Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
Thomas Hooker was born in Leicestershire around 1586. He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and became Rector of Esher in Surrey in 1620. In the will of Thomas Williarnson, a churchwarden of Chelmsford Parish Church (now the Cathedral), money was left to finance monthly sermons, to be preached in the town, six shillings (30p) to be paid for each. These sermons were very popular and were held on the first Friday of each month, which was market day. In 1623, Alice Bird a widow of Chelmsford, gave to buy ‘a fair new pulpit to be set in a fit place in the church…. where people may hear God’s word’.
Thomas Hooker was appointed Town Lecturer of Chelmsford, ‘a good bigge town’, in 1625. He was a popular and powerful preacher and seemed to get on well with the Rector, John Michaelson. However, Laud, Bishop of London, in whose diocese Chelmsford then was, did not approve of his outspoken views. He placed the greatest emphasis on ceremonies in church: the communion table, not the pulpit, was to be the central feature. On the other hand, Hooker and his friends claimed the right to preach the word of God, as set forth in Holy Scripture, according to their consciences.
By 1628, Bishop Laud was determined to silence Hooker, who faced charges in the church courts. In 1630, he fled to Cuckoos Farmhouse in the small nearby village of Little Baddow, where he founded a school to teach young ministers.
In 1632 he was persuaded by his friends to flee with his family to Holland. The following year, he set sail to Boston. The family settled in New Town, which later became Cambridge, Massachusetts, but two years later he led a group of people a hundred miles into the Connecticut river valley where they established a new colony at Hartford and Hooker established his first church.
Thomas Hooker was the first minister of Center Church and led the original settlers to Hartford in 1636 from Newtowne (Cambridge), Massachusetts. In 1638 he preached a sermon to the General Court as they prepared to develop a plan for self-government for their colony. He shared his vision that “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.” His vision was incorporated into the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which is known as the first written constitution in the world and was a model for the United States Constitution.
He died at Hartford Connecticut, in 1647 and his statue in front of the Old State House.