Local history found on Old Connecticut Path

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Ashford - posted Thu., Oct. 10, 2013
Jason Newton, a descendent of the Rev. Thomas Hooker and member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, gave a presentation on his ancestors’ migration west on the Old Connecticut Path, on Oct. 5 at the Babcock Library in Ashford, a town along the path. The photo shows Newton at one of the points along the path, the Mount Hope Crossing. Photo courtesy of Jason Newton. - Contributed Photo

The perennial child’s question, “Are we there yet?” would take on a whole new meaning, had it come from the lips of 12-year-old Mary Hooker in 1636, who walked for two weeks with other settlers from Cambridge, Mass., to Hartford, Conn., on the Old Connecticut Path, accompanied by 160 cattle.

Jason Newton, a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, gave a well-attended presentation on his ancestors’ historically significant – but relatively unknown – journey, at the Babcock Library in Ashford on Oct. 5. The talk was co-hosted by the Ashford Historical Society.

Newton is a direct descendent of the Rev. Thomas Hooker and other notable early American settlers via the Rev. Roger Newton, a student of Rev. Hooker who married Hooker’s daughter, Mary.

The Newtons have roots in several local Connecticut towns, including Mansfield, Ashford, Eastford, Willington and Tolland.

The Old Connecticut Path is important because it marks the beginning of the westward expansion of American settlers, Newton explained.

It largely followed an existing path through the wilderness to Boston, a route dotted with “praying” villages, groups of native Americans who had converted to Christianity. In the 1600s, a delegation of native American leaders traveled to Boston to invite the English to settle in their lands, and the invitation was accepted.

For Rev. Hooker and his congregation, this was seen as an exodus to a “promised land” and new freedoms, Newton said.

And that is why the journey also is an important landmark in American history, one directly linked to the American Revolution, Newton said.
A sermon by Rev. Hooker, based on Biblical passages that support self-governance as a gift from God, would lead to the creation of a precursor of the American constitution known as the Fundamental Orders, Newton said.

Given the historical significance of the people and events linked to the Old Connecticut Path, Newton has set himself a mission to gain federal recognition of the route.

And Newton isn’t content just to document the path. He is determined to share the experience of walking it with other history lovers, and is working on connecting some of the now publicly inaccessible parts of the path.

Clues to the Old Connecticut Path’s route are often “hidden in plain sight” today in the towns the route crosses, Newton said, such as a large stone marker on Route 89 in Ashford inscribed with the names of John Oldham (1634), Pastor John Wareham (1635) and Pastor Thomas Hooker (1636).

Newton also shared that in “shaking the trees” to find family connections, he discovered Ashford roots via the Dimick family. Timothy Dimick was a member of Knowlton’s Rangers, and Muriel Dimick, who died at age 10, is buried beside her grandparents at Westford Cemetery.

Newton’s talk also touched on the resources he drew on to recreate the path and some of the experiences of those who traveled it. Among the richest sources for this project have been histories/genealogies compiled by his own family members, as well as a photo collection left by his great-grandmother, Lucy Ida Newton, that spans four generations.

Newton has created a website that includes links for researching family names linked to the route, as well as descriptions of where the route is accessible to the public. It also provides links to videos he’s made of portions of the path.

You can experience part of the Old Connecticut Path with Newton on Sunday, Oct. 20, when he and others lead an interpretative walk from 1 to 3 p.m. that begins at Fenton-Ruby Park on Burma Road in Willington. (Rain date is Saturday, Oct. 26.) For more information about the walk, consult the Walktober schedule on The Last Green Valley website at http://www.tlgv.org/resources/walktober2013info.html. Newton can be contacted at oldconnecticutpath@gmail.com.

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