John Davenport

English Puritan clergyman and author John Davenport (1597-1670) founded the New Haven colony in America and was its theological ruler for its first 30 years.

Of a distinguished English family, John Davenport was the fifth son of the mayor of Coventry. He attended the free grammar school at Coventry, then entered Oxford but had to withdraw for lack of money. Made vicar of St. Stephen's in London when he was 19, he became widely known as a pulpit orator. He returned to Oxford to take a bachelor of divinity degree. All this time he seems to have remained loyal to the Church of England, although he knew members of the Puritan party. Prior to his election to St. Stephen's he had written letters professing his conformity in order to allay suspicion and silence his opposition.

Davenport's Nonconformism evidently developed gradually. In 1629 he was one of the group actively working for a charter for the America-bound Massachusetts Bay Company, and he was a friend of John Cotton. Davenport's was a strictly orthodox Puritanism; in Holland (as later in New England) he opposed the baptism of the children of the unregenerate. His views brought him into conflict with the Dutch Classis, and he was denied the right to preach. Thus, on John Cotton's invitation, Davenport sailed for Boston in 1637, with his wife and his lifelong friend, the merchant Theophilus Eaton. In Boston, Davenport took part in the Antinomain crisis, which involved Anne Hutchinson's heretical idea of "grace." He founded the colony of New Haven in 1638 and became its pastor, while Theophilus Eaton became its governor.

Devoted to the life of the colony, Davenport also authored many tracts, including The Knowledge of Christ (1653) and The Saints Anchor-hold in All Storms and Tempests (1701). In A Discourse about Civil Government in a New Plantation Whose Design Is Religion (1633) he defended theocracy, which he defined as making "the Lord God our Governor." Davenport's political and theological positions were expressed with the intensity of one who acts in constant expectation of the Messiah. He preached sermons in support of the regicide judges Edward Whalley and William Goffe, who fled to America and were said to have found refuge in his house.

Davenport opposed assimilating New Haven into the larger Connecticut colony. When efforts against this union failed, Davenport in 1667, feeling Christ's interests "miserably lost," accepted the pastorate of the First Church in Boston. He died in Boston on May 30, 1670.


Further Reading on John Davenport

Letters of John Davenport, Puritan Divine, edited by Isabel MacBeath Calder, was published in 1937. For information on Davenport see A. W. M'Clure, The Lives of John Wilson, John Norton, and John Davenport (1846), and Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana: or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England (1702; rev. ed., 2 vols., 1853-1855; repr. 1967). Robert G. Pope, The Half-way Covenant: Church Membership in Puritan New England (1969), includes an extensive chapter on Davenport. He is also discussed in Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953).