On this day in 1633, a small band of English settlers from Eastern Massachusetts sailed past an openly hostile Dutch trading fort near modern-day Hartford and defiantly staked their own claim on the shores of the Connecticut River. There, at a site that would soon be known as Windsor, they built a trading post of their own surrounded by a defensive palisade — establishing the first English settlement in Connecticut.
Earlier that same year, Dutch settlers from the colony of New Amsterdam (modern-day New York) had established a fortified trading post called the “House of Hope” at the confluence of the Little River and Connecticut River to try and gain a dominant foothold in the lucrative beaver pelt and fur trades. Once the English settlers in Massachusetts learned of the new Dutch foothold in the Connecticut River valley, a group of ambitious settlers from Plimoth Plantation headed westward in order to establish a trading post of their own in hopes of keeping the Dutch competition for furs in check.
Led by William Holmes, a young man who had already established himself as a leader in the young Massachusetts colony, the small party of settlers sailed from Plimoth in mid-September 1633, carrying provisions, defensive munitions, and enough timber to build a frame house and palisade upon their arrival. (Note: Holmes is misidentified as ‘John’ in the historic frieze on the State Capitol building in Hartford, pictured at left.) By September 26, Holmes’ ship had started sailing up the Connecticut River toward the Dutch trading post. As the English ship approached the House of Hope, Dutch lookouts shouted at the settlers, threatening to open fire on the vessel with cannon if it didn’t stop. Holmes defiantly replied that he had the authority of the Governor of Plimoth to sail upriver, and while the Dutch continued their threats, the English ship ultimately passed by without a single shot being fired.
Later that day, Holmes and his party landed at a favorable piece of land several miles north of Hartford, where the Farmington River emptied into the Connecticut. Emboldened by the establishment of a formal English presence along the Connecticut River, other settlers (most of them also from the Massachusetts and Plimoth colonies) flocked to the area. Over the next few years, the site of Holmes’ small trading post had expanded into the permanent English settlement of Windsor, joined by neighboring English settlements in the areas of Hartford and Wethersfield to the south. In 1636, the three settlements joined together to form the colony of Connecticut — just three short years after William Holmes and his crew built their humble trading post on the shores of the Connecticut River.
“Connecticut’s Oldest English Settlement,” connecticuthistory.org
“Timeline: Settlement of the Colony of Connecticut,” connecticuthistory.org
Kristen Wetzel Wands, “Windsor’s Founders: William Holmes,” Windsor Historical Society