even bury their dead. These Dutch traders almost starved and froze to death before they could get away. They reached the Plymouth Trading post in fatal condition in February 1634,(1633-34) and were taken in by the kindness of the Plymouth people. The four Dutchmen were given food and quarters for a few days and taken down to Hartford. The Dutch were very grateful for this kindness considering the ill will between them. Unfortunately, they brought the plague with them. The Windsor Indians all fell ill and could not even feed themselves or make a fire. The Plymouth party inside their garrisoned post were afraid to come out and help, Fearing the disease, but compassion overtook them and they learned that whites did not get the disease. They fed the Indians and fetched water and wood. Many died including Sachem Nattawanut and his family and friends. It swept through the other tribes as well. The whole River indian population was about 2000 after that epidemic. It was estimated that this was less than a quarter of the original number. The number of Indians within the Windsor borders later grew to about 300 - 500.
In 1635 John Winthrop's Massachusetts Bay Company built Fort Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Although isolated in the midst of hostile Pequot and Western Niantic, it effectively blocked Dutch access to the river and forced them to close the Dutch fort "House of Good Hope" at Hartford.
In 1635 the Dorchester group came to Windsor. They were organized as a church in England and came overseas together on a ship called "Mary and John" in 1630. They lived in Dorchester as Puritans until they had a disagreement with Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He thought that government should be run by only a few people whereas the Reverends Thomas Hooker, John Maverick, and John Warham thought it should be run by the people who elect their leader. The differences made the seaside colony a bit crowded and starvation was becoming a threat, so the congregation of about 140 people went west to take advantage of the lucrative fur trade in the river valley.
They took a route known as the Old Connecticut Path westward for 14 days toward the end of October until they reached the area known to the Indians as Matianuck. Their first shelters were in the west side riverbank, across from the mouth of the Scantic River. Huts with three walls of dirt and a front made of posts, roofed by thatch and brush were their homes for the winter.
Winter was very harsh that year; the river froze over in mid November and their ship with all their food and belongings could not sail upriver.
A few bailed out back to Dorchester, but most stayed through the winter with help from the Plymouth settlers and the Indians. In the spring they moved up the bank and out of the flood melt zone. They built houses in the meadow north of the river. The Plymouth people had purchased that land from the Indians, but the Dorchester people settled it.
In Autumn of 1636 the Pequots became bolder. The raids increased on the settlers and Indians in the area. When chasing a local indian they used to stop at the door of a white man's house, not willing to anger the settlers. But now they started killing lone travelers and raiding homes. Boston Puritan John Endicott raided the Pequots at Mystic without consulting the Connecticut people. The result was that Saybrook fort was surrounded by Niantic and Pequot Warriors who killed anyone who tried to leave. On April 12, 1637 Sessacus, the Pequot Sachem, ordered a raid on Wethersfield in retaliation for the raid on Pequot villages by John Endicott, who was not even from Connecticut. There were 200 Pequot warriors who attacked Wethersfield and killed nine people, killed various livestock, and kidnapped two young girls.
The Windsor settlers built a palisade around some houses on the high ground of the north bank of the "Little River". This was a stockade fence to protect the houses from attack by Pequots. Just north of the Palisade outside the fence is where the "Lords and Gentlemen" settled. It was their intention to build large stately houses in the area thereby making it a civilized English colony. But they were vulnerable to attack and so built a fort on the Stoughton property where all could gather in an attack. The large Oaken door of the "Old Stone Fort" bore the scars of Pequot axes for 200 years hence until it fell in ruins.
The Pequot war was a turning point for the balance of power in the area.
Read about the battle and some Indian history.
The Reverend Thomas Hooker preached a sermon in May of 1638 about the democratic system of government. Roger Ludlow put it to paper and expressed the belief that "The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people". This became the famous "Fundamental Orders of 1639" the first written constitution in the world that expressed the right of the people to govern themselves. Thus Connecticut is the Constitution State.
In 1639 a meeting house was built in the center of the palisade where now a monument stands to the founding members of the church. This building was later built across the street where it still operates today as the oldest congregational church in the New World.
As Settlers flooded the area, Windsor flourished through the rest of the century. King Phillip's war in 1675 was another important part of our interaction with the Indians.
Windsor became a quiet uneventful town by the 1700's. It became a tobacco Farming community with seeds brought up from Jamestown colony in Virginia in the 1600's. Brickmaking also became an industry in Windsor. There once were over 40 brickyards operating here. There was also a Paper mill, employing over 500 people in the 1800's. Sage Park had horse racing at the turn of the 1900's.
There were many famous people from Windsor.
Many famous people's family trees point to Windsor settlers.
I can be mailed to at
S. Clark Pickens