JOHN WEBSTER was the fifth colonial Governor of Connecticut (18th term). He was born at Cossington, Leicestershire, England, Aug. 16, 1590. His was a family of some substance. He married AGNES SMITH Nov. 7, 1609, at Cossington. They came to America sometime after 1627, and settled in Cambridge, Middlesex, MA. In April 1636, JOHN and AGNES moved from Newtowne (Cambridge) with Rev. THOMAS HOOKER to Suckiaug (Hartford). He was one of the first proprietors in Hartford, Hartford, CT.
When JOHN and his family came to Hartford, they settled on the south side of the Little River, a small stream flowing into the Connecticut River from the west. The Little River formed the boundary between two "plantations" into which the community was divided. The four largest land owners on the south side were George Wyllys, Thomas Welles, JOHN WEBSTER, and William Whiting. JOHN's lot was on what came to be, called Governor Street. It was so named because of the number of men living in that vicinity who became Governors: Edward Hopkins, George Wyllys, Thomas Welles, JOHN WEBSTER and Thomas H. Seymour. In recent years the name of the street has been changed to Popieluszko Court.
Governor Street (now Popieluszko Court) runs from Charter Oak Avenue to Wyllys Street. On the east side of the street, about halfway between Charter Oak and Wyllys was the home lot of Gov. JOHN WEBSTER.
Of the 153 original settlers of Hartford, only 10 gentlemen besides JOHN WEBSTER were honored with the imposing prefix of "Mr.". The ordinary title was "Goodman" or "Goodwife". "Mr." was reserved for those men of means and rank in the Colony.
He became a member of the Connecticut General Court in 1637, and in 1638 was also chosen as a Deputy Commissioner. He became an Assistant to the General Court of the Colony of Connecticut in 1639. As an Assistant, he was one of a small group of men who were second in power only to the Governor, Deputy Governor, and General Court of Magistrates. He traveled to towns in Connecticut as a judge, helped create criminal laws for the colony, settled land and boundary disputes, helped the New England Congress supply Connecticut towns with soldiers and ammunition for an expedition against the Indians, and surveyed the highway from Hartford to Windsor. He was a Commissioner to the United Colonies of New England in 1654.
The Colony of Connecticut elected him as Deputy Governor in 1655, with Thomas Welles as Governor. The next year, 1656, JOHN WEBSTER was elected as Governor. Elections were annual, and prior to 1659 it was believed that no person should serve a term of more than one year. In 1657 John Winthrop was elected as governor, with Thomas Welles as Deputy Governor and JOHN WEBSTER as Chief Magistrate.
JOHN WEBSTER was one of the leading members of the First Congregational Church of Hartford, whose minister, the Rev. THOMAS HOOKER, was the dynamic leader of the first settlers that came to Hartford. When HOOKER died in 1647, a controversy arose as to who should become his successor. The Rev. Samuel Stone, HOOKER's assistant, was supported by a majority of the church members. However, Rev. Stone wanted to change some aspects of church procedures, including liberalizing the eligibility requirements for infant baptism and admission to communion, while limiting the autonomy of each congregation. A significant number of the parishioners disagreed with Stone and wanted Michael Wigglesworth as Rev. HOOKER's successor. A religious dispute arose, and the congregation became split. Church and state were not separate at that time, so this became a political as well as a spiritual crisis for Hartford.
The dissenting group, of which JOHN WEBSTER was a prominent member, wanted to withdraw from the Hartford church and move to Massachusetts, but Rev. Stone and his followers would not release them from their church covenant. The dissenters attempted to get other Congregational Churches in nearby towns to accept them, but none would. In June 1656, a council met in Hartford to seek a solution to these differences. But Rev. Stone and his church refused to abide by the council's recommendations, and religious dissension persisted in the troubled colony. The principles disputed in Hartford were introduced in the General Assembly in August 1657, as the Half-Way Covenant, and became points of conflict for Congregational Churches throughout New England for over a decade. A key provision allowed Congregational churches to baptize children of parents who had themselves been baptized but who had never professed conversion and had consequently never been fully admitted to the Church.
Despite the fact that he had been named Connecticut's First Assistant following his year as Governor, JOHN WEBSTER, in 1659, joined with those members of the Hartford church who had decided to unite with other dissidents and establish a new congregation in Hadley, Hampshire, MA. On Apr. 18, 1659, through the arbitration of some Massachusetts Congregational Church leaders, many of the initial dissenters and Rev. Stone's faction signed an agreement for the former group to move to Massachusetts. The Hadley Company, as it was known, left Hartford shortly after that, with JOHN WEBSTER as one of its leaders. He was given the responsibility of laying out the roads for the company. He and his family went first to Northhampton, Hampshire, MA, and later to Hadley, Hampshire, MA, where he was made a magistrate. In May 1660 he was "commissioned with magistratical power for the year ensuing", by the Massachusetts General Court, but he died on Apr. 5, 1661, before this term had expired.
His most eminent descendant, Noah Webster, one of the chief lexicographers of the English language, erected in the Old Hadley Cemetery, in 1818, a modest slab upon or near the spot where Gov. WEBSTER was buried, bearing the following description:
|"To the memory of John Webster, Esq. one of the first settlers of Hartford in Connecticut, who was many years a Magistrate or Assistant and afterwards Deputy Gov. and Governor of that Colony, and in 1659 with three sons, Robert, William and Thomas, associated with others in the purchase and settlement of Hadley where he died in 1661, this monument is erected in 1818 by his descendant, Noah Webster of Amherst."|
|all children born in Cossington, Leicestershire, England|
wife Sarah Waterbury
husband Thomas Hunt
wife Mary Reeve
wife Abigail Alexander
wife Susannah Treat
husband JOHN MARSH
husband John Hunt
husband William Markham