Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick is a recent New York Times best selling book. It lays out the first fifty years of Plymouth and other New England colonies and devotes much effort to describing the relations of the colonists and the native Indians leading up to and through King Philip’s War (1675-76). This history allows Thomas1 Munson descendents to put the facts of his life as gathered by Myron Munson in Volume I of the The Munson Record into a broader historical context and to flesh out a little more of the character and background of the man.
Thomas1 Munson is believed to have traveled overland from Boston to Hartford as part of a group given a charter by the Massachusetts Bay colony. He was in his early twenties having been born about 1612 in England. He could have arrived in Boston as early as 1632, but is more likely to have arrived with a subsequent wave in 1634. He was a soldier of the lowest rank but was not indentured or otherwise bound. He rapidly gained skills and reputation as a carpenter and homebuilder. He was not well off enough to have been designated as a “freeman” in Hartford and he was thus unable to vote on community business. His status changed, however, in 1637 when the Massachusetts Bay colony used the deaths of some traders as the reason to declare war on the Pequot Indian tribe. Thomas1 Munson (age 25) was one of 90 Connecticut militiamen (plus 70 Mohegan under their chief Uncas) that joined other Massachusetts Bay Colony forces to attack the main Pequot village on the Mystic River northeast of New London. It was a complete victory of the firearms over bows and clubs variety, and upon returning to Hartford the soldiers were rewarded with land parcels in addition to their pay. Thomas1 received a two-acre lot and built a house and a barn on it. He was granted at least two other parcels, both east and west of the Connecticut River, that he subsequently abandoned and they reverted to the town after 1640.
The reason these lots were abandoned is that Thomas1 sought and obtained permission in 1639 to join a new group of settlers who were going to an area of land purchased from the Quinnapiac Indians in a town to be named New Haven. It is likely that Thomas1 was ‘escaping’ Hartford after the death of his wife Susan (whether from child-birth or disease is not known) as he and his best friend (perhaps even brother-in-law) Samuel Whitehead were the only soldiers from Hartford to move to New Haven. Thomas1 is listed as a “free burgess” and signed the Fundamental Agreement. A year later he is listed as a ‘freeman’ and one of 70 men comprising the Court of New Haven. There was plenty of work for a carpenter. He was given land and built a house on George Street near the town green. He was married to Joanna, who was two years older than he and perhaps a widow also. In 1641 or 1642 their first child (Elizabeth2) arrived and the house they built on George Street needed expansion. Also in 1642 Thomas1 was named Sergeant of the ‘trained band,’ a title he was to have for 19 years. A year or so later a second child (Samuel2) was born. New Haven continued to grow in that decade and quickly became the second largest town in the Connecticut colony. Thomas1 prospered.
In 1651 (age 39) Thomas1 decided to leave New Haven with a group that was going to a parcel of land in southwestern New Jersey on the Delaware River. The group was well organized, had support from the Connecticut colony including arms and funds, but was frustrated repeatedly by both the Swedes and the Dutch. The Swedes (across the river in Delaware) had claims to the same land and the Dutch in New Amsterdam were vigorously trying to stop any English colony in New Jersey. Two Connecticut vessels were sequestered in New Amsterdam and, along with them, an early band of colonists. These events were minor parts of the larger conflict being played out on the Continent as the First Dutch War (1652 –1654). Thomas1 had sold the George Street house in anticipation of moving, but finally in 1656 at age 44 he gave up his plans to move for good and bought a house on Church Street. He had a wife and three children, the oldest of whom were teenagers. He asked the town for land to open a shop and may have labored as a wheelwright briefly. He continued to accept more responsibility from the town and was named a selectman in 1656 and a Deputy to the General Court in 1662. His seat in the church was prominently located near the front.
Over the next two decades he increased his dedication to the colony of New Haven and was often given assignments suitable to his experience. He assessed community buildings for repair, led an effort to start a school, laid out roads and bridge sites, evaluated estates in probate, and acted as a guardian for minors. In 1661 (at age 49) he was selected for promotion to Ensign of the New Haven militia. He at first declined, but must have been persuaded to accept it on a trial basis. Three years later, at about the same time as his daughter Elizabeth2’s marriage to Timothy Cooper, he again asked to be relieved of his militia duty, but the town leadership instead promoted him to Lieutenant, which he accepted. He also bought a larger house and barn on Temple Street where his family lived until his death.
Thomas1 participated vigorously in the great debate as to whether New Haven should join the Connecticut colony as a subordinate county. This was a political reorganization being imposed by the English government and at first the Town declined. New Haven did agree to join three years later in 1665 after obtaining a series of concessions concerning representative governance, the boundaries of the colony and the establishment of a General Court capable of appeals. Thomas1 was chosen initially as the alternate Deputy to represent New Haven at the General Court in Hartford and two years later as the Deputy. This would have required him to travel twice a year to Hartford for several weeks. After several years of this life, and with no lessening of his other duties as a businessman, selectman and Court Commissioner, he petitioned the town at age 56 to relieve him of his duties as the Lieutenant, but again the town declined.
At this point in his life Thomas1 and Joanna had no children at home. In 1664 Elisabeth2 was married to Timothy Cooper, the son of fellow militiaman Lieutenant Thomas Cooper. Thomas’1 son Samuel2 was married in 1665 at age 22 to Martha Bradley. He had been set up in business as a shoemaker in the town and was himself recognized as a freeman. In 1667 his youngest daughter Hannah2 married Joseph Tuttle who was a friend and co-worker of her brother. In 1670 Samuel2 relocated 10 miles north to a new community called Wallingford, where he was among the first 28 ‘planters’ to sign an agreement in organizing the new community. At about the same time Elisabeth2 and Timothy moved their family to Springfield along with her father-in-law and his large family.
In 1673 the Connecticut Colony paid extra attention to its militia and its ability to defend itself with the onset of the Third Dutch War and a continuation of the border dispute with New Amsterdam to the south and west of New Haven. By this time New Haven had ‘not more than 500 households’ (including its three or four outlying settlements) and was still the second largest town after Hartford in the Colony. A larger militia was authorized and funds to pay for and train ‘dragoons’ (mounted infantry) were provided with part of them coming from New Haven. Captain Robert Treat and Lt. Thomas1 Munson were named to command this larger force. Additionally, a Council of War comprised of the ‘…Governor, Lt Governor, Assistants [four others] and Lt Thomas1 Munson.’ was created to govern between the semi-annual meetings of the General Council. Even though a peace had been concluded between the English and Dutch before the next session convened, the preparations were to stand them in good stead.