October 20: A Monument to the State’s Founding Minister


On October 20, 1950, a crowd of several hundred Connecticans gathered in front of the Old State House in Hartford to observe the unveiling of a new, eight-foot-tall statue of Thomas Hooker, the Puritan minister and “founding father” of Connecticut who founded the settlement of Hartford in 1636.

Born in England in 1586, Thomas Hooker developed a reputation as an accomplished minister and powerful speaker in Cambridge before his Separatist beliefs, which put him at odds with the established Church in England, compelled him to sail for the newly-established Massachusetts Bay colony in 1633. There, Hooker hoped he would be free to preach his messages of reformed Christianity without harassment, but sustained theological disagreements with Boston clergymen prompted Hooker and several dozen congregants to break away from Massachusetts and found a new settlement in the Connecticut River valley in 1636. Naming the new town Hartford after the old English village of the same name, Hooker led the colony for the next 10 years until his death in 1647. On May 31, 1638, Hooker delivered a sermon on authority and government in Hartford wherein he famously declared “The foundation of authority is laid firstly in the free consent of the people,” which is cited by historians as one of the first documented expressions of American democracy.

Frances Laughlin Wadsworth in her studio, working on a model of her Thomas Hooker statue. (Connecticut Historical Society)

On the afternoon of October 20, 1950, just after 3:00 p.m,, the mayor of Hartford officially accepted the gift of the new Thomas Hooker statue from the Society of the Descendants and Founders of Hartford. After some brief remarks, the crowd headed inside the Old State House for a reception featuring the statue’s sculptor, Frances Laughlin Wadsworth. Wadsworth had received her formal artistic training from European painters and sculptors after years of traveling through Europe as a young woman, but it wasn’t until she married Robert Wadsworth and moved to Hartford that she began to leave a lasting artistic legacy of her own. In addition to the Thomas Hooker statue, Wadsworth sculpted many other well-known Hartford works of art, including the famous statue of a young girl emerging from two hands to commemorate the American School for the Deaf (the statue can still be seen at the intersection of Asylum and Farmington Avenues in Hartford). Later in life, Wadsworth noted that the Hooker statue was one of her most challenging works, since there are no extant likenesses or descriptions of the famous Puritan minister. Instead, Wadsworth modeled the statue after studying the faces and likenesses of a number of Hooker’s descendants. Set upon a granite pedestal etched with Hooker’s famous words, the statue was indeed a fitting monument to one of the most larger-than-life figures in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Nancy Finlay, “Thomas Hooker: Connecticut’s Founding Father,” connecticuthistory.org

Karen DePauw, “Frances Laughlin Wadsworth: Sculpting the Past,” connecticuthistory.org