John Davenport: New Haven Colony began in the conscience of John Davenport. Born in 1597 in Coventry, Warwickshire, England, John Davenport attended Oxford but left before obtaining his degree, for lack of funds. He began preaching at a private chapel in Hilton Castle, near Durham, in 1615. Fours years later he was a curate at a London church when he returned to Oxford for his B.D., and was then vicar at St. Stephens in London. Davenport knew several Puritan families, which prompted opposition to his position within the church, although he conformed to church doctrine. Close association with the Puritans led to his being condemned by higher church powers whose anti-Calvinism led to Davenport’s decision to leave England. He sailed for the Netherlands in 1633 where he resided for four years. He corresponded with a friend of his youth, Theophilus Eaton, a London merchant, who also wanted to migrate to New England.
He married Elizabeth in England prior to 1619. In 1637 the Davenports and Theophilus Eaton sailed to New England, first Boston, and then New Haven in 1638. With Davenport as pastor and Eaton as governor, the colony began, not politically aggressive but adhering strictly to the law – first of the church, and then the colony. Here Davenport was acknowledged leader of the community, ruling his congregation with a strong hand. After many controversies in the church at Wethersfield, CT, the most dissatisfied met with Pastor Davenport and Governor Eaton. They formed a company and agreed to peacefully separate from Wethersfield and established a new town on land recently purchased from the Indians by the New Haven Colony. In the spring of 1641 they proceeded to this place called Rippowam, later renamed Stamford.
As the movement to absorb the New Haven Colony into Connecticut grew stronger, Davenport was one of two signers of a letter to the General Court urging a delay in the action. When the proposal became reality, Davenport believed his life work was lost. Shortly thereafter he accepted a call to the pastorate of First Church in Boston, but the New Haven church was reluctant to have him leave. His endeavors for release caused dissension in the Boston church, leading to a split in the congregation which resulted in the formation of the Third Church. John Davenport died in 1669/70 and is buried in King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston. A painting of John Davenport hangs in The Yale University Art Gallery.