Lecture at Stamford Historical Society






John Davenport:

The American Career of an International Puritan 


Francis J. Bremer




            As we gather here in the city of Stamford, once part of the colony of New Haven, and now part of the state of Connecticut, it is easy to recognize the importance of John Davenport to this particular region.  Virtually every Connecticut community of any size has a street named after the colonial clergyman.  For instance, many residents of Stamford live on Davenport Drive, while numerous residents of New Haven reside on Davenport Avenue.  One of the residential colleges of Yale is named for the puritan founder. 

            My purpose today is to argue the significance of John Davenport for some bigger stories.  The fact is, that outside of the circles of the Davenport family and specialists in early American history or Stuart England, most do not recognize the name of John Davenport.  Textbooks of American history neglect him other than an occasional passing mention as the founder of the New Haven colony.    

One part of the explanation is that as a society we have done much to block out our pre-Revolutionary past.  For too many of our fellow citizens, America begins at Williamsburg and the crisis that precipitated the Revolution.  When the city of Boston celebrated its three hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 1980 the commemorative program carried a picture of Paul Revere on the cover.  It sometimes seems as if every month brings a new study of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams or another one of the “Founding Fathers,” while you can’t find a biography of John Cotton, Thomas Hooker or John Smith in print – and no amount of searching will find a full length biography of John Davenport.

If a truncated view of the American past is one reason for the neglect of Davenport, another is the current refusal of most academicians to seriously engage with the topic of religion in our national culture.  I stand before you as a self-proclaimed northeastern liberal who will nevertheless castigate liberals in general for their disdain for religion and their eagerness to confuse faith with fanaticism.  The politicization of religion in recent years has accentuated this.  For example, two days after last Fall’s presidential election, Gary Wills, an excellent historian who teaches at Northwestern University, wrote a column in the New York Times entitled “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.”  In it he argued that “America … was a product of Enlightenment values – critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences.  Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity.”  This, of course, relates back to my earlier concern – for it is only by ignoring what chronologically is almost the first half of our history (if we start the clock with the English efforts to colonize Roanoke in the 1580s) that we can sustain an argument that ignores our puritan roots and marginalizes religion in general.

Given these tendencies, recovering the importance of John Davenport becomes not only a service to those who already are familiar with his story, but a way of helping our fellow citizens to better understand our past and better appreciate the forces we face in the modern world.


Before getting into the heart of my presentation, I would like to make a few general comments.  First, while I have long recognized the significance of the founder of New Haven and written about him in the general context of Anglo-American Puritanism, I have not made him the focus of the sort of intensive archival research that might lead to new conclusions about the man and his ideas.  So this is more a distillation of what I currently know about him rather than a statement of new findings.  We’ll get together in a few years for that!  Second, I recognize the irony of the fact that as far as making the argument for recognizing Davenport’s importance, I am here preaching to the choir and I am humble enough to recognize that little of what I say today will be new to many in the audience.  And finally, I want to mention that the images that I will be using to illustrate the talk are a combination of pictures that I have taken myself and scans of portraits and sketches from other sources.


Who was John Davenport?  First of all, he was an Englishman.  Like the other founders of colonial America he was born in England – in his case the city of Coventry in the midlands – raised there, and there learned the ideas that would shape his entire career.  And the world in which he was born was a world in which religion was central to all existence.   His family worshipped in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Coventry.  There, prior to the Reformation, parishioners entering the church had been confronted by the “Doom,” a graphic depiction of the Last Judgment such as found in many churches, designed to remind those who gathered for worship that their future included an eternity to be spent in heaven or in hell.  During the lifetime of Davenport’s father the “Doom” was whitewashed over, because Protestants did not believe in iconographic decoration in their churches, but reformed ministers used the preached and written word to remind the Davenports and others of the same message.

When Davenport worshipped at Holy Trinity and studied at the town grammar school the outcome of the Reformation was still in doubt.  The great reformers of the sixteenth century such as Luther and Calvin had challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church on the means to salvation, had rejected the authority of the pope, and over a period of time had developed new emphases in worship.  Personal concerns had driven Henry VIII into the arms of the reformers, but from the break with Rome in the 1530s until 1597, when John Davenport was born, the character of England’s national church was contested, both between Protestants and Catholics and also between those who were content with the new reforms and those who felt further purification was necessary.  No greater evidence could be found of the depth of religious convictions than the story of the martyrs of Queen Mary’s reign, whom the young John Davenport read about in John Foxe’s massive Acts and Monuments of the Christian Religion, popularly known as the Book of Martyrs.  The stories and the woodcuts that illustrated them testified as perhaps nothing else can to the importance of religion in the lives of those who came to settle America – this was a world in which men and women would willingly die in the service of their God, and would also feel compelled to execute those who threatened to undermine a godly society.

Coventry was a center of religious reform and Davenport was raised in a godly household.  From there he went to Oxford, where he matriculated at Merton College in 1613.  After two years he transferred (migrated is the precise term) to Magdalen College, but he left the university before completing his degree.  By this time he had experienced a spiritual rebirth, so that his intellectual consent to Calvinist doctrine was strengthened by the rapture of God’s caress.  He left Oxford to accept a chaplaincy at Hilton Castle in county Durham where he honed his preaching skills.  Like many young puritan preachers, he was perhaps something of a prig, indulging in moralistic criticism of his patron’s family.  That might have had something to do with his brief stay there, though a more likely explanation was a call in 1619 to be curate of the parish of St Lawrence Jewry in London.

The national capital had always been a center of puritanism and that was true at this time.  But it was a puritan community that, while united, was not uniform.  In their efforts to provide pastoral guidance to their flocks, some clergy emphasized the sense of spiritual empowerment experienced by the elect, while others looked to good works, not to save them but as evidence of their election.  Some were grudgingly willing to perform mandated church ceremonies which they felt were remnants of Catholic practice, while others were moving down a road of nonconformity that would take some into exile and others to separatism.  But virtually of these puritans were committed to two causes that Davenport would quickly embrace – the need to support the cause of international Protestantism, and the effort to place more godly preaching ministers in the pulpits of England’s churches.

In London Davenport began to associate with leading puritans such as      John Preston and Richard Sibbes.  Preaching the word was central to the puritan concept of the ministry, and at St. Lawrence Davenport quickly earned a reputation as a powerful and inspiring preacher.  He attracted the attention of the parishioners of the parish of St. Stephen’s on nearby Coleman Street.  That parish was unusual in having the right to elect its own vicar, and in 1624 they chose Davenport for that post.  With a secure position and income he was able to fulfill the remaining requirements for his Oxford degree and received both his BA and MA in 1625.

Despite his relative youth Davenport became a key player in two major puritan initiatives.  In the same year that he received his Oxford degrees, he helped organize and direct the Feoffees for Impropriations, a corporation that raised funds for reform and used them to purchase control of church livings where they then installed puritan preachers.  Two years later he joined with other London puritans in soliciting funds to relieve Protestant refugees from the devastation of the Thirty Years War.  This latter reflected his strong commitment to the international Protestant cause.  In a sermon to the members of the London Artillery Company in 1629 he reminded those troops that  “the distresses of our brethren abroad should quicken us to the use of all means whereby we may be enabled to succor them.”  Davenport also became involved with a number of continental Protestants who were laboring to unify Protestant Christendom.  These included John Drury, the son of a Scottish clergyman who had been raised and educated in the Netherlands.  He had served briefly as minister to a clandestine Reformed church in Catholic Cologne, and had witnessed up close the ravages of the Thirty Years War.  He devoted his life to efforts for church unity, urging that all Protestants focus on a small group of religious fundamentals and devote their primary attentions to ethical concerns.  Samuel Hartlib was also a member of this circle. Polish by birth, Hartlib settled in London after the death of his second wife, but retained strong contacts with continental reformers, scientists, and intellectuals.  Davenport came to know both men and was a strong supporter of Drury’s efforts, being commended by the latter as being “forward, earnest, and judicious in the work” of Protestant unity.

Efforts such as these attracted the critical attention of the new bishop of London, William Laud.  Laud had already established a reputation as a promoter of innovations in worship that smacked of long discarded elements of the Catholic liturgy.  He supported theological positions which puritans saw as a retreat from Calvinism.  And he was an unflinching advocate of the king’s right to control all aspects of church belief and practice, pledging himself to root out all who in any way challenged the monarch’s policies.  As such he viewed the Feoffees as an effort to subvert the proper order of the church and helped bring charges against them.  He viewed the effort to aid the refugees as implicit criticism of the king’s refusal to commit England to the Protestant cause in the conflict.  Davenport’s role in these enterprises made him a suspect figure in the eyes of Laud.

King James I had threatened to make puritans conform or to harry them out of the land, but his bark was worse than his bite.  Charles I and his bishops took that goal seriously.  By the late 1620s numerous puritan clergy had been deprived of their livings.  Some were seriously considering emigration to Ireland, the Netherlands, or – perhaps – the new England across the ocean.  Davenport, his own situation becoming precarious, was involved in some of these discussions and was an early investor, along with some of his former colleagues in the Feoffees, in the Massachusetts Bay Company.  His involvement was more than financial, however, and while the records of the society do not let us know everything we would like to, we know that in 1629 he and John Winthrop were two of four members called upon to represent the company in arbitration of a dispute between John Endecott, the advance leader of the enterprise, and some of the colonists whom he had alienated.

While sympathetic to those who felt compelled to emigrate, Davenport was not yet prepared to do so himself.  He still believed that puritans should make every effort to conform to the dictates of the king and his bishops so they would be able to retain their livings and minister to their flocks.  When his own conformity was called into question in 1631 he was able to successfully defend himself before the episcopal authorities.   And so when, in 1632, the prominent Lincolnshire clergyman John Cotton was called before the authorities to answer for his nonconformity, Davenport sought to persuade him to bend his knee to authority.  In a significant and secret conference held at the Ockley, Surrey home of the Reverend Henry Whitfield, Davenport, Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Samuel Stone, Thomas Hooker, and William Twisse met with Cotton to discuss the growing pressures being placed on puritan clergy.  Davenport, Goodwin, and Nye all pushed the case for conformity.  But it was Cotton who proved more persuasive in making the case that the ceremonies they were being pressured to perform were offenses in the eyes of God.  Nye resigned his lectureship at St. Michael’s on London’s Cornhill Street and left for the Arnhem in the Netherlands.  Goodwin resigned his living at Trinity College, Cambridge.  And Davenport prepared to leave St. Stephen’s.  Without resigning his living, he left London for the Netherlands.

The Netherlands had long been the preferred refuge for English religious radicals.  The puritan theologian William Ames had spent much of his career there.  The Pilgrim fathers had tarried there in their journey from Scrooby to Plymouth.  Thomas Hooker and Hugh Peter sought refuge there before emigrating to New England, and Cotton also had considered settling there.  It was close enough to make a return to England possible if the tide was to swing back in favor of reform.  And so Davenport journeyed to Amsterdam in November of 1633, responding to an invitation that he stand in for John Paget, the pastor of the English church in Amsterdam, who was ill.

The Netherlands sojourn did not work out as he anticipated.  The congregation he had joined was divided and Paget, who soon recovered, differed with Davenport over issues of church government.  The elder clergyman was a Presbyterian who submitted to the authority of the Amsterdam classis, had a restrictive view of the role of congregants in church government, and baptized all who were brought to him.  Davenport by this time had come to hold a more congregational view of church government and believed that only the children of regenerate parents should be baptized.  The two engaged in a written exchange that would eventually be published and contribute to the broader debate between the Presbyterian and congregational polities.  Paget was able to gain the support of the Dutch classis and the English ambassador to force Davenport out of the church.   

While this course of events was working itself out, William Laud had continued to investigate Davenport’s practices at St. Stephen’s and ordered him to appear before the High Commission, the prerogative church court that was used to root puritans out of their livings.  Davenport had not resigned from his London pastorate, but this summons put an end to any chance that he could return to his English ministry.  Leaving Amsterdam, he resided briefly in Rotterdam, and then returned secretly to England in April 1636 to plan his move to New England.  Together with his childhood friend and St. Stephen’s parishioner Theolphilus Eaton, Davenport gathered a group of friends and supporters who chartered a ship and sailed for Boston in May of 1637.

Why did it take almost eight years for Davenport, one of the first investors in the Massachusetts Bay Company, to make this decision?  We may never know for sure, but it is likely that it was his commitment to international Protestantism that kept him in England as long as possible.  John Winthrop and those who journeyed with him in 1630 believed that they could create in the New World a godly kingdom that would serve as an example to Englishmen in particular and all Christendom in general. But they knew that their journey was, in many respects, an irrevocable one.  Having sold their estates to migrate to America they would find no way to finance a move back home.  Davenport was not the only puritan who preferred to remain closer to the front lines of the fight for reform.  Only when his other options were closed off did Davenport decide to cross the Atlantic.

  The Boston, Massachusetts Davenport arrived at in 1637 was the midst of a destabilizing conflict that had been caused in part by the arrival in the colony during the mid-1630s of immigrants who had been radicalized by the events in England.   These included individuals such as Anne Hutchinson and Henry Vane, who had pushed their reliance on grace to a point where they denied any value to works in influencing or measuring salvation, and conservatives such as the Rev. Thomas Shepard, who saw such views as tending towards gross heresies.

This is not the time of a full analysis of the so-called Antinomian Controversy, more properly seen as a dispute over Free Grace.  Suffice it to say that while the extremists on both sides pushed to define orthodoxy in accordance with their separate narrow perspectives, some – such as John Winthrop -- sought to preserve a broad center with tolerance for all but the most extreme.  A prime objective of Winthrop and those who shared his moderate view was to save John Cotton, whom Anne Hutchinson’s supporters claimed as their inspiration, and whose views were under sharp attack from Shepard and Deputy-Governor Thomas Dudley.  Davenport, who, despite – or perhaps because of -- his experiences in Amsterdam and London, still sought Protestant unity, was a key figure in this process.  Taking up residence with Cotton, he helped persuade his friend to separate himself from the extremists in the Boston church, and he worked with Winthrop to hold the center so that relatively few of the radicals were forced into exile.

Davenport and those who accompanied him would have been welcome to stay in Massachusetts.  But they chose instead to find a separate place for settlement, on the north shore of Long Island Sound, at a place called Quinippiac, which they renamed New Haven.  As with other decisions made by Davenport, it is difficult to know exactly why he led his people away from Massachusetts.  Various factors probably played some part in the decision.  The Bay Colony was reeling from the departure a few years before of Thomas Hooker and others, who had resettled on the Connecticut River, founding the town of Hartford and neighboring settlements.  The so-called Antinomian controversy further destabilized the colony.  Perhaps this created enough doubts about the future of Massachusetts to prompt the Londoners to move on.  It is also possible that Davenport was concerned about the different elements remaining in the Bay.  We know that he was close to John Cotton and John Winthrop, but we do not know his relations with the other leaders of the Bay.  Perhaps he felt that, learning from what he had seen there, he could shape a more secure godly kingdom elsewhere.  Certainly it will be worth examining his thoughts and actions regarding a new plantation in light of his brief and relatively undocumented experience in 1637 Boston.

This is not to say, however, that we need discount the idea that the Davenport party, with their experience of conducting business in England’s largest commercial city, and realistic about their limited chances to compete as merchants against already established Bostonians, wished to set up their own center for Atlantic trade.  Central New England had been viewed as a potentially rich location for fur trade, but the region was highly contested by different native tribes as well as by colonists from New Netherlands, Plymouth, and Massachusetts.  The defeat of the dangerous Pequot tribe in 1637 made Southern New England more attractive to settlers.  But if the hope was to make New Haven the center of a prosperous Atlantic trading empire, it was a hope that would not be realized.

The history of the New Haven Colony is a fascinating story.  It was a colony whose spine was Long Island Sound, a water highway that connected the disparate settlements that came to comprise it.  It developed its own take on the norms of New England church and civil practice, but united with its neighbors Plymouth, Connecticut, and Massachusetts in the New England Confederation.  And Davenport was at the center of all this.  But while occupied with the formation and leadership of a new colony, he was also concerned about the course of international Protestantism. 

            Davenport had maintained his contacts with Hartlib, Drury, and other friends and allies from his days in England, and in the late 1630s he sent Drury a pledge of monetary support for “the godly endeavors of some reverend and well affected brethren” organized by Drury to aid the cause of Protestant union.  He also kept his eyes on events in the British Isles –  the Scots uprising when Charles I and Archbishop Laud tried to impose the English liturgy on the northern kingdom, the resulting war and Scottish invasion of England, the calling of the Short and Long Parliaments and the Irish Rebellion of 1641.  Ironically, just as Davenport had left England, it appeared that the tide was changing and hope dawning for puritan reform.  Davenport’s nemesis, Archbishop Laud was arrested, imprisoned, and would soon be executed.  And the parliament invited England’s leading clergy to an assembly that would recommend a new form for the national church.

            Among those invited to sit in the Westminster Assembly were the New Englanders John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and Davenport.  Here was a chance to return to the center stage of the fight for reform, and the invitation was tempting.  But in the end, the three colonial clergy declined.  Their own local congregations, with whom they had entered into covenant, were loath to lose their services.  The situation in England was uncertain, and before they could even reach London the king could have recovered his authority, dissolved Parliament, and dispersed the Assembly.  Correspondence with friends such as Philip Nye and Thomas Goodwin who had returned to England from the Netherlands warned them that the majority of the Assembly was likely to favor a Presbyterian reform agenda.  Davenport and Hooker had both encountered Presbyterian hostility in the Netherlands and knew well how difficult it as to persuade such men to trust laymen as favored by congregagtionalists.  But deciding to stay in New England did not mean that any of these ministers were willing to abandon England.  Rather, they sought to perfect their colonial system, advocate it in tracts and pamphlets, and mobilize New England prayers on behalf of English reform.

            Davenport had begun explaining the New England Way for concerned Englishmen shortly after arriving in the region, in 1638 writing An Apology of the Churches in New England for Church Covenant and The Answer of the Elders of the Several Churches in New England in Answer unto Nine Propositions Sent Over to Them both of which were published through the aid of his English friends in 1643, just as the deliberations over English reform were getting underway.         Over the next decade and more he would continue to use his pen to assist an English audience struggling to erect a godly ecclesiastical order, writing The Profession of Faith of that Reverend and Worthy Divine, Mr. J. D. (1642), and other works.

            Prayer was seen as a powerful weapon by seventeenth century puritans.  William Hooke, who joined Davenport in the New Haven ministry in 1644, asserted the efficacy of prayer at this time, stating that “Fasting and prayer are murderers that will kill point blank from one end of the world to the other…; thousands shall fall and never know who hurt them.”  The churches of New England were like regiments, laying wait in the wilderness to launch their prayers against God’s enemies.  From the earliest days of the British conflict the colonists had held special days of fast and prayer to implore God to aid their English friends.  Under Davenport’s leadership, New Haven became the first colony to adopt a regular monthly system of fast and prayer on behalf of the English puritan cause, doing so late in 1643.

            While Davenport did not return to England, many New Havenites did.  Theophilus Eaton’s brother Samuel left the colony early on and became the central figure in Lancashire and Chesire Congregationalism in the following decades.  Thomas James, David Yale, and Samuel Desborough were also among the many who returned.  All of these men provided Davenport with much desired information on the course of English events – the triumph of the New Model Army in the first Civil Wars; the king’s escape from captivity and renewal of the conflict; his second defeat, capture, and execution in 1649; the proclamation of the Commonwealth; and then the rise of Oliver Cromwell and his installation as Lord Protector.

An ocean away, Davenport felt close to the events in England, and sought to use New Haven’s support for the cause and connections in England to advance the colony’s interests.  There was no doubt as to where New Haven’s loyalties lay.  In 1644 the colony omitted all reference to the king from the oath of allegiance to be taken by magistrates.  Later that same year Thomas Gregson was dispatched to seek a charter from Parliament that would settle the colony’s legal existence.  His ship was lost at sea and an actual charter was never secured, but the two houses of Parliament officially recognized the colony in 1648 and that was deemed sufficient.  Relations between New Haven and the English government became even stronger when Oliver Cromwell headed the Protectorate in the 1650s.  Samuel Desborough, who had returned to England earlier, was married to Cromwell’s sister Jane and was a valued intermediary.  Davenport’s colleague in the New Haven pulpit, William Hooke, was a cousin by marriage of the Lord Protector.  It was through the intervention of such friends that Cromwell in 1654 dispatched a small expedition to assist the colonists in defending their territory against the claims of the Dutch in nearby New Netherland.  When Hooke returned to England himself in 1656 he became a chaplain to Cromwell and one of the Protector’s trusted religious advisors.  He would also provide Davenport with information and advice on the changing course of English events.

The Protectorate, of course, did not last long after the death of Cromwell in 1658, and following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 many of those deemed responsible for the execution of Charles I were labeled regicides and brought to justice.  Former New Englanders such as Hugh Peter and Henry Vane were among those executed.  Three of the regicides -- John Dixwell, and two kinsmen of William Hooke, Edward Whalley and William Goffe – escaped and fled to New England, where they were pursued by royal agents.  Despite the risks in doing so, Davenport played a key role in sheltering them and eventually helping them resettle in colonial towns under assumed names.  And the message of his sermons, published as The Saints Anchor-Hold in All Storms and Tempests (1661), for puritans on both sides of the Atlantic, was to persevere in their efforts to bring about reform, for “God’s deferring of the rule of the saints is no empty space but a time of fitting his Church and People for the good things promised.”

In that same sermon sequence Davenport acknowledged that puritans felt the “frustration and disappointment” of those who, “when they have given up their names unto Christ, looked for peace, prosperity, and good days, but find troubles, crosses and afflictions of various kinds.”  And New Haven and John Davenport would have their own special crosses to bear.  The colony had gone further than any of its sister Bible Commonwealths in recognizing and establishing close terms with the regime that had toppled Charles I, and it was the last to officially recognize the new king.  Knowing they would receive little consideration at the hands of Charles II, some New Havenites negotiated with the authorities in New Netherlands and relocated within that Dutch colony, founding the town of New Ark (later, Newark, New Jersey).  Never having actually received a charter, New Haven was more vulnerable than her neighbors, and any hope of favorable treatment was dashed by the rumors that the colony as harboring the regicides.  In 1662 the colony was absorbed into the larger entity of Connecticut, losing its autonomy and the character that had made it unique.

For Davenport, all of this was the start of a process in which he became increasingly marginalized.  Despite being in America, in the 1640s and 1650 he had the satisfaction of knowing that his views were well regarded in England and that through his friends he had access to the most powerful men in the kingdom.  But after 1660 puritans were no longer in power in England, and his friends there were struggling to find a way of surviving and maintaining their churches in a new and, for them, oppressive world.  And in New England, Davenport had gone from being the guiding force in an independent colony that was a respected partner in the New England Confederation to being the pastor of a small town in the larger colony of Connecticut.

Not only did it seem to Davenport that he had become geographically isolated, he also suffered from the loss of the friends with whom he had labored to shape the New England Way.  Among lay magistrates, in Massachusetts John Winthrop had died in 1649 and Thomas Dudley in 1653.  John Haynes, who had served one term as governor of Massachusetts and seven as governor of Connecticut, died in 1654.  Edward Hopkins, also seven times a governor of Connecticut, died in 1657.  Davenport’s friend from childhood and closest ally, Theophilus Eaton, passed away in 1658.  Francis Newman, Eaton’s successor as New Haven’s governor, had died in office in 1660.  Plymouth’s Edward Winslow died on Cromwell’s expedition to seize Jamaica in 1655, and William Bradford two years later.  The ranks of the clergy had been similarly ravaged.  Thomas Hooker had passed away in 1647, Thomas Shepard in 1649, John Cotton in 1652, and other friends and allies of Davenport in the years that followed.

A new generation of New Englanders faced new challenges, from how to deal with the new royal government to concerns about the baptismal practices of the colonial churches.  The pattern set by the founding generation had required those seeking membership in the church to offer a narration of their born-again experience before the existing members voted to admit them.  By the 1650s the percentage of churchgoers who sought admission was in decline, possibly due to individuals being more scrupulous in judging the state of their souls.  Since only a member could present a child for baptism, this meant that many families were unable to have their infants baptized.  A proposal to create a form of half-way membership with lower requirements, that would allow the baptism of these individuals, was proposed in the 1650s and recommended to the churches of the region by representatives of Massachusetts and Connecticut churches in 1657.    From the start, Davenport opposed any modification of membership requirements and so New Haven refused to participate in the assembly.  A broader based synod in 1662 endorsed the Half-Way Covenant.  Once again Davenport was absent – perhaps in this case preoccupied with the pending annexation of his colony by Connecticut.  He did, however, lead the traditionalists who sought to persuade the independent congregations of the region to reject the innovation.  But it was a losing battle, again underscoring his growing irrelevance.


In the mid-1620s Davenport had been a rising figure in the international reform movement.  By the mid-1660s he was in a backwater colony where his ability to influence events was minimal, the latest example being the growing tendency of New England congregations to adopt the Half-Way Covenant.   And then the First Church of Boston, the church of Winthrop, Cotton, John Wilson, and John Norton invited him to assume the post of pastor.  He would preach from the most distinguished pulpit in New England.  There he would have a chance to reverse the tide of decline, revitalize the puritan errand into the wilderness and thus once again contribute to the cause of international Protestantism.  There was, of course, a catch.  New Haven did not want to let him go.  He was at that time the town’s only claim to importance as it struggled to adapt to its new role in Connecticut.

The result was tragedy.  After three requests that he be dismissed had been rejected by the New Haven church, Davenport evidently connived with some of his Boston supporters in extracting a portion of the last response that made it appear permission had been granted.  In December 1668 he was ordained as pastor of the Boston church.  But his calling had distressed a minority of that congregation that supported the Half-Way Covenant and they sought to secede and form their own church.  Davenport fought this, but the minority was supported by the other area churches.  The Third Church of Boston, or Old South, was established in May of 1669.  Boston was not what Davenport had hoped for, and it was with a sense of bitterness and frustration that he delivered the annual election sermon of 1669, warning the magistrates that the choice New England faced was between renewing its proper relationship with God or apostacy. Shortly thereafter his own moral authority was undermined when the true circumstances of his departure from New Haven were revealed and he was condemned by a group of seventeen of his fellow ministers.  Within a year, he was dead.


For a half century John Davenport had fought for the advance of international Protestantism, and his contributions to that cause were numerous and significant.  His story is one of triumphs and of tragedy.  It is an American story, but an American story that connects with a broader geographical world and that highlights the religious themes that have been a part of the American story from Davenport’s time to our own.  The task of the historian is to engage in a conversation with the past, but to do so in a  way that makes the past more relevant to the present.  By examining John Davenport’s story more thoroughly, I believe we may gain greater insight not only into his times but into out own.