The Old Connecticut Path brought settlers to state

I first learned about the Old Connecticut Path when I lived in Woodstock and saw a plaque on Route 171 identifying a segment of that road as part of the Old Connecticut Path. But it wasn’t until I met Jason Newton that I really came to understand the path’s importance and the unique place it holds in our regional and national history.

Just over seven years ago, Jason began his journey of discovery along the Old Connecticut Path. Since then he has spent countless hours researching and retelling the compelling stories of early English settlers who ventured into the Connecticut wilderness to establish new towns and communities.

Jason took an active interest in his family genealogy after retiring from a career as a school psychologist and special needs teacher. He discovered that his ancestor, Roger Newton, had been a traveler on the Old Connecticut Path in 1640 when he walked from Cambridge to Hartford to study for the ministry with the Rev. Thomas Hooker. Roger Newton would eventually marry Hooker’s daughter Mary.

Jason has helped bring to light the history and location of the Old Connecticut Path and shares his findings through presentations, walks and an excellent Facebook page. Here is a transcript from one of the YouTube presentations he developed. A link for the entire program is below.

“The Old Connecticut Path was the great trail of the native people linking the Massachusetts, Nipmuc and Tunxis tribes on a journey from Massachusetts Bay to the Connecticut Valley.

“In 1630 a delegation of chieftains followed the Connecticut Path from Hartford to Boston for the purpose of inviting the English to come from Boston to establish settlements in the Connecticut Valley. The westward migration began in earnest in 1635 and 1636 when parties began the journey from the Massachusetts Bay along the Connecticut Path to the Connecticut Valley to establish the towns of Windsor, Wethersfield and Hartford.

“The most famous migration was that of the congregation, led by Thomas Hooker, from Cambridge across the Old Connecticut Path to establish Hartford in 1636. The route they followed went from native village to native village and offered the travelers a place to rest where they could take advantage of the hospitality of the native people.

“During the period of 1640 to 1680, the Rev. John Elliot of Roxbury, Massachusetts, traveled along the Old Connecticut Path to establish praying Indian villages along the path. The location of the praying villages along the path and the record of travels along the path by Daniel Gookin, commissioner of Indian Affairs, gives us markers of where the Old Connecticut Path followed that we can use today to identify the route.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaJ3E1g2Xys

Jason came to realize that the Old Connecticut Path was not just a single path through the wilderness between Massachusetts Bay and the Connecticut River Valley, but more a corridor of migratory travel that had been used by native inhabitants for 2,000 to 3,000 years.

Jason’s journey in rediscovering the Old Connecticut Path has been guided by an attempt to answer three important questions. Can the route be reconnected all the way from Cambridge to Hartford? After 375 years of human development, are there still wild places along the path where it’s possible to experience the wilderness as it might have been during the earliest travelers’ migration? And finally, are there still artifacts left by the earliest travelers and settlers that mark their passing along the Old Connecticut Path? Jason answers a resounding yes to each of these questions.

According to Jason, “the most dramatic sections of the Old Connecticut Path may be found between Sutton, Massachusetts, and Tolland, Connecticut. The path follows old roads and forgotten paths deep within the woods of The Last Green Valley. It travels over ancient bridges, past beaver dams, across meadows and rolling hills. Ancient homestead sites and historic homes stand as testament to the lives of the early settlers who came to live along the path. Most compelling are the stepping stones laid across along the path to help make the way easier for travel along the path across streams. Following these stones truly allows you to walk in the footsteps of pioneers.”

For the past several years, Jason has developed his work into a compelling program that he has delivered to regional historic societies, community groups and members of The Last Green Valley Inc. He has also led several popular Walktober walks for the organization and I have had the pleasure of joining him as he explores the forests and trails of northeastern Connecticut and the remains of the Old Connecticut Path.

More recently, Jason’s work has shifted to exploring connections between the Old Connecticut Path and the Great Migration of early pioneers to Connecticut and later Vermont. He hopes to eventually write a book that connects places along the path with stories of people who came to America and headed west to Connecticut during the early years.

Jason’s journey to the end of the Old Connecticut Path, and his rediscovery of the route his ancestor took in 1640, have now taken him full circle and compelled him to research even more distant beginnings. He is now working his way back through the history of these pioneer travelers, to their life in England before their journey to the New World.

The early colonists to Massachusetts Bay had probably never traveled more than 10 miles from the village of their birth, yet they were compelled to make the transatlantic crossing to New England, and then through wilderness to settle new communities and start life anew.

Jason is fascinated by the fact that between 1620 to 1640, as many as 20,000 colonists migrated west, many of them along the Old Connecticut Path. The path that traverses through northeastern Connecticut, established thousands of years earlier by Native Americans, is the first of what would be countless routes used by travelers the world over to settle America.

The enduring story of America is our restless spirit to move forward to find new opportunity. The Old Connecticut Path is America’s story, it is our region’s story, and 375 years later, it is still possible to walk the path in the footsteps of those who went before to make a new world.

We live in a beautiful region called The Last Green Valley. Our natural and cultural resources define who we are and who we will become. I hope you will join me and others as we share it, enjoy it, and pass it on.

Bill Reid is the chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.