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Early Religious History

of Milford, Connecticut


Richard N. Platt, Jr.

Milford was settled in 1639 by a group of English Puritans, followers of the Rev. Peter Prudden.  They are often referred to, in the history of the New Haven Colony, as the "Hertfordshire Group."

The Puritans were not the homogeneous group that we often think them to be.  They were Calvinist in theology and were pleased that Henry VIII had broken with Rome and had abolished the monasteries.  But they felt that the English Church still had farther to go to return to the primitive, much simpler, church of the early days of Christianity. Thus, all the "corruptions" of the medieval Roman church. or "popery," should be swept away: including bishops, statuary, stained glass, vestments and the elaborate rituals of the mass, and even the Book of Common Prayer.

But there was disagreement among them on how this should be done and on how the church should be organized.  The so-called Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth were Separatists, who felt that the Church of England was still so corrupted that it was best completely to separate from it. Far more, such as the Puritans who settled in Massachusetts Bay, were Non-Separatists, who preferred to reform the Church of England from within, to a greater or lesser degree.  As for church governance, the main division was between Presbyterians and Congregationalists.  Those who came to New England were mostly of the Independent, or Congregationalist, variety.  They felt that each individual congregation should have the right to hire its own ministers and rule itself according to the tenets of their theology.  They would come to New England and set up their society as they believed it should be organized, and become a "City set on a Hill," for all the rest of the world to see.

The group that founded the New Haven Colony were mostly wealthy London merchants, and even stricter Puritans than the Massachusetts Bay people.  This accounts in large part for their desire to form a separate colony.  They were led by the Rev. John Davenport and his friend, the merchant Theophilus Eaton.  They sailed from London to Boston on the Hector in the spring of 1637.  A little later, another ship, whose name is not known, sailed with the Hertfordshire group. All we know about the ship is from a legal deposition sent back to England by Edmund Tapp, that it sailed from London on 31 May and arrived in Boston precisely two months later, on 31 July.

These two groups remained in the Boston area for almost a year, and then sailed to the mouth of the Quinnipiac in the spring of 1638 and founded New Haven.  The Prudden group, somewhat more liberal than the Davenport/Eaton group, purchased the land at the mouth of the Wepawaug from the local Indians in the spring of 1639,  proceeded to organize their own church later that year, and went on to settle in Milford.

For more detail on the settlement of Milford, see the History of Milford, Federal Writers' Project, WPA, 1939.  For a good general background on Puritan theology, I would suggest Orthodoxy in Massachusetts by Perry Miller, 1933, paperback 1959.  Also see The Founding of New England by James Truslow Adams, 1921 and 1949; The Puritan Oligarchy by Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, 1947 (which makes a few mentions of Milford) and Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer, 1989.