The Stamford Historical Society Presents
Portrait of a Family: Stamford through the Legacy of the Davenports
Stamford’s Colonial Period 1641–1783
Maps and Settlement Information
During the colonial period, two major forces dominated life in Stamford and these were the authority of the New Haven Colony over Stamford on the one hand and the power of the Congregational Church on the other. Stamford was established as a settlement belonging to the New Haven Colony. In 1640 the Connecticut Colony and the New Haven Colony were separate jurisdictions, each with its own government and court system. Stamford chafed under New Haven until Charles II of England issued the Connecticut Charter in 1662 under which New Haven was merged into the Connecticut Colony. The Congregational church was the key force that dominated all spiritual and secular affairs. Until 1731 Town Meetings and church meeting were one. Only in the latter 1700s with the establishment of new denominations did Stamford free itself from the stifling control of the church. The increasingly outward-looking and cosmopolitan perspective of Abraham Davenport and others forced Stamford to become a more progressive community.
The Purchase of Rippowams 1640
In 1640, Theophilus Eaton and the Rev. John Davenport of New Haven were anxious to increase the holdings of the New Haven Colony against those of the Connecticut Colony inland. They were equally concerned to secure holdings to the west against the Dutch of New Netherlands. With these two goals in mind, Captain Nathaniel Turner was dispatched westward to the lands then called Rippowams or Toquams to purchase them from the Native Americans then resident. In exchange for 12 coats, 12 hoes, 12 hatchets, 12 looking glasses (mirrors), 12 knives, 2 kettles, and 4 fathoms of white wampum, Ponus, Sagamore of Toquams and Wascusse, Sagamore of Shippan ‘sold’ the area of Stamford retaining only a small number of acres of planting lands for themselves. It is unlikely that the native Siwanoy, speakers of the greater Algonquin language group, understood what was intended by this exchange, and their failure to fully grasp the magnitude of this land transfer is illustrated by subsequent treaties in 1655, 1662 and 1701, each of which added additional payments to Ponus and his descendents while further clarifying the terms of the land exchange. By 1756, all Native Americans in the Stamford area had left.
The Wethersfield Connection 1641
The area of Stamford remained without settlers for only a brief time. Although the land now belonged to New Haven, it served little function without settlers. To this end, when trouble arose amongst the settlers at Wethersfield, conditions were ripe for resettling some of the Wethersfield men to Rippowams. Initially, the Rev. John Davenport traveled to Wethersfield to mediate the dispute that had arisen. The church community had fractured, with four of the pillars of the church and the ministers along with a minority of the congregation on one side, and the other three pillars with the majority of the congregation on the other. It became clear that an agreement was impossible and the offer of resettlement on the Rippowam land was made. Consequently on October 19, 1640, 20 men including the four pillars formed the Rippowam Company to purchase Rippowams from New Haven. Nine others joined shortly thereafter. On October 30, 1640, Andrew Ward and Robert Coe, representatives of the Company, arrived in New Haven. By November 14, the deal had been made, the Company acquiring the lands for a mere 33 pounds to be paid in kind (corn). From New Haven’s perspective, and that of Eaton and Davenport, the Company agreed to remain under the New Haven Colony jurisdiction and to retain one-fifth of the land for New Haven settlers for a year, thereafter the lands reverting to the Company. In 1643, Stamford was included in the creation of the United Colonies of New England under New Haven’s jurisdiction.
The Settling of Rippowams 1641–42
It was decided that the Rev. Richard Denton of Wethersfield and his family would arrive with others by mid-May of 1641. The remaining settlers and their families were to join them by November. By the spring of 1641, 29 men with their wives and families had arrived from Wethersfield. Between 1641 and 1643 another 55 settlers arrived. On April 6, 1642 the settlement changed its name to Stamford. It is believed the “Stamford” in England after which this Connecticut town was named was Stamford, Lincolnshire, England which supplied more than 80% of the original settlers of New England.
The Development of Stamford 1641–50
Further tensions result in the fission of the nascent colony in 1644. Rev. Denton and 17 families left Stamford for Hempstead, Long Island. He was quickly replaced by Rev. John Bishop, of Taunton, Massachusetts, who would serve as the spiritual leader of the community until 1694. Stamford quickly grew into a small but vital agrarian community. A mill was established on the Mill River almost immediately and preparations were made for a meetinghouse. The first meetinghouse, which served not only as the church but also as the fortification of the colony, was 30 feet square, built of logs and had a peaked roof.
The Division of Land
By the 1660s there were 40-50 households in Stamford. By 1680, the population was still only around 300, but by 1701 it had doubled to 600. Although there was some industry in shipbuilding, most people continued to farm exclusively. The town used an open field system, derived from medieval times, wherein plots of land in different fields were awarded to people so as to distribute good and bad land more equally. In addition, other lands were held in common as pasture. This land tenure system did not last past the 17th century.
The pace of land clearing remained slow, however, with an estimate of only 1.5 square miles or 960 acres planted in 1650. The value of land was clear though and the Stamford colonists worked to increase the size of their lands diligently as well as those of the town itself.
In 1645, Andrew Ward and Richard Law concluded a treaty with Piamikin, Sagamore of Roaton, through which they secured the Five Mile River as the eastern border. This was subsequently confirmed through a treaty in 1685. In 1655, a new treaty with Ponus and his son Onax fixed the dimensions of Stamford as 8 miles in breadth and 16 miles in length (north-south), for a total of 128 square miles. An additional four coats were paid. In 1687, a separate treaty with Chief Winbock and his sons yield Long Neck Point in what is now Darien and the following year another treaty with Taphance, another son of Ponus, reduced native holdings to a mere 20 acres. The final treaty in 1701 with Sagamore Catoona reconfirmed all deeds and quit claims and concluded negotiations between the natives and the colonists.
Independence from the New Haven Colony
Stamford had also become more independent by the1660s. Although it has been argued that each town was an autonomous religious community during the early colonial period, Stamford had chafed under the authority of the New Haven Colony. Only church members had been allowed a say in decisions in the town and New Haven frequently sent representatives to sit on the local courts and make decisions. With the restoration of Charles II in England, the colonists of Connecticut were quick to secure royal confirmation of the lands by charter. The Connecticut Colony was, however, faster to act than the New Haven Colony, and as a result the king granted a Charter on May 5, 1662 to the Connecticut Colony that incorporated those areas claimed by New Haven, including that settlement itself, within Connecticut’s domain. Stamford joined with Connecticut in 1662, but New Haven continued to steer its own course until January 5, 1665, when it finally recognized the authority of Connecticut. With the joining of New Haven to Connecticut, Rev. John Davenport’s spirit was broken. His goal of a theocratic state had vanished and he relocated to Boston, never to return to New Haven.
Stamford in 1694 on the Eve of the Pastorate of Rev. John Davenport
The town of Stamford at the end of Rev. John Bishop’s tenure was essentially an agricultural outpost. While some shipbuilding was taking place, and mills had been established on the rivers, most were still engaged in farming and animal husbandry. Trouble with the Native Americans had all but vanished.
In total area, Stamford had already begun to lose territories. In 1670 only one-third of the total land had been distributed. Between 1683 and 1699 all remaining lots were distributed. This distribution had led to the settlement of people farther away from the center. The hardships of travel made it increasingly difficult for people in outlying communities to get to the meetinghouse on Sundays. In 1680, those settled in the far north lands lobbied for the creation of a separate community and that year Bedford was established. A subsequent treaty in 1683 between Connecticut and New York, following the acquisition of that colony from the Dutch as a result of the Anglo-Dutch War, led to a fixing of the north border of Stamford at 8 miles north of the main town road. Thus, Stamford was reduced to 80 square miles.
Stamford During the Pastorate of John Davenport
In 1692, following the conclusion of the witch hysteria, Rev. John Bishop made it clear that he wanted relief. He had served since 1644 and was old and infirm. Thus, the call went out to Rev. John Davenport, grandson of Rev. John of New Haven. Stamford’s congregation had grown over Bishop’s tenure. In 1671, the second meetinghouse was constructed, 38 feet square. By 1702, the congregation had outgrown it again and a third meetinghouse was built that was 50 feet square. This one would stand until 1790.
The Rev. John Davenport accepted the Stamford post and served from 1694 until his death in February of 1731. His salary was fixed at 100 pounds per annum and in addition he was provided with firewood. Despite this low sum, Davenport was able to accumulate property and land during his tenure such that when he died he left an estate worth 10,000 pounds and over 5,000 acres of land. Clearly, his position as spiritual leader of the community, with a great deal of secular power as well, afforded him the opportunity to acquire great wealth. Davenport was a traditionalist, and his tenure was one during which there was little change in the community of Stamford. Between 1701 and 1727 only 20 people were formally admitted as new inhabitants. While Davenport participated in a number of significant occurrences, including the forging of the Saybrook Platform, in Stamford he sought to maintain the status quo. His tenure can be seen as a period of stasis, during which burgeoning forces of dissent and opposition were temporarily held at bay. While Stamford’s economy was diversifying with the construction of sawmills, fulling mills, and ships, as well as the development of lively craft industries, its spiritual life was conservative. The power Davenport wielded was partially owing to his status as scion of one of the more important colonial families. The respect people had for him permitted him to maintain a hard line. The force of his authority is illustrated by the rapid changes that followed almost immediately upon his death.
The Weakening of the Congregational Church: Internal Schisms
With the passing of John Davenport, the pace of change increased dramatically. The Rev. Ebenezer Wright (1731-46), Davenport’s successor, was an unremarkable man about whom little is known. He clearly did not have the authority to halt changes that not only eroded his authority but that of the Congregational Church also. In 1731, on the heels of Davenport’s passing, a Lay Society of the Congregational Church was organized, which was responsible for the affairs and property of the church. No longer were town meetings responsible for the church. While the church took over the management of the common school, the separation of the church from the town meetings gave a voice to those who were not members of the Congregational establishment. The power of the Stamford church was further eroded by the establishment of the Canaan Parish in 1731. The following year the parish of Stanwich was created, and in 1737 Middlesex Parish.
Both the Canaan and Middlesex Parishes would ultimately break away to form new towns. These communities made up part of the total 1640 people who lived in the lands of Stamford by 1735.
The Weakening of the Congregation Church: New Denominations
The iron hold of the Congregational Church was further weakened in 1742 by the creation of the Anglican establishment in Stamford. St. John’s Society was given permission to build their first church in 1742. It burned in 1744 but was replaced by a second edifice in 1747. The Rev. Ebenezer Dibble became pastor, leading the church until 1799.
The mid-18th century was also the time of the Great Revival c.1734-1742, a religious movement that challenged the conservatism of the traditional Congregational Church and caused a great religious fervor. The liberal New Lights set themselves to itinerant preaching against the established Old Lights. Stamford was an Old Light community and did not suffer much disruption by New Lights, though James Davenport, a son of Rev. John of Stamford, became a radical New Light preacher. He was ultimately censured for his activities and died at age 40.
The Rev. Wright died in 1746, to be replaced by the fiery Rev. Noah Welles (1746-1776). While the pulpit had continued to hold power over the community, clearly the grip over the pastor had diminished. Davenport had been able to stay the forces of change, partially by virtue of his own personality and authority, and partially because the population was still not great. With increasing population and economic diversity the forces of change could no longer be contained. In succeeding years, Stamford increasingly became a center of commerce, a recognized port of trade and a burgeoning farming community, producing many crops, chiefly potatoes and corn, as well as beef, pork and horses for export.
The authority of the Congregational establishment continued to decline. The North Stamford parish was established in 1781. Additionally, the Baptists founded their first house of worship in 1773 and a second church in the center of town in 1790. The Methodists, likewise, began preaching in the area as early as 1788.
On display in the exhibit:
The Bell Bible. This undated English Bible is probably early 17th century. It was the property of Lieutenant Francis Bell, one of the first settlers of Stamford. It records the September 1641 birth of Jonathan Bell, the first non-native American child born in Stamford. For many years the Bell Bible was on display on the main floor of the State National Bank of Connecticut, at 1 Atlantic Street, currently home of Bank of America.
Gift of the State National Bank of Connecticut
Betty Lamp. The Betty lamp, fueled by fish oil or animal fat, was a common lighting device in the early settlers’ homes. A tiny wick floating on the surface was held in place in the spout.
The Stamford Historical Society
Footwarmer. Made of turned walnut and pierced tin, this would have been filled with hot coals. It was primarily used for outings in the sleigh or taken to church or meeting house.
Gift of Mrs. Charlotte D.S. Cruikshank
Copper Tea Kettle. This early kettle originally had a spout as evidenced by the repair on its side. From its age, as given by the donor, it might resemble the “kettles” used as partial payment in the original purchase of land from the Indians. Transcription of note left with kettle:
This Copper Teakettle was made in England in the 16th Century and belonged to the Lum fameley who was the first settlers of the State of Conn. and was used by H. B. Lum who keep a tin shop and store under the Universalist Church and was used by him to pulverize Rosen for a number of years and by Origen S. Ensley, and was an apprenties to him in 1861 on the South West corner of Main and Atlantic Street. And was used by him until 1920…
This relic is presented to Minor Post G.A.R.
No. 85 Stamford, Conn.
By Origen S. Ensley
Sep. 1st 1921
Gift of Mr. Origen S. Ensley
Hoyt Barnum House
The Hoyt Barnum House on Bedford Street was built during the pastorate of the Reverend John Davenport. Built in 1699 by Samuel Hoyt, a blacksmith, it is the oldest extant house in Stamford. It now belongs to The Stamford Historical Society and is furnished with 18th century period furniture and colonial household effects. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open by appointment. This side view of the house was painted by Ned Hermann and is signed and dated 1970. He was a prolific watercolorist and a former president of the Stamford Art Association.
Gift of Mr. Richard A. Hermann
The Stamford Historical Society
Wethersfield Chest. This early l7th-century pine six-board storage chest retains its original staple hinges and compass-drawn decoration in red, green and white pigments. It was found in an early Wethersfield house and has been attributed to a Wethersfield area craftsman, perhaps one named Peter Blin.
The chest is ordinarily on display at the Hoyt Barnum House.
Take a virtual tour through the house
The Stamford Historical Society
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