« PreviousContinue »
doomed to disappointment, and the failure seems to have been due partly to mismanagement and partly to misfortune.
New Haven merchants soon discovered that, owing to the small number of Indians in their neighborhood, the fur trade would never reach any considerable proportions. The plan was then conceived of establishing trading settlements on the Delaware, where the prospect of a lucrative commerce with the redmen was more promising. This project, it seems to me, can be characterized as having been extremely unwise, under the circumstances, and indicative of a lack of judgment and forethought. The English settlers at both New Haven and Connecticut were already at odds with the Dutch over territorial claims, and any further encroachment by them at that time was deliberately to invite from the testy Dutch governor of New Amsterdam the retaliation which quickly followed. Besides, the fact that the Swedes occupied territory in close proximity should have deterred the New Haven traders. Even if the plan was to make Delaware the larger settlement, then, as was the case ten years later, the success of the enterprise would have been very doubtful. However, commercial zeal induced a number of the leading merchants to invest their capital in the project, and the colony itself aided the undertaking. Captain Lamberton was sent to make a beginning and purchase the necessary land from the Indians. Time does not permit of the details. The Dutch promptly resented the intrusion, coöperated with the Swedes, expelled the Englishmen, burned their huts and ill-treated Lamberton. Greatly chagrined and materially affected by the severe financial loss, New Haven endeavored to recover damages, but in vain, as the other New England colonies refused to render any assistance. The undertaking had cost the New Haven adventurers more than a thousand pounds, and the following Court record of 1644 is indicative of the distress it occasioned: "Roger Knap was discharged of his fine which was sett upon his head for want of armes, because the Court was informed that his armes was burnt in Delaware Bay, and after he came hither he was afflicted with sickness and so poore thatt he was not able to buy armes."
The claim to the Delaware lands was not abandoned, however, and New Haven vessels occasionally visited the region to trade with the Indians. The project of making a settlement there was revived later, but not carried out, as we shall see presently.
Misfortune continued to follow the New Haven merchants, and losses were met with continually. Some vessels, engaged in the coasting trade, were wrecked through carelessness or incompetence. Merchants trading in Virginia and the Barbadoes sustained losses as the result of bad management. Their cargoes proved to be unsalable. Attempts to sell poor material or bad produce injured New Haven's commercial reputation. These continual failures rapidly diminished the resources of the traders and conduced to the impoverishment of the colony as a whole.
Alarmed by the threatening attitude of the Dutch, and realizing their exposed position, New Haven, in 1644, adopted measures for defence. The situation forcibly reminded her leaders that protection from mother England might be desirable and even necessary. This suggested the need of a charter of government which would guarantee such protection.
New Haven had been founded without a charter. When they left England in 1637, Mr. Davenport and Mr. Eaton could not have obtained one had they asked it. King Charles would, more likely, have thrown them into prison. So the colony was established practically as an independent state, and did not even acknowledge the king.
There is evidence that New Haven early realized a danger in the growing importance and influence of Connecticut. In the articles of Confederation adopted by the four colonies of New England in 1643, it was expressly provided that no two of them should be joined in one without the consent of the rest. But New Haven evidently considered this an insufficient guarantee, and was very anxious to obtain a recognized position as a legally distinct New England colony. A charter from the home government would alone give them a sense of security. The time seemed favorable for procuring this recognition, in 1644, as the government of England was in the hands of their friends,
the Puritans, and an application could be made to parliament for a charter with a reasonable hope of success. The plan was a feasible one and Rhode Island had just procured such an instrument.
There was one serious obstacle to the acomplishment of this plan, however; that was the matter of expense. Charters cost money. There were numerous fees to pay in the course of the negotiations and the aid of influential persons must be obtained by means of valuable gifts. Then, too, an agent must be employed to manage the business.
The remaining capital of the New Haven Colony was small. Besides the losses incurred in their different ventures, the New Haven settlers had expended a large proportion of their capital in building their town-an unnecessarily large amount, if we may believe contemporary accounts. The most elegant houses to be found in New England were erected at New Haven and proved costly, both to build and maintain. Thus at the end of six years the resources of the colony were greatly reduced. Notwithstanding this, and in spite of the discouragements and failures already experienced, the New Haven merchants were unwilling to abandon their efforts to build up a successful trading center. They continued to see visions of a harbor filled with ships laden with rich cargoes. They therefore resolved to make one more heroic attempt to accomplish their desire. The new project was an ambitious one, and consisted of the opening of direct trade with the mother country. Thus far trade with England had been carried on through the medium of Massachusetts Bay. Large ships were required for the ocean traffic and no one person at New Haven had sufficient capital to build them. To procure such a ship, the settlers combined their remaining available funds, hoping to repair some of their losses and at the same time obtain money to pay for the coveted charter. Besides it was evidently thought desirable that the quest for a charter should be made in a ship of their own, to impress the authorities with the fact that the suppliant colony had sufficient wealth and consequence to maintain direct communication with the mother country.
In November, 1644, the General Court of the New Haven Colony appointed Mr. Thomas Gregson as agent to procure a charter from Parliament and at the same time appropriated the sum of two hundred pounds to meet the expense. This amount was to be furnished in good salable beaver skins. There are two separate records of this action of the General Court, and an important difference between them throws an interesting light upon the relations then existing between New Haven and Connecticut. One simply states that the General Court "did see cause to putt forth their best endeavors to procure a pattent from the Parliament as judging it a fit season now for that end." The other record adds the statement that the Court "did see cause to joyne with Connecticut in sending to procure a pattent from the Parliament for these parts." It is significant that the Connecticut records contain no reference whatever to the subject. In the controversy which arose between the two colonies twenty years later, this circumstance was noted. At that time New Haven asserted that this action of 1644 was taken with the "consent and desire of Connecticut concur therein," and that the Connecticut magistrates, "with the consent of their General Court, desired to join New Haven in procuring that patent for common privileges to both in their distinct jurisdictions, and left it to Mr. Eaton's wisdom to have the patent framed accordingly." Connecticut did not deny this, but claimed that they could find no record of it! There is reason to suspect that not everything "propounded" went into the Connecticut records, particularly concerning their early relations with New Haven. However, the circumstance is interesting, not only as indicating that New Haven was alive to the danger from Connecticut's territorial ambitions, but also as suggesting the form of charter which they desired to procure. One is almost led to the conclusion that the New Haven authorities realized that a fight for independence would be inevitable if they remained without charter protection, and also that there was some doubt in their minds of being able to obtain one unaided. Their plan seems to have been to procure one comprehensive patent covering the territory of both colonies and
providing for two distinct and separate jurisdictions within that territory. Thus New Haven would be able to maintain her peculiar polity without interference from Connecticut. There was precedent for this scheme. The original Virginia Company, with its two distinct branches, the London and the Plymouth, was a model for it. A general council to manage affairs in which both should be concerned, was possibly intended. Whether Parliament would have consented to such an arrangement, it would of course be difficult to determine.
Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no evidence that Connecticut gave any material aid in sending Mr. Gregson to England. More than a year passed before the preparations for his departure could be completed. A ship was purchased in Rhode Island and then chartered by "The Company of Merchants of New Haven," of which Mr. Gregson was partner and agent. We can easily imagine the interest which the whole community took in this "great ship," as the records proudly call it. All who could, probably rowed out in small boats to examine it and criticize its lines. Nor was the criticism very favorable. The vessel looked "cranky," Lamberton thought, and he was an experienced seaman. Nevertheless it was accepted and filled with all the available and salable produce of the colony. Peas and wheat, beaver and hides and even silver plate were eagerly stowed in the spacious hold. One can almost hear them scrape the bottom of the barrel to complete the cargo, which represented many thousands of dollars. The profits from the enterprise would be large if the voyage was successful, but in case of failure the loss would be ruinous to the commercial hopes of New Haven, for the little colony was placing all its eggs in one basket, so to speak.
The "great ship," with Captain Lamberton as master, and a number of the homesick colonists as passengers, sailed out of New Haven Harbor in January, 1646. The story is familiar to you the channel cut through the ice, the sad farewells, the long winter of anxiety, the absence of tidings in the spring, the hopes deferred, and the final realization that their ship and friends were lost at sea. The stricken colony was in despair.