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Teacher Guide

 Connecticut Colony and the Empire

 by Mark Williams

This guide contains the following sections. You may move directly to each section by clicking on the section's name, or scroll down through the guide from beginning to end. If you have not done so already, please read the General Introduction for the Teacher which discusses the philosophy behind these teaching units.
Unit Overview

Historical Background






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This site was created by Mark Williams, a history teacher at The Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Connecticut, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Some of the materials published here were originally created by Mark Williams as Connecticut Case Studies, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council, and printed by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. John F. Sutherland of Manchester Community College, Ronald P. Dufour of Rhode Island College, Thomas P. Weinland of the University of Connecticut, Tracey Wilson of Conard High School, Robert K. Andrian of The Loomis Chaffee School, and State Historian Christopher Collier served as consultants. The Connecticut Humanities Council is the State Committee of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The viewpoints or recommendations expressed in the materials on this site of are not necessarily those of the Council or the Endowment. Teachers are encouraged to print and make copies of these materials for their students.

Unit Overview


Students use primary sources from the first years of the Connecticut Colony, and from the first years of the protests against Parliamentary taxation in order to investigate the relationship between the English government and the colony on the eve of the American Revolution.

State Standards Addressed

St.1: see national standards on historical thinking below
St.2: Local and state hist./US and World: see national standards for particular eras below
St.3: emergence of government systems and principles; analysis of conflict
St.4: empathy

National Standards Addressed (from the National Standards for History: Basic Edition)

Historical thinking: 1. questioning and hypothesizing 2. comprehension, 3. analysis and interpretation, 4. research, 5. decision making

U.S. History: Era 2: St. 2A roots of representative government, 2B religious diversity and freedom; Era 3: St. 1A causes of American Revolution

World History: Era 7 causes of revolutions


Activity Types

Primary source analysis
Writing arguments
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Historical Background

This unit of Connecticut Case Studies was created to be integrated into a study of the American Revolution to demonstrate basic political values and traditions that had evolved among American colonists. Most teachers, at some point in their lessons on the Revolution, want to spend some time looking at political ideology, as it developed during the 1760's and 1770's, and considering how it supported the protests against the policies of the British government. When students have studied colonial America from its beginnings they can also appreciate the roots that this ideology had not only in Enlightenment thought, but also in patterns of settlement and government of 17th-century America. No matter how much background students have had, it is always a good idea, when approaching the Revolutionary era, to review the colonial heritage regarding constitutional traditions and political ideas.

As far as the American Revolution itself is concerned, there is no end to the controversy among historians. The spectrum ranges from those who see it as the climactic event in the birth of Liberty, to those who remind us of many groups, like Indians, women, blacks, and loyalists, who were no better or, in some cases, even worse off when independence had been secured. As to its causes, historians are similarly divided, some seeing class conflict, some pointing to political oppression, others saying that changes in Parliamentary policy threatened the status quo to which leading colonists were so attached. Then there are those that point to the great paradoxes of intentions vs. results, contradictory ideologies, and alliances of convenience. Surely, no American history course is complete without at least some introduction to various ways of looking at the Revolution.

Discussion of these issues can become somewhat abstract, however, and leave all but the "Advanced Placement" students in the dust. Connecticut Colony and the Empire was developed to provide the sort of material from local history that can make some of that discussion more concrete and meaningful. The unit is not a study of Connecticut during the Revolution, a story which is complicated enough in its own right. Nor does the unit attempt to "cover" the colonial history of Connecticut. Rather the focus is on certain traditions that evolved in the process of Connecticut's settlement and how these traditions related to the Revolutionary era. Even here, there is much complexity that is overlooked in an effort to help teachers get beyond 1789 by spring! Rather than providing a lot of information, the idea of this unit is to provoke questions and issues that can be used to get at some of the more abstract issues regarding the American Revolution in general. A deeper study of colonial and revolutionary America and Connecticut could use this brief unit as a starting point.

High school students generally come to a study of the American Revolution with rather simplistic notions of its causes and meaning: it had something to do with high taxes that the British were levying; the colonists were tired of being told what to do for so long and finally decided to work for independence; the colonists believed in equality and thus wanted to set up a new system that would ensure it. The materials in Connecticut Colony and the Empire offer evidence that will make these views difficult to defend without revision. First of all, students should see that Connecticut was, for all practical purposes, independent already - at least until 1763. Secondly, if it hasn't struck students already that Connecticut political values were anything but democratic and egalitarian, it certainly will after they look at the enclosed documents. Finally, the notion that colonists were all of one mind in their views on public affairs should be called into question.

Thus, the unit is aimed at accomplishing two things at once. Teachers can use it as part of an introduction to an inquiry into the causes and nature of the Revolution. At the same time, because the materials are of such a seminal nature, teachers will have an opportunity to expose their students to some of the most important documents and events in Connecticut's colonial political history. In the end, it is hoped that students will approach the Revolution with greater sophistication, and that they will become more curious about Connecticut's past and want to learn more about its colonial history as well as its role in the Revolution. Time constraints inevitably preclude involvement in these complex topics in a survey course, but at least students can be motivated to consider independent research or further study in this area.

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While there is no requirement that a teacher must use the enclosed materials for these objectives alone, the "Strategies and Activities" section was written with these in mind. Certainly, the documents enclosed can be of value for all sorts of approaches to American history.

1)To understand that the colony of Connecticut was virtually independent before 1763, and had its own representative government which was, in fact, guaranteed in its Royal Charter from the King of England.

2)To understand that Connecticut was settled originally in various places by groups hoping to create Puritan "Bible Commonwealths," not democracies in the modern sense. Here students could be engaged in a discussion of the nature of democracy - how that word has meant different things to people of different times.

3)To be exposed to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, some of the early laws of Connecticut, and the expressions of Whig thinking by Thomas Fitch and other writers during the Stamp Act crisis.

4)To practice reading and comprehending primary source material that uses archaic terms and lettering.

5)To use primary sources to test out hypotheses about values leading to the American Revolution. Here again is a good opportunity for discussion of key concepts as students consider what it means to have a revolution.

6)To practice developing good questions and issues based on fragmentary material.

7)To become interested in learning more about Connecticut's colonial and Revolutionary history through independent research.

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The student handouts and rubrics for the assessment are described on the assessment page. You may go directly to this unit's assessment by clicking here.

If this unit is part of a larger unit on the American Revolution, the teacher may choose to assess student understanding of the material here as part of the larger assessment. A shorter form of assessment for this material might involve students writing two opposing editorials or pamphlets, set in October 1765, in which they debate how the colony's legislature should respond to the Stamp Act recently passed by Parliament and to the civil unrest that is spreading across the New England colonies.

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This unit uses mostly primary source documents, grouped together in the following sequence. You may go to particular documents directly by clicking on their names.

§ "The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut" (January 1638/39), as transliterated by Albert Carlos Bates in 1934.

§ "Selections from Connecticut's Early Laws" - from the Code of 1650.

§ Thomas Fitch, "Reasons Why the British Colonies in America Should Not be Charged with Internal Taxes" (1764) - a pamphlet criticizing the proposed Stamp Act.

§ A page from a letter by Thomas Fitch to Richard Jackson, Feb. 23, 1765, suggesting that the colonists would probably end up obeying the Stamp Act.

§ An issue of The Connecticut Courant (September 9, 1765), with articles showing radical opposition to the Stamp Act.

§ Selections from the Colonial Records of Connecticut: October Session, 1765, including instructions to the colony's agent in London and radical resolutions against the Stamp Act

§ "Connecticut Colony: A Background Essay", by Mark Williams

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As stated above, the context in which this material was designed for use is as part of an introduction to the political ideology of the American Revolution. A teacher could actually begin the study of the Revolution with this material, using it as a bridge between the colonial period and the 1760's; or the teacher could do some general introduction on the Revolution first. This general introduction might be simply to ask students to articulate their notions about the Revolution as starting points for inquiry; or, perhaps, students could read about the opening hostilities at Concord and Lexington and list questions that come to mind (leading ultimately to questioning the origins of the ideas the legitimized all the rebelliousness). Yet another approach would be to take one seminal protest document, such as Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech, or James Otis's pamphlet on the early revenue acts ("Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved"), identify the principal political values used to support the argument, and begin to wonder how American colonists came to hold those values (e.g. the compact theory of government, ideas about "constitutional" and traditional rights, popular sovereignty, and direct representation (vs. the British concept of "virtual representation,") the notion that good government serves the people and is subordinate to natural law, notions of liberty, power, corruption, luxury, conspiracy - in other words, the "Whig" science of politics).

Whatever the initial tactic, it should bring students to the point where they are wondering how Americans got ideas that eventually led them to rebel against British authority and to become devoted to republicanism. At that point, they can use the materials on Connecticut to see what sort of traditions and principles colonists of the Revolutionary era were inheriting from their past. Announce that they will be looking at Connecticut as a case study. You may also want to caution them that each colony had its own history, and, although there were some similarities among the people of all the colonies, there were vast differences. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize too much about colonial political values simply on the basis of Connecticut's experience. Nevertheless, such a case study should at least provide some thinking points for hypothesizing on the evolution of political culture in America.

Take up the "Fundamental Orders" first in class. This document has been transliterated from the original, which is kept in a sealed case at the State Library in Hartford. The spelling and lettering have been maintained, even including one line that was crossed out in the original, in order to give students the full effect of dealing with primary sources. Warn them ahead of time that this will be a translation exercise before it can become an interpretation exercise. They are looking into another age, trying to find out about its ideas about government, and all they have is this barely intelligible old document. What did these people think was the purpose of a government? Whom should the government serve? How should it be formed and what should be its structure? Who should make the rules and enforce them? What rights do people have under this political system? From where does authority come?

Do the preamble and Article I together so they get the drift of the document. Have someone read each sentence aloud, and then ask someone to "translate" that sentence. These first sections have the most substance, and so it is worthwhile to spend a good deal of time having them probe until they can see that there is a religious basis for the agreement being made. You should not tell them much, and try to have them avoid being too conclusive in their interpretations. Everything at this point should be at the "maybe" stage. Of course, if they have already studied Connecticut or New England colonial history in some depth they will be tipped off by the phrase "purity of the goƒpell" and begin to see that this is a Puritan confederation forming. Even if they are well versed, it is good to define a bunch of questions they might have at this point. (Anything goes, from Did the King know about this "Comon welth?" to Why are those words crossed out? - leave them unanswered, the point is to practice putting curiosity into words. Simply praise the best questions.)

The rest of the document is fairly tedious, and, perhaps, would be best broken up for groups of students. Each group could be held responsible for "translating" two articles and summarizing them for the class. They should be able to describe the procedure outlined for electing the government, and understand the various responsibilities of the government and the magistrates. They should also see that this was a representative government. As they work they will probably need help with some of the words, but then so might you! Sometimes a guess will have to do. If they begin to get frustrated, assure them that after this the Constitution of the United States will be a snap.

This translating session should end with further questions about what these religious lawyers were up to. Tell them that there are further clues in the first laws the General Court enacted as it got down to business in the 1640's. Pass out the "Selections from Connecticut's Early Laws" and assign it for independent reading. Again, if it appears to be too much (although these laws are a lot more interesting than the "Fundamental Orders"), you could divide them up by section. Once they have read these, they can begin to hypothesize about the nature of Connecticut's early government. Was Connecticut a democracy? (Discuss democracy in terms of where ultimate authority or sovereignty lies. Where did the authors of the Fundamental Orders think ultimate authority lay? On what authority were the laws made? - note the biblical references in the capital laws). If students do not know the term, introduce the concept of "theocracy", and have them evaluate the extent to which Connecticut was a theocracy. What evidence do we have that it was? What relationship do the authors of these orders and laws see between themselves and the "mother country?" (there was none mentioned) Why do you suppose they set up their government in this way? Students might recall oppression of Puritans in the early 1600's and the desire of these Puritans to reform the Church of England; but if they don't, they should leave the question open - what religious beliefs did these people have? Were there other settlements besides these three towns? How did they think churches and the government were related?

These questions can all be left open, although you may want to say a few things about the concept of "democracy" at this time. Democracy, viewed by people of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was synonymous with what we would call "mob rule" today. These people feared unregulated populations "taking the law into their own hands," and the experiences of English people under Cromwell only served to confirm theories of imminent disaster when a duly constituted authority was missing. In fact, most political thinkers were even somewhat uneasy about the idea of a "republic." Only the most radical, the new "Enlightenment" thinkers, espoused republican principles. Followers of John Locke's notions were hardly the mainstream thinkers in England. In America these "whig" philosophers achieved increasing popularity in the 18th Century, but fear of "mad raging democracies" was an integral part of the ideology. Democracy then came to refer to a class (the "masses" in 19th-century parlance), that should never be allowed to have too much control of a government - or Liberty would be lost! How differently we use words in different times.

The next documents to puzzle over are the Fitch papers. Thomas Fitch was governor of Connecticut at the time Parliament passed the Sugar Act and the ministry announced its intention to pass a Stamp Act in the next session. The Connecticut Assembly asked him and some others to protest the stamp tax. The pamphlet represents Fitch's ideas, and, actually, was not as radical as many people in Connecticut would have liked. The single page of the letter he wrote to Richard Jackson, in fact, shows clearly that he thought Parliamentary acts should be obeyed, even if they violated colonial notions of constitutionality (Jackson was Connecticut's "agent", or lobbyist, in Parliament). As Fitch was soon to discover, his fellow Connecticut citizens did not agree with his caution. Particularly those of the "new light" persuasion, and those who had interests in western lands, were upset with Fitch's moderation, and used the issue in the 1766 election to defeat him. Still, Fitch does raise constitutional objections to Parliamentary taxation that were the type that would become the basis of whig protest to British policy. Like James Otis of Massachusetts, he suggested Parliament was a supreme law-making body and only they could undo their own acts. On the other hand, he set out to prove they had made a serious mistake that violated all sorts of traditional rights and privileges. The resolves by the legislature and the Sept. 9, 1765 issue of the Courant are more representative of the whig views that were coming to dominate Connecticut during the Stamp Act crisis. Apparently independent Connecticut had no intention of obediently buying the stamps.

Again, it is not necessary that everyone read the entire Fitch pamphlet, especially considering the difficulty of the old type. You may want to make a two- or three-page handout of excerpts yourself, and simply have the facsimile pamphlet around for exhibit, or for those interested in reading more of the argument. Another possibility, particularly if you are pressed for time, is to assign the pamphlet to one of your most able students while the others are reading Fitch's letter, the resolutions and the newspaper. Then have this student role-play Fitch and the other students interview him to get his views on new Parliamentary policy (or argue with him as more radical constituents).

Whatever the approach, the students need to be able to understand the basic principles for which Connecticut politicians stood: traditional rights, direct representation, charter privileges, self-government. On the issue of direct representation, you could tell them that the British ministry, in response to protests about the Stamp Act, argued that all British subjects, whether living in England or not, were virtually represented in Parliament because Parliament looked out for the welfare of the whole empire, not simply that of those who elected them. Resolutions 4 and 7 of the Connecticut Assembly shows that Americans were not convinced that Parliament was so beneficent, nor that there was such a distinction anyway. The only representation they believed in was "actual", that is representation by those directly elected by the people.

Further discussion should address the issue of what seem to be the constitutional assumptions behind the position that the colonies should not be taxed by Parliament? Most importantly, students should speculate on how these ideas about authority and the relationship of Connecticut to the Empire compare to those of the early settlers of Connecticut. Again, they should come up with a list of questions that come to their mind: what was the legal basis of the Connecticut "Comon welth?"; what happened to the authority of the Bible?; what was this Charter Fitch was talking about - how did it come about - what did it say and mean?

With all of these questions in mind they can now approach the narrative "Background Essay" in a purposeful manner. This essay probably won't (and shouldn't) answer all of their questions, but it should fill in a lot of gaps. A follow-up discussion should focus on how the new information has helped answer unanswered questions, and what questions remain unanswered. Teachers may also want to make note that students will see more instances of utopian efforts on the part of various groups in America as the course continues into the 19th and 20th Centuries. After this discussion, students will be in a position to hypothesize on the effect of Connecticut's constitutional heritage on its relationship with the government of the British Empire in the 1760's and 1770's. They should be able to see that Connecticut "freemen" were used to running their own affairs, and history had shown them to be intensely jealous of that habit. It should also be clear that, even though the zealous Puritanism of the early settlers had faded by the middle of the 18th Century, the basic forms of Connecticut's government had remained fairly constant. This meant that Connecticut's leaders could argue their anti-taxation position not only on the basis of Enlightenment philosophy, but also on the basis of precedent, an important aspect of English constitutionalism. While few colonies actually elected their own governors, and only in New England had covenant theology been the basis for the establishment of governments, the role of traditional self-rule through representative governments in developing opposition to Parliamentary taxation was significant in every colony. That would be a good hypothesis on which to build an understanding of the Revolution.

Finally, if the teacher has been careful to encourage a questioning atmosphere and allow for a lot of loose ends, students should now be of a mind to want to know more. A great many topics present themselves for further investigation: figures such as Thomas Hooker, Roger Ludlow, John Winthrop, Jr., John Davenport, and Thomas Fitch; the New Haven colony; the Warwick patent; the Charter Oak; the Great Awakening as a religious, social and political event; the controversy over western lands; the whole question of how Connecticut was changing economically and how that affected relationships with the Empire; the election of 1766 and its relationship to Connecticut's opposition to the Stamp Act; what happened in Connecticut after 1766; the story of religious toleration in Connecticut; the degree to which colonists of the early settlements aspired toward Hooker's ideals; the emergence of a merchant class, and its role in opposition to Parliamentary policy; etc. Don't forget to leave time to point the way for interested students.

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Primary Sources

"The Charter of Connecticut (1662)," available in the Tercentenary Pamphlet Series (Pamphlet #3), published in 1933 by the Tercentenary Commission of the State of Connecticut. These pamphlets can be found in vertical files of most libraries.

Dummer, Jeremiah. "A Defense of New England Charters" (1721), in Annals of America (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1968), Vol. I, pp. 336-343. This is similar to the Fitch pamphlet, but 40 years earlier, thus suggesting the Connecticut's independence was at issue throughout the colonial period. It's difficult reading.

"The Warwick Patent" (1631) and "The Massachusetts Bay Commission" (1633), in Jones (see below), pp. 173-177.

Secondary Sources

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967. This provides a good general discussion of political theory of the day. Leaders of the protest movement in all the colonies were well versed in whig theory, and used it extensively to justify the rebellion.

Bushman, Richard L. From Puritan to Yankee: Character and Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967. Discusses the demise Puritanism and the rise of materialism after 1700.

Collier, Christopher. "The Connecticut Declaration of Rights Before 1818: A Victim of Revolutionary Redefinition," Connecticut Law Review (Fall, 1982); and by the same author, "Is Connecticut the Constitution State?" Boyle's Connecticut Almanac & Guide, 1983. These articles by the State Historian deal with historiographical issues related to Connecticut constitutional history in the colonial and revolutionary periods.

Dunn, Richard S. Puritans and Yankees: the Winthrop Dynasty of New England, 1630-1717. Princeton: the Princeton University Press, 1962; reissued by W.W. Norton, 1971. Scholarly study of an eminent family.

Gipson, Lawrence Henry. Connecticut Taxation, 1750-1775. Tercentenary pamphlet X (1933). Good for students who have the idea that taxes on the colonies were oppressively high. Gipson's data can make one begin to look at the colonies as ungrateful children (a view held by many good Tories). This pamphlet can generally be found in vertical files, if not on shelves, of most libraries.

Jones, Mary Jeanne Anderson. Congregational Commonwealth, Connecticut 1636-1662. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1968. Careful study of the Fundamental Orders as a constitution for an independent state. The author's chapter on the Fundamental Orders was recently excerpted in a publication by the U.S. Constitution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut entitled The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. Included in this publication is a transliteration and photographs of the Orders, and an excellent Introduction by Christopher Collier entitled, "The Place of the Fundamental Orders in American Constitutional Theory."

Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Good for showing that religion really did matter to people other than Winthrop and Hooker.

Van Dusen, Albert E. Puritans Against the Wilderness. Vol. I (to 1763) of David M. Roth, ed. Series in Connecticut History. Chester, Conn.: Pequot Press, 1975). Solid, clear narrative. Good discussion of economic changes in the colonial period.

Zeichner, Oscar. Connecticut's Years of Controversy, 1750-1776. New York: Archon Books, 1970. A study of colony politics and religious turmoil and their influence upon the Revolution in Connecticut. Has a good summary chapter, and is good, overall, for understanding how independent Connecticut was before the Revolution and in what way Connecticut did feel threatened. Also chapters 1 and 2 have good insights into the social and political order of the early 1700's.


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