April 24: New Haven Founded as a “New Jerusalem”


In the 1630s, John Davenport, like many Puritan ministers preaching in cosmopolitan and decadent London, yearned to create a “New Jerusalem.” This “heavenly city” would be located in a place free from the religious persecution and political pressures Puritans experienced in England. Its settlers would all live pure and godly lives. Arriving in the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1637, Davenport and his congregants hoped to establish such a community among their fellow Puritans, but niggling theological differences made them reconsider putting down roots in the Boston area. Within months after arriving in the Bay Colony, Davenport sent a small group led by Theophilus Eaton southward to scout potential settlement sites along Long Island Sound.

Portrait of John Davenport, painted in 1670.

Eaton’s journey was a success: a few months later, he returned with a favorable report of an area called “Quinnipiack” by a native tribe of the same name. It was situated on a natural harbor, and the Quinnipiack people were eager to engage in trade with their prospective new neighbors. Davenport immediately sailed for the place Eaton described, landing there with 500 fellow Puritans on April 24, 1638.

After purchasing a large swath of coastal land from the amiable Quinnipiacs, Davenport christened the settlement “New Haven.” Surveyor John Brockett drew up a city plan consisting of nine squares, with the central square reserved as the town common (or green), thus establishing New Haven as the first town in America laid out in a formal grid system.

Davenport and his congregation proceeded to establish in New Haven a theocratic government that enforced godly living while promoting economic opportunity for its inhabitants. Religion and profit, which were intended to work together, ultimately diverged. Over time, economic ambition in New Haven superseded religious zeal. With its natural deep harbor, New Haven became the foremost trading hub of the Connecticut plantations. Though it’s founders’ utopian vision of a “New Jerusalem” faltered, New Haven to this day remains one of Connecticut’s most prosperous and influential cities.

A godly city begun, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Nancy Finlay, “A Separate Place: The New Haven Colony, 1638 – 1665” connecticuthistory.org

Kim Sheridan, “Why Was New Haven Divided Into Nine Squares?” connecticuthistory.org