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Thomas Hooker

Thomas Hooker

Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), English-born Puritan theologian, was founder and spiritual leader of the Connecticut colony in New England.

Thomas Hooker was born in Leicestershire. After receiving a preparatory education, he attended Cambridge University, earning a bachelor of arts degree (1608) and a master of arts degree (1611). He remained as a fellow at the university until 1618, becoming a devout Puritan. In the 1620s Hooker served a congregation in Essex, where he became widely known for his excellent preaching. Because of his Puritan views, however, he attracted the attention of the Anglican authorities, who forced him to leave England. He eventually settled in Rotterdam, Holland, and here he received the call to the ministry of the Newtown (Cambridge) congregation in the American colony of Massachusetts.

Hooker was never happy in Newtown. His congregation was dissatisfied with its land; the religious challenges posed by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were shaking the colony; and, most significantly, Hooker found himself incompatible with the leaders of Massachusetts. In 1636 the Newtown congregation received permission to emigrate, and Hooker led a majority of them to Connecticut.

The Hartford Church, under Hooker's pastorate, was exemplary for its lack of discord and controversy. Hooker was a humane and understanding clergyman. He made an outstanding contribution to the colony in a sermon in which he applied the principles of Congregationalism to political organization. Used as the basis for the Fundamental Orders, the sermon emphasized the election of public officials and the limitation of their power by the electorate. While Hooker's ideas seemed highly democratic, they were strictly qualified. His "people" were limited to full participating members of the Puritan church, and his emphasis on the responsible use of power precluded unrestrained popular rule.

Hooker did not differ with orthodox New England Puritanism, although he practiced these beliefs with more humanity than his clerical colleagues. While living in Newtown, he had debated Roger Williams, and after moving to Connecticut, he returned to Massachusetts to serve on the court that tried Anne Hutchinson for heresy. His pamphlet "A Survey of the Summed of Church-Discipline, " is an excellent explanation and defense of New England Congregationalism. Hooker retained his Hartford pastorate until his death on July 7, 1647.

Further Reading

The only book-length biography of Hooker is George L. Walker, Thomas Hooker: Preacher, Founder, Democrat (1891). A briefer biography is Warren W. Archibald, Thomas Hooker (1933). Background information is in Herbert L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (3 vols., 1904-1907); Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History (4 vols., 1934-1938); Albert E. Van Dusen, Connecticut (1961); and Mary Jeanne Anderson Jones, Congregational Commonwealth: Connecticut, 1636-1662 (1968).

Additional Sources

Shuffelton, Frank, Thomas Hooker, 1586-1647, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. □

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Hooker, Thomas

Thomas Hooker, 1586–1647, Puritan clergyman in the American colonies, chief founder of Hartford, Conn., b. Leicestershire, England. A clergyman, he was ordered to appear before the court of high commission for nonconformist preaching in England and fled (1630) to Holland. In 1633, Hooker immigrated to Massachusetts, where he was pastor at Newtown (now Cambridge). He had a dispute with John Cotton and apparently was discontented with the strict theological rule in Massachusetts. After a group of settlers had been sent ahead in 1635, he and many of his flock moved in 1636 to found Hartford, where he was pastor until his death. Hooker was one of the drafters of the Fundamental Orders (1639), under which Connecticut was long governed and which represent his political views. He also promoted a plan for the New England Confederation.

See biography by G. L. Walker (1891, repr. 1969).

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Hooker, Thomas

HOOKER, THOMAS

Puritan clergyman, founder of Connecticut; b. probably at Marfield, Leicestershire, England, 1586; d. Hartford, Conn., July 7, 1647. He was a fellow (160918) of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University; rector (1620) of Esher in Surrey; and lecturer (1626) at St. Mary's, Chelmsford (Essex). His increasing reputation as a leader of the puritans finally caused William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, to retire him. To escape prosecution for his dissenting views, Hooker fled (1630) to Holland, where for two years he was minister of an English church at Delft, near Rotterdam. Meanwhile, a group of settlers from Chelmsford had settled in New England and they urged him to join them. He arrived in America on Sept. 4, 1633, and was chosen pastor of the church in Newton, Mass. Two years later, for reasons possibly more political than economic, he and his congregation applied for permission from the Massachusetts authorities to settle in Connecticut. When this was refused, they defied the magistrates, moving to Hartford, where Hooker was pastor until his death. Among all the New England ministers he was probably the best preacher, with a style filled with similes and examples. He believed in democracy and helped to draft the Fundamental Orders (1639), under which Connecticut was democratically governed.

In his sermon at the general court of Connecticut he declared that "the formation of all authority is laid in the free consent of the people," His Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline (1648) held that since authority in both Church and State is founded on the consent of the people, a compact can be the basis for both ecclesiastical and civil government.

Bibliography: g. l. walker, Thomas Hooker (New York 1891). c. m. andrews, The Beginnings of Connecticut, 16321662 (New Haven 1934). p. g. miller, "Thomas Hooker and the Democracy of Early Connecticut," The New England Quarterly 4 (1931) 4:663712.

[e. delaney]

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Hooker, Thomas

HOOKER, THOMAS

HOOKER, THOMAS (15861647), was an English and American Puritan minister. Born in Leicestershire, Hooker took his B.A. and M.A. at Cambridge, where he was variously Dixie fellow, catechist, and lecturer in Emmanuel College. As a minister he became active in the unofficial meetings of Puritan ministers then taking place. When William Laud moved to restrict nonconforming ministers in the late 1620s, Hooker fled, first to the Netherlands, thence to New England in 1633. He and Samuel Stone organized the first church in Newtown (now Cambridge), Massachusetts. Partly because of religious and political disputes in the Bay Colony, partly because of his parishioners' dissatisfaction with their land allotments, Hooker led in 1636 a removal to Connecticut, where he and his group founded Hartford. When the General Court of Connecticut first met in May 1638 to draw up its Fundamental Orders, Hooker's sermon on the occasion described the proper relationship between the people and their magistrates. Although an important political statement of early New England, the sermon is no longer commonly accepted, as it once was, as evidence of Hooker's democratic attitudes. Hooker maintained his influence in Boston, returning in 1637 to serve as a moderator of the synod called to deal with Anne Hutchinson and the antinomian threat, then later in 1645 to participate in the meeting called to consider responses to the Westminster Assembly. The first of these meetings marked the triumph of Hooker's preparationist theology as a nearly official view of the process of salvation for the New England churches. At the later meeting Hooker presented his Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline (London, 1648), which became one of the definitive statements of the congregational church order in New England. He died at Hartford on July 7, 1647.

More than thirty volumes appeared over Hooker's name or were legitimately credited to him; the most important, in addition to the Survey, are collections of sermons that examine the spiritual stages the soul passes through on the way to conversion. Under the influence of Richard Sibbes and other English preparationist theologians who held that the individual soul could not earn grace but could prepare itself for its reception, Hooker preached extensively on the subject and made his final survey of the soul's progress during his pastorate at Hartford. These sermons were published posthumously in the two volumes entitled The Application of Redemption (London, 16561659). Hooker was well known in his own time for his direction of troubled spirits in the process of discovering saving grace in themselves, and this concern is evident in his various sermonic works on the theology and psychology of conversion. He was also interested in the role meditation could play in the spiritual life of a soul under the workings of grace, and he has been recognized in this century as one of the significant Puritan exponents of the meditative process.

Bibliography

The best biography of Thomas Hooker is my own Thomas Hooker, 15861647 (Princeton, N.J., 1977), but there is also useful material, especially on Hooker's career in England and Holland, in Thomas Hooker: Writings in England and Holland, 16261633 (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), edited by George H. Williams and others. Notable in this volume is Sargent Bush's bibliography of the various printings of Hooker's numerous works. Bush is also the author of The Writings of Thomas Hooker (Madison, Wis., 1980), the best analysis of Hooker's religious concerns, his theology, and his sermon technique. Perry Miller's influential essay on Hooker's political position, "Thomas Hooker and the Democracy of Early Connecticut," appeared first in the New England Quarterly 4 (October 1931): 663712, and was reprinted in Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, Mass., 1956).

Frank Shuffelton (1987)

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