Early Arrivals

While the number of Irish colonists who came to Connecticut during the seventeenth and eighteenth century cannot be established with exactitude, it can be said that the value remained relatively small until circa 1820. That being said, however, the Irish were among those who were first to settle the area in the decades following the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Speaking of the Irish Rev. William Byrne notes in his History of the Catholic Church in the New England States, “In Connecticut they were contemporaries of Theophilus Eaton, who was Governor of the New Haven colony from 1639 till his death in 1657. They rendered signal services in the Pequot war in 1637. Captain Daniel Patrick, an Irishman, was dispatched from Boston with forty men to assist the Connecticut troops in that struggle. He next appears in 1639, when, with Robert Feake, he purchased Greenwich from an Indian sachem, thus becoming the first settlers of that town.”1

Patrick is particularly noteworthy in Connecticut’s early history as the founders of Greenwich were placed in the difficult position of being placed on the border between the colonial claims of both the English and Dutch governments while residing in the midst of hostile native populations. The latter eventually drove Patrick to swear allegiance to the States General, West India Company, and the governmental representatives of New Netherlands on April 9, 1642, this in an effort to gain protections from the natives.

Tragically, however, it would be the act of a Dutchman that would end Patrick’s life. After surviving an attack by and then killing and beheading the local chief Mayamo, Patrick called for defensive aid from Fort Amsterdam. A company of 120 men were sent from Manhattan to retaliate against the Stamford tribe but finding none in the area challenged Patrick’s claims as being fabricated. After allegedly spitting in his accuser’s face, Patrick was shot dead as he turned to part with the Dutch force.

While Patrick’s end was dreadful, his contributions to the early history of Connecticut were memorialized in the naming of three small islands – known, respectively, as the Great Captain, Little Captain, and Wee Captain Islands – located off the coast of Greenwich. In 1830, the former became the site of the Great Captain Island Lighthouse, this originally constructed in 1830 and replaced due to deterioration in 1868. The latter granite structure was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.2

Another area of the state to see early contributions from individuals of Irish heritage was the settlement at Windsor. Reverend Byrne calls out several of the Irish among Windsor’s first settlers. “John Dyer is mentioned in the town records as a ‘Pequot soldier.’ Edward King, ‘an Irishman, one of the oldest settlers in this vicinity,’ probably settled here about 1635. The name of John Griffen appears in 1648, but he resided there, no doubt, before that time.

Another Celtic name found in the records of the town is Edward Ryle.”3 Byrne also notes that five Irishmen from the Connecticut colony received generous allotments of land following their participation in the Great Swamp Fight of 1675, this during King Philip’s War. These individuals are identified as James Murphy, Daniel Tracey, Edward Larkin, James Welch, and John Roach.4

Significantly, in his discussion of the Irish at Windsor, Byrne highlights what appears to be a very early manifestation of the prejudicial and inferior treatment that Irish immigrants in Connecticut would face during the seventeenth, eighteen, and early nineteenth centuries. He notes, “King was Ryle’s host, and for this exercise of fraternal charity both became amenable to a peculiar law then on the statute books.”

The regulation, approved by the General Court of Connecticut in 1637, read that, “No young man that is not married, nor hath any servant, and be no public officer, shall keep house by himself without consent of the town where he lives, first had, under pain of 20 shillings per week.”5 It continued, “No master of a family shall give habitation or entertainment to any young man to sojurn in his family, but by the allowance of the inhabitants of said town where he dwells, under a like penalty of 20 shillings per week.”6

On June 27, 1659, the townsmen of Windsor used the aforementioned statutes against both King and Ryle. Their ruling read,

The townsmen took into consideration how to prevent inconvenience and damage that may come to the town if  some order be not established about entertaining and admitting of persons to be inhabitants in the town. We  therefore order that no person or persons whatsoever shall be admitted inhabitant in this town of Windsor, without the approbation of the town, or townsmen, that are, or shall be, from year to year, in being. Nor shall any man sett or sell an house or land so as to bring in any to be inhabitant into the town without the approbation of the townsmen, or giving in such security as many to be accepted to save the town from damage.

Also, it is ordered by the townsmen, that whereas Edward King (an Irishman, who afterwards lived on the east side of the River, near Podunk), doth reside in a place remote from the Town where there has sometimes been recourse of diverse persons in a private way which we judge may prove prejudicial to divers persons if not timely prevented. It is therefore ordered that on or before the first of October next he shall give in sufficient security for his good carriage in his family and also fir his careful attendance of the order of this jurisdiction, and of the order of this town, or else shall continue there no longer than that time, upon the penalty of 20 shillings per week. It is also ordered that Edward Ryle shall continue there no longer than the aforesaid time appointed, upon the same penalty.7

Both King and Ryle fell victim to the aforementioned General Court statutes regardless of the fact that no judgment of potential to become charges of the town or claims of vagrancy or were laid against them. The potential for similar rulings remained on the books until 1702 and 1821, respectively, whereupon the two state regulations identified were repealed. Despite these prejudices, however, it appears King maintained a relatively respectable place in the community. Old Main Street, the first thoroughfare officially laid out in what is now the town of South Windsor, was established in 1679 and initially carried the name of “King’s Highway,” after that town’s early Irish settler.8

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