THOMAS HOOKER

BY ALICE PORTER
Published in the
Connecticut Magazine
July - August 1906

Hooker Coat of Arms

-----------------------------------------------------------


It is my privilege and pleasure to write of an honored ancestor, t h e well known New England divine, Rev. Thomas Hooker, who was born at Marfield, Leicester County, England, probably about July 7th, 1586.

The little hamlet of Marfleld is one of the four towns which make up the Parish of Tilton, whose records, previous to 1610, having perished, it is impossible to ascertain the exact date of his birth. The common place of worship for this parish was the noble old church of St. Peter, built some time in the Twelfth Century and commanding a wide view over one of the most beautiful portions of midland England. This church is the place where Thomas Hooker was baptized, and where during his boyhood he doubtless attended divine worship. One wonders to find so beautiful and costly an edifice, with its embattled tower, containing its peal of Jour bells and lofty spire in so quiet and rural a spot. The grand old church of gray stone on the hill top, surrounded by the graves of the rude forefathers, the wide stretching prospect of wooded landscape and open fields, the small thatch covered village of Tilton, and the little hamlet of Marfleld, embowered in trees down in a valley, about a mile and a half away, is probably not much altered since Thomas Hooker looked upon it as a boy.

The Hooker family seems to have been one of some note, as the parish register and the records of the court of administration speak of the father and brother respectively as "Mr. Hooker, gentleman," designations which at that date were given only to persons of some social standing. Who his mother was is unknown, but she lived to see her son become a preacher of note and the object of special hatred by Archbishop Land, and banishment from the Kingdom.

The family life may have been comfortable and happy in the little Marfield home, but it must have been comparatively narrow and limited, the chief point of interest outside the concerns of home being the church. At the age of 13 or 14 young Hooker was determined on getting an education, and there is no doubt that the place of his training, preparatory to the University, was the school at Market Bosworth. It was just at this time that the great Puritan and antiPuritan conflict was then in progress, and echoes of the stirring events connected with these public matters must have reached Market Bosworth, and have been the subject of frequent converse among the bright boys gathered there. Hooker was about 18 years of age when he entered the University. Here, then, at Cambridge as a student for certainly seven years, and as a Fellow resident for some years more, Thomas Hooker was from the age of 18 to 28 or 30, in the midst of the most considerable actions in the great events of the times.

There is a story of one of the incidents of his life about this time, which may be of interest:

"On returning home, after his course of preparation for the ministry, he found his friends and townsmen in a great state of excitement over what was considered to be a haunted house. The house was a solitary one, standing on the outskirts of the town, and had been empty for several years, the owners being unable to rent or sell it, or even persuade a care-taker to live in it, rent free.

"Strange sounds were heard from the house at night, and lights were seen flashing from the windows, wierd shapes were seen by the terrified watchers passing to and fro within the house, and it was rumored that the Devil himself, in proper array, with horns, hoofs and tail, had been seen.

"This young clergyman, being of a bold nature, volunteered to sleep in the house and ascertain the truth of the stories. In spite of the entreaties of his friends he went to the house and to bed in a second story room, his pistols on a table by his side.

"The early, part of the night passed quietly and he slept. soundly, but by and by he was awakened, by the, certainty that some one, was, in the room with him. Sitting up he, struck a Lght and there saw, gloweing at him in the dim light the alarming figure of the Devil, standing motionless at the foot of the bed.

"Without an, instant's hesitation our hero, seizing his pistols, sprang from the bed `and threw, himself at the intruder. The Devil turned and fled, the young clergyman after him. Down the stairs they. went, through the house, until they reached the cellar stairs. Down went the Devil and his: pursuer came tumbling after. reaching the ground just in timc to see a square of light in the floor, through which the Devil was disappearing. He grasped the edge of the trap door before it could be fastened and dropped into the subterranean passage, which opened out into a larger brightly lighted room. Here he found a number of men, engaged in making counterfeit money, and to his horror he recognized some of his friends and fellow townsmen, wellknown citizens, prominent in church and business. They all clustered about the breathless Devil and a hurried consultation was held, as to what should be done with their unwelcome visitor.

"As soon as the latter had rec‚vered his breath he said. cooly: `Gentlemen, it is publicly known that I slept in this house to-night, and if I do not appear in the morning, this house will be razed to the ground, and y,our secret be `discovered. If you will solemnly promise to cease this wicked work for ten years from this night, I will on my side solemnly promise you not to mention for, ten years what I have learned to-night.' This was agreed tol and Thomas Hooker then returned to ,his bed where he spent the rest of the night in peace.

"The next morning he,, reported that there was nothing uncanny about the house and that he had found everything much to his taste.

"The house was soon, after rented, and nothing more was heard of the ghost stories.. Time passed and the young minister joined the Puritans, and came to America., When nearly 11 years passed Mr. Hooker received from over the. sea: a package which contained' a magnificent silver tankard with, the; inscription `‡ompliments of the, Devil.' The tankard has been handed down for many' generations, a treasured heirloom."

Mr. Hooker was first, called to preach at Esher in Surrey, a small place 16 miles, from Westminster Bridge, with, a scanty living of 40 pounds a year. Here he met and married his wife, a lady of culture and worthy to be the companion of such a man.

About 1625 he accepted an invitation to establish himself as lecturer at Chelmsford, Essex County. Here be labored for three years and many people flocked to hear hith, some of great quality, among them being the Earl of Warwick, who afterwards sheltered and befriended his family when Mr. Hooker was forced to flee the country.

These lectures attracted the attention and displeasure of Land, Archbishop of London, who, on account of Mr. Hooker's popularity with the people, was anxious to silence him.

Shortly after this he was forced to lay down his ministry in Chelmsford and retired to Little. Baddow where be kept a school in his own house. Here he employed as an assistant John Elliott, afterward the celebrated apostle to the Indians.

Land's vengeance pursued him and he was cited to appear before the High Commission Court. On account of sickness he did not respond. His friends gave bonds to the amount of 50 pounds, which they afterwards paid, and Hooker secretly went aboard a vessel for Holland.

He was pursued, but the officer arrived at the sea shore just too late for his arrest. He arrived safely in Holland, and was for an uncertain period resident in Amsterdam, where he went to Delft and afterward to Rotterdam.

But the state of things in Holland was unsatisfactory, and probably before this negotiations had already been opened for him to go to New England. As early as August, 1632, a company called Mr. Hooker's company were already at Mt. Wallaston. Some time in 1833 Mr. Hooker crossed over from Holland to England and after a very narrow escape from arrest, be, with Mr. John Gotton, and the Rev. Samuel Stone, his assistant, boarded the Griffin, at the Downs and concealed their identity till they were well out at sea.

Eight weeks brought them to New England and brought Mr. Hooker and Mr. Stone to the congregation waiting for them at Newtown, the place to which the Braintree Company had been ordered to remove from their first settlement at Mt. Wallaston. Mr. Hooker and Mr. Stone arrived in Boston September 4th, 1633. They went at once to Newtown, and on the 11th of October following, in connection with a "fast" were chosen Pastor and Teacher; and thus the grave,, godly, and judicious Hooker and the rhetorical Mr. Stone entered upon their work side by side. A house of worship was erected, with the then very unusual appointment of a "bell upon it." The church doubtless' prospered, as well as most of the new churches of the country. Its minister was as honored as any man in the colony, its prominent lay member, Mr. John Haynes, was chosen Governor of Massachusetts in May, 1635, on which occasion he signalized his liberality by declining to receive the usual salary of the office.

The town was apparently as prosperous and wealthy as any in the Bay, but there was all along from very near the arrival of the Griffin's Company, a certain uneasiness in respect to their situation, all the causes of which are somewhat difficult to trace, and which at last, culminated in the removal of nearly the entire membership of the church and population of the town to Hartford, Conn.

The Newtown pilgrims struck out into the pathless woods. There were hills to be climbed and streams to be forded, and morasses to be crossed. Their guides were the compass and the Northern star. The Pastor's wife, Mrs. Hooker, was carried in a litter because of her infirmity. Men and women of refinement and delicate breeding turned pioneers of untracked forests in search of a wilderness home. The lowing of cattle sounding through the forest aisles, not to mention the bleating of goats and the squealing of swine, summoned them to each morning's advance. The day began and ended with the voice of prayer. Their toilsome and devious way led them to near the mouth of the Chicopee, not far from where the City of Springfield now stands.

Thence, down along the Connecticut was a comparatively straight and easy pathway.

The wide full river, flowing with a larger tide than now and swollen with its northern snows, was crossed on rafts and rudely constructed boats, and cheered by the sight of some pioneer attempts at habitation and settlement, the Ark of the First Church of Hartford rested and the weary pilgrims who bore it thither stood still.

Arriving upon the ground one of the earliest transactions was the purchase of land from the Indians. A temporary structure was first built to afford a meeting place for the people, and the first meeting house was erected in 1638. The worshippers were seated by public authorities according to their rank, men and women apart and on opposite sides.

The year 1638 witnessed the preliminary proceedings very imperfectly recorded of one of the most interesting events in all civil history, the establishment of a written constitution for the government of the Colony.

"The first written Constitution in the history of the Nations."

John Fiske says: "It was the first written Constitution known to history, that created a government, and it marked the beginnings of American democracy, of which Thomas Hooker deserves, more than any other man, to be called the father.

The Pastor of the Hartford Church was Connecticut's great Legislator.

Mr. Hooker made the journey from Hartford to Boston and back on public business certainly. three times through the trackless wilderness on horse-back. After nine years of labor in Connecticut, an epidemical sickness prevailed over the whole country, and the blow fell hard in Hartford.

Many of the citizens of the town died and among them that faithful servant of the Lord, Mr. Thomas Hooker, who for piety, wisdom, learning and zeal might be compared with men of greatest note.

The fruits of his labors in both England's shall preserve an honorable and happy remembrance of him forever.

He died July 7th, 1647, at the age of sixty-one. He is buried in the old cemetery at the rear of the First Church of Hartford, in which such splendid work has lately been done by the Ruth Wyllis Chapter, D. A. R. They have cleared, restored and brought into view this cemetery, where repose the bones of so many of Connecticut's early settlers.

The cemetery was entirely hidden from view by tall buildings surrounding it, neglected, unseen, and forgotten. Through the efforts of these women a large sum of money was raised with which the unsightly buildings on one side of the cemetery were purchased and torn down, thus bringing the sacred lot into view, and opening onto a street which runs from Main Street to the Park.

The tangle of weeds that had overgrown the entire ground was mown down, the broken stones mended and restored, and the place is now one of beauty, with its trees and winding walks, and of great interest to all who care to visit it. Here repose the mortal remains of the Rev. Thomas Hooker, whose soul is with the just, and whose memory is that of one of the greatest and best of men.

Return to [History at Ray's Place]

Also see Decendants of Rev. Thomas Hooker.

.

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy