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The U.S. state of Connecticut began as three distinct settlements, referred to at the time as "Colonies" or "Plantations". These ventures were eventually combined under a single royal charter in 1662.
Various Algonquian tribes inhabited the area prior to European settlement. The Dutch were the first Europeans in Connecticut. In 1614 Adriaen Block explored the coast of Long Island Sound, and sailed up the Connecticut River at least as far as the confluence of the Park River, site of modern Hartford, Connecticut. By 1623, the new Dutch West India Company regularly traded for furs there and ten years later they fortified it for protection from the Pequot Indians as well as from the expanding English colonies. They fortified the site, which was named "House of Hope" (also identified as "Fort Hoop", "Good Hope" and "Hope"), but encroaching English colonists made them agree to withdraw in the 1650 Treaty of Hartford, and by 1654 they were gone.
The first English colonists came from the Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. They settled at Windsor in 1633, Wethersfield in 1634, and Hartford in 1636. Thomas Hooker led the Hartford group.
In 1631, the Earl of Warwick granted a patent to a company of investors headed by William Fiennes, 1st Viscount Saye and Sele and Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke. They funded the establishment of the Saybrook Colony (named for the two lords) at the mouth of the Connecticut River, where Fort Saybrook, was erected in 1636. Another Puritan group left Massachusetts and started the New Haven Colony farther west on the northern shore of Long Island Sound in 1637. The Massachusetts colonies did not seek to govern their progeny in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Communication and travel were too difficult, and it was also convenient to have a place for nonconformists to go.
The English settlement and trading post at Windsor especially threatened the Dutch trade, since it was upriver and more accessible to Native people from the interior. That fall and winter the Dutch sent a party upriver as far as modern Springfield, Massachusetts spreading gifts to convince the indigenous inhabitants in the area to bring their trade to the Dutch post at Hartford. Unfortunately, they also spread smallpox and, by the end of the 1633–34 winter, the Native population of the entire valley was reduced from over 8,000 to less than 2,000. Europeans took advantage of this decimation by further settling the fertile valley.
The Pequot War was the first serious armed conflict between the indigenous peoples and the European settlers in New England. The ravages of disease, coupled with trade pressures, invited the Pequots to tighten their hold on the river tribes. Additional incidents began to involve the colonists in the area in 1635, and next spring their raid on Wethersfield prompted the three towns to meet. Following the raid on Wethersfield, the war climaxed when 300 Pequot men, women, and children were burned out of their village, hunted down and massacred.
On May 1, 1637, leaders of Connecticut Colony's river towns each sent delegates to the first General Court held at the meeting house in Hartford. This was the start of self-government in Connecticut. They pooled their militia under the command of John Mason of Windsor, and declared war on the Pequots. When the war was over, the Pequots had been destroyed as a tribe. In the Treaty of Hartford in 1638, the various New England colonies and their Native allies divided the lands of the Pequots amongst themselves.
The River Towns had created a general government when faced with the demands of a war. In 1639, they took the unprecedented step of documenting the source and form of that government. They enumerated individual rights and concluded that a free people were the only source of government's authority. Rapid growth and expansion grew under this new regime.
On April 22, 1662, the Connecticut Colony succeeded in gaining a Royal Charter that embodied and confirmed the self-government that they had created with the Fundamental Orders. The only significant change was that it called for a single Connecticut government with a southern limit at Long Island Sound, and a western limit of the Pacific ocean, which meant that this charter was still in conflict with the New Netherland colony.
Since 1638, the New Haven Colony had been independent of the river towns, but there other factors added to the Charter. New Haven Colony lost its strongest governor, Theophilus Eaton, and suffered economically after losing its only ocean going ship. Furthermore, in the early 1660s the colony harbored several of the regicide judges who had sentenced King Charles I to death. The colony was absorbed by the Connecticut Colony partly as royal punishment by King Charles II for harboring the regicide judges. When the English took New Netherland in the 1660s the new government of the Province of New York claimed the New Haven settlements on Long Island. By January 1665, the merger of the two colonies was completed.
Indian pressures were relieved for some time by the severity and ferocity of the Pequot War. King Philip's War (1675–1676) brought renewed fighting to Connecticut. Although primarily a war affecting Massachusetts, Connecticut provided men and supplies. This war effectively removed any remaining warlike Native American influences in Connecticut.
In 1686, Sir Edmund Andros was commissioned as the Royal Governor of the Dominion of New England. Andros maintained that his commission superseded Connecticut's 1662 charter. At first, Connecticut ignored this situation. But in late October 1687, Andros arrived with troops and naval support. Governor Robert Treat had no choice but to convene the assembly. Andros met with the governor and General Court on the evening of October 31, 1687.
Governor Andros praised their industry and government, but after he read them his commission, he demanded their charter. As they placed it on the table, people blew out all the candles. When the light was restored, the charter was missing. According to legend, it was hidden in the Charter Oak. Sir Edmund named four members to his Council for the Government of New England and proceeded to his capital at Boston.
Since Andros viewed New York and Massachusetts as the important parts of his Dominion, he mostly ignored Connecticut. Aside from some taxes demanded and sent to Boston, Connecticut also mostly ignored the new government. When word arrived that the Glorious Revolution had placed William and Mary on the throne, the citizens of Boston arrested Andros and sent him back to England in chains. The Connecticut court met and voted on May 9, 1689 to restore the old charter. They also reelected Robert Treat as governor each year until 1698.
According to the 1650 Treaty of Hartford with the Dutch, the western boundary of Connecticut ran north from the west side of Greenwich Bay "provided the said line come not within 10 miles (16 km) of Hudson River." On the other hand, Connecticut's original charter in 1662 granted it all the land to the "South Sea" (i.e. the Pacific Ocean).
Needless to say, this brought it into territorial conflict with those states which then lay between Connecticut and the Pacific. A patent issued on March 12, 1664, granted the Duke of York "all the land from the west side of Connecticut River to the east side of Delaware Bay." In October, 1664, Connecticut and New York agreed to grant Long Island to New York, and establish the boundary between Connecticut and New York as a line from the Mamaroneck River "north-northwest to the line of the Massachusetts", crossing the Hudson River near Peekskill and the boundary of Massachusetts near the northwest corner of the current Ulster County, New York. This agreement was never really accepted, however, and boundary disputes continued. The Governor of New York issued arrest warrants for residents of Greenwich, Rye, and Stamford, and founded a settlement north of Tarrytown in what Connecticut considered part of its territory in May 1682. Finally, on November 28, 1683, the states negotiated a new agreement establishing the border as 20 miles (32 km) east of the Hudson River, north to Massachusetts. In recognition of the wishes of the residents, the 61,660 acres (249.5 km2) east of the Byram River making up the Connecticut Panhandle were granted to Connecticut. In exchange, Rye was granted to New York, along with a 1.81-mile (2.91 km) wide strip of land running north from Ridgefield to Massachusetts alongside Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester Counties, New York, known as the "Oblong".
In the 1750s, the western frontier remained on the other side of New York. In 1754 the Susquehannah Company of Windham, Connecticut obtained from a group of Native Americans a deed to a tract of land along the Susquehanna River which covered about one-third of present-day Pennsylvania. This venture met with the disapproval of not only Pennsylvania, but also of many in Connecticut including the Deputy Governor, who opposed Governor Jonathan Trumbull's support for the company, fearing that pressing these claims would endanger the charter of the colony. In 1769, Wilkes-Barre was founded by John Durkee and a group of 240 Connecticut settlers. The British government finally ruled "that no Connecticut settlements could be made until the royal pleasure was known". In 1773 the issue was settled in favor of Connecticut and Westmoreland, Connecticut was established as a town and later a county.
Pennsylvania did not accede to the ruling, however, and open warfare broke out between them and Connecticut, ending with an attack in July 1778, which killed approximately 150 of the settlers and forced thousands to flee. While they periodically attempted to regain their land, they were continuously repulsed, until, in December 1783, a commission ruled in favor of Pennsylvania. After complex litigation, in 1786, Connecticut dropped its claims by a deed of cession to Congress, in exchange for freedom for war debt and confirmation of the rights to land further west in present-day Ohio, which became known as the Western Reserve. Pennsylvania granted the individual settlers from Connecticut the titles to their land claims. Although the region had been called Westmoreland County, Connecticut, it has no relationship with the current Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
The Western Reserve, which Connecticut received in recompense for giving up all claims to any Pennsylvania land in 1786, constituted a strip of land in what is currently northeast Ohio, 120 miles (190 km) wide from east to west bordering Lake Erie and Pennsylvania. Connecticut owned this territory until selling it to the Connecticut Land Company in 1795 for $1,200,000, which resold parcels of land to settlers. In 1796, the first settlers, led by Moses Cleaveland, began a community which was to become Cleveland, Ohio; in a short time, the area became known as "New Connecticut".
An area 25 miles (40 km) wide at the western end of the Western Reserve, set aside by Connecticut in 1792 to compensate those from Danbury, New Haven, Fairfield, Norwalk, and New London who had suffered heavy losses when they were burnt out by fires set by British raids during the War of Independence, became known as the Firelands. By this time, however, most of those granted the relief by the state were either dead or too old to actually move there. The Firelands now constitutes Erie and Huron Counties, as well as part of Ashland County, Ohio.
Connecticut was the only one of the 13 colonies involved in the American Revolution that did not have an internal revolution of its own. It had been largely self-governing since its beginnings. Governor Jonathan Trumbull was elected every year from 1769 to 1784. Connecticut's government continued unchanged even after the revolution, until the United States Constitution was adopted in 1789. A Connecticut privateer was the Guilford, formerly the Loyalist privateer Mars.
Several significant events during the American Revolution occurred in Connecticut. Notably, the landing of a British invasion force in Westport, Connecticut which subsequently marched to and burnt the city of Danbury, Connecticut for safeguarding Patriot supplies and was engaged by General David Wooster and General Benedict Arnold on their return in the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777, which would deter future strategic landing attempts by the British for the remainder of the war. The state was also the launching site for a number of raids against Long Island orchestrated by Samuel Holden Parsons and Benjamin Tallmadge, and provided men and material for the war effort, especially to Washington's army outside New York City. General William Tryon raided the Connecticut coast in July 1779, focusing on New Haven, Norwalk, and Fairfield. The French General the Comte de Rochambeau celebrated the first Catholic Mass in Connecticut at Lebanon in summer 1781 while marching through the state from Rhode Island to rendezvous with General George Washington in Dobbs Ferry, New York. New London and Groton Heights were raided in September 1781 by Connecticut native and turncoat Benedict Arnold.
New England was the stronghold of the Federalist party. One historian explains how well organized it was in Connecticut:
Given the power of the Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans had to work harder to win. In 1806, the state leadership sent town leaders instructions for the forthcoming elections. Every town manager was told by state leaders "to appoint a district manager in each district or section of his town, obtaining from each an assurance that he will faithfully do his duty." Then, the town manager was instructed to compile lists and total up the number of taxpayers, the number of eligible voters, how many were "decided republicans," "decided federalists," or "doubtful," and finally to count the number of supporters who were not currently eligible to vote but who might qualify (by age or taxes) at the next election. These highly detailed returns were to be sent to the county manager. They, in turn, were to compile county-wide statistics and send it on to the state manager. Using the newly compiled lists of potential voters, the managers were told to get all the eligibles to the town meetings, and help the young men qualify to vote. At the annual official town meeting, the managers were told to, "notice what republicans are present, and see that each stays and votes till the whole business is ended. And each District-Manager shall report to the Town-Manager the names of all republicans absent, and the cause of absence, if known to him." Of utmost importance, the managers had to nominate candidates for local elections, and to print and distribute the party ticket. The state manager was responsible for supplying party newspapers to each town for distribution by town and district managers. This highly coordinated "get-out-the-vote" drive would be familiar to modern political campaigners, but was the first of its kind in world history.
Connecticut prospered during the era, as the seaports were busy and the first textile factories were built. The American Embargo and the British blockade during the War of 1812 severely hurt the export business, but did help promote the rapid growth of industry. Eli Whitney of New Haven was one of many engineers and inventors who made the state a world leader in machine tools and industrial technology generally. The state was known for its political conservatism, typified by its Federalist party and the Yale College of Timothy Dwight. The foremost intellectuals were Dwight and Noah Webster, who compiled his great dictionary in New Haven. Religious tensions polarized the state, as the established Congregational Church, in alliance with the Federalists, tried to maintain its grip on power. The failure of the Hartford Convention in 1814 wounded the Federalists, who were finally upended by the Republicans in 1817.
Up until this time, Connecticut had adhered to the 1662 Charter, and with the independence of the American colonies over forty years prior, much of what the Charter stood for was no longer relevant. In 1818, a new constitution was adopted that was the first piece of written legislation to separate church and state in Connecticut, and give equality all religions. Gubernatorial powers were also expanded as well as increased independence for courts by allowing their judges to serve life terms.
Connecticut started off with the raw materials of abundant running water and navigable waterways, and using the Yankee work ethic quickly became an industrial leader. Between the birth of the U.S. patent system in 1790 and 1930, Connecticut had more patents issued per capita than any other state; in the 1800s, when the U.S. as a whole was issued one patent per three thousand population, Connecticut inventors were issued one patent for every 700–1000 residents. Connecticut's first recorded invention was a lapidary machine, by Abel Buell of Killingworth, in 1765.
As a result of the industrialization of the state and New England as a region, Connecticut manufacturers played a prominent role in supplying the Union Army and Navy with weapons, ammunition, and military materiel during the Civil War. A number of Connecticut residents were generals in the Federal service and Gideon Welles was the United States Secretary of the Navy and a confidant of President Abraham Lincoln.
Starting in the 1830s, and accelerating when Connecticut abolished slavery entirely in 1848, African Americans from in- and out-of-state began relocating to urban centers for employment and opportunity, forming new neighborhoods such as Bridgeport's Little Liberia.
Connecticut factories in Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and Hartford were magnets for European immigrants. The largest groups comprised Italian American, and Polish American, and other Eastern Europeans. They brought much needed unskilled labor and Catholicism to a historically Protestant state. A significant number of Jewish immigrants also arrived in this period due to an 1843 change in the law. Connecticut's population was almost 30% immigrant by 1910.
Not everyone welcomed the new immigrants and the change in the state's ethnic and religious makeup. The Ku Klux Klan had a following among some in Connecticut after it was reorganized in Georgia in 1915. It preached a doctrine of Protestant control of America and wanted to keep down blacks, Jews and Catholics. The Klan enjoyed only a brief period of popularity in the state, but it had a peak of 15,000 members in 1925. The group was most active in New Haven, New Britain and Stamford, which all had large Catholic populations. By 1926, the Klan leadership was divided, and it lost strength, although it continued to maintain small, local branches for years afterward in Stamford, Bridgeport, Darien, Greenwich and Norwalk. The Klan has since disappeared from the state.
With rising unemployment in both urban and rural areas, Connecticut Democrats saw their chance to return to power. The hero of the movement was Yale English professor Governor Wilbur Lucius Cross (1931–1939), who emulated much of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies by creating new public services and instituted a minimum wage. The Merritt Parkway was constructed in this period.
However, in 1938, the Democratic Party was wracked by controversy, which quickly allowed the Republicans to gain control once again, with Governor Raymond E. Baldwin. Connecticut became a highly competitive, two-party state.
The lingering Depression soon gave way to unparalleled opportunity with the United States involvement in World War II (1941–1945). Roosevelt's call for America to be the Arsenal of Democracy led to remarkable growth in munition-related industries, such as airplane engines, radio, radar, proximity fuzes, rifles, and a thousand other products. Pratt and Whitney made airplane engines, Cheney sewed silk parachutes, and Electric Boat built submarines. This was coupled with traditional manufacturing including guns, ships, uniforms, munitions, and artillery. Ken Burns focused on Waterbury's munitions production in his 2007 miniseries The War. Although most munitions production ended in 1945, high tech electronics and airplane parts continued.
In the Cold War years, Connecticut's suburbs thrived while its cities struggled. Connecticut built the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571) and other essential weapons for The Pentagon. The increased job market gave the state the highest per capita income at the beginning of the 1960s. The increased standard of living could be seen in the various suburban neighborhoods that began to develop outside major cities. Construction of major highways such as the Connecticut Turnpike caused former small towns to become locations for large-scale development, a trend that continues to this day.
However, all of these developments also led to the economic downfall of many of Connecticut's cities, many of which remain dotted with abandoned mills and other broken-down buildings. During this time, Connecticut's cities saw major growth in the African American and Latino populations. African Americans and Latinos inherited urban spaces that were no longer a high priority for the state or private industry, and by the 1980s crime and urban blight were major issues. In fact, the poor conditions that many inhabited were cause for militant movements that pushed for the gentrification of ghettos and the desegregation of the school system. In 1987, Hartford, became the first American city to elect an African-American woman as mayor, Carrie Saxon Perry.
Connecticut business thrived until the end of the 1980s, with many well-known corporations moving to Fairfield County, including General Electric, American Brands, and Union Carbide. The state also benefited from the defense buildup initiated by Ronald Reagan, due to such major employers as Electric Boat shipyards, Sikorsky helicopters, and Pratt & Whitney jet engines.
Connecticut's dependence on the defense industry posed an economic challenge at the end of the Cold War. The resulting budget crisis helped elect Lowell Weicker as Governor on a third party ticket in 1990. Weicker's remedy, a state income tax, proved effective in balancing the budget but politically unpopular, as Weicker retired after a single term.
With newly "reconquered" land, the Pequots initiated plans for the construction of a multi-million dollar casino complex to be built on reservation land. The Foxwoods Casino was completed in 1992 and the enormous revenue it received made the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation one of the wealthiest in the country. With the newfound money, great educational and cultural initiatives were carried out, including the construction of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. The Mohegan Reservation gained political recognition shortly thereafter and, in 1994, opened another successful casino (Mohegan Sun) near the town of Uncasville. The success of casino gambling helped shift the state's economy away from manufacturing to entertainment, such as ESPN, financial services, including hedge funds and pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer.
In the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 65 state residents were killed. The vast majority were Fairfield County residents who were working in the World Trade Center. Greenwich lost 12 residents, Stamford and Norwalk each lost nine and Darien lost six. A state memorial was later set up at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport. The New York City skyline can be seen from the park.
A number of political scandals rocked Connecticut in the early 21st century. These included the 2003 removal from office of the mayors of Bridgeport, Joseph P. Ganim on 16 corruption charges, as well as Waterbury mayor Philip A. Giordano, who was charged with 18 counts of sexual abuse of two girls.
In 2004, Governor John G. Rowland resigned during a corruption investigation. Rowland later plead guilty to federal charges, and his successor M. Jodi Rell, focused her administration on reforms in the wake of the Rowland scandal.
In April 2005, Connecticut passed a law which grants all rights of marriage to same-sex couples. However, the law required that such unions be called "civil unions", and that the title of marriage be limited to those unions whose parties are of the opposite sex. The state was the first to pass a law permitting civil unions without a prior court proceeding. In October 2008, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ordered same-sex marriage legalized.
The state's criminal justice system also dealt with the first execution in the state since 1960, the 2005 execution of serial killer Michael Ross and was rocked by the July 2007 home invasion murders in Cheshire. As the accused perpetrators of the Petit murders were out on parole, Governor M. Jodi Rell promised a full investigation into the state's criminal justice policies.
On April 11, 2012 the State House of Representatives voted to end the state's rarely enforced death penalty; the State Senate having previously passed the measure on April 5. Governor Daniel Malloy announced that "when it gets to my desk I will sign it". Eleven inmates were on death row at that time, including the two men convicted of the July 2007 Cheshire, Connecticut, home invasion murders. Controversy exists both in that the legislation is not retroactive and does not commute their sentences and that the repeal is against the majority view of the state's citizens, as 62% are for retaining it.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children and 6 staff, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut, and then killed himself. It was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.