Connecticut State Library with state seal

The "Warwick Patent"

Prior to 1628, Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick, became president of the Council for New England, the company authorized to develop "Northern Virginia." On March 19, 1631 ("Old Style" calendar ), Rich purportedly prepared a document that has somewhat inaccurately come to be known as the "Warwick Patent," the "Old Patent," or "Connecticut’s First Charter." However, the existing versions of that document are neither a charter from the King nor a patent from the Council for New England and include no provisions for the creation of a corporation or a government with legal status. Rather, the document is a deed of conveyance from Warwick to certain "Lords and Gentlemen" (including Lord Saye and Sele and Lord Brooke, for whom Saybrook was named) for "All that part of New England in America which lies and extends itselfe from a River there called Narraghensett River … to the South Sea."

Although Warwick’s conveyance to the "Lords and Gentlemen" should have been covered by an actual grant or patent from the Council for New England, it remains unclear even today whether Warwick actually had title to the land described or the authority to transfer it to the "Lords and Gentlemen." Frank Thistlethwaite notes in Dorset Pilgrims that "there is doubt whether the patent was ever properly executed (p. 23)." R. V. Coleman indicates that Warwick’s conveyance "rested on no evident title to the land granted (p. 9)" and that although on June 21, 1632 the secretary of the Council for New England was "instructed to bring in a ‘rough draught’ of a patent to Warwick (p. 10)," there is "no evidence that such a patent passed, and much that it did not (p. 11)." Further, even Warwick’s deed to the "Lords and Gentlemen" had what Coleman terms "a very shadowy existence (p. 9)." Richard S. Dunn goes so far as to state that the "Warwick patent of 1632 has never since been seen, and was probably a fiction (p. 74)."

In 1660, following the restoration of Charles II to the throne, Connecticut’s leaders felt it necessary to justify the colony’s legal status. They were in an awkward position, as Connecticut did not have a charter from the Crown. The basis of Connecticut’s government was derived from a March 3, 1635/6 commission from the Massachusetts Bay Colony authorizing groups from that colony to settle in Connecticut, and its claims to land were largely based on the "Patent," a copy of which they were unable to locate. In 1661, Governor Winthrop was sent to England with instructions from the General Court to use "all due meanes to procure a Coppy of the Patent"or to secure a new patent with "al ye rights, provilidges, authority and imunities that are granted in ye Massachuset Colonyes Pattent."

Winthrop returned to Connecticut with a document which he termed the "copye of the Patent for Connecticutt / being ye copy of that copy wch was shewed/ to ye people there by Mr. Georg Fenwick." However, Governor Winthrop was also able to secure a document with more substantive legal status, the famous Charter of 1662 which not only incorporated but extended the territory described in the "copye of the Patent," providing Connecticut with boundaries extending from the Narragansett River to the South Sea (Pacific Ocean).

The historical significance of the "Warwick Patent" is not what it actually provided but what Connecticut’s early leaders believed or claimed it provided. In 1635, the "Warwick Patent" was used to justify the establishment of a colony and the erection of a fort at Saybrook, a claim to lands in Matianuck (later Windsor, Connecticut) by a party led by Francis Stiles, and the establishment of John Winthrop, Jr. as the "governor of the river Connecticut." The "Patent" was subsequently invoked to help legitimize Connecticut’s legal status. By 1662, what John Winthrop, Jr. described as the lost "Originall Pattent" but which historian R.V. Coleman calls "the non-existent Warwick title, grown to limits probably unthought-of in 1632 (p. 53)" was used to help secure the Charter providing legal bounds and a basis for government that lasted until the Constitution of 1818. Even after the Charter was obtained, the "Old Patent" was cited to support Connecticut’s position in boundary disputes with neighboring colonies.

Connecticut Archives: Towns and Lands in the State Archives includes three versions of Warwick’s 19 March 1631 (by the "Old Style" calendar) deed of conveyance. The first is "The Copye of the Patent for Connecticutt" which Winthrop brought to Connecticut from London (Connecticut Archives: Towns and Lands, Series I, Doc. 2Aab).

The second version (Connecticut Archives: Towns and Lands, Series I, Doc. 5) is a copy "taken out" by John Talcott (1625- July 23, 1688), one of the patentees of the Charter of 1662. Jacobus indicates that among other offices, Talcott served as an Assistant; Treasurer of the Connecticut Colony, 1660-1675; and Commissioner for the United Colonies. "In March 1663 he was a Commissioner to treat with New Haven relative to the absorption of that colony by Connecticut; Commissioner on the New York boundary, Oct. 1663, on the Massachusetts and Rhode Island boundaries, Oct. 1664, and on the Rhode Island boundary, May 1672 (Jacobus, p. 751)."

The third version was made August 6, 1679 by John Allyn, Secretary of the Connecticut Colony (Connecticut Archives: Towns and Lands, Series I, Doc.2B). On August 1, Rhode Island had asserted its claims to the western boundary granted them by their charter, which overlapped the area described in the "Warwick Patent" and Connecticut’s Charter, and had had petitioned the King accordingly. It is likely that Allyn executed his copy of the "Warwick Patent" in that context.

Images of all three versions of the "Warwick Patent" are included in this online presentation, along with a transcription of the Winthrop "Copye" made in 2007 by State Library staff. You may also wish to consult resources for reading and interpreting old handwriting, and explaining the 1752 calendar change.

Andrews, Charles. The Beginnings of Connecticut, 1632-1662. Tercentenary Pamphlet XXXII. New Haven: Published for the Tercentenary Commission by Yale University Press, 1934. [HistRef ConnDoc T 271 h p].

Bates, Albert Carlos. The Charter of Connecticut: A Study. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1932 [CSL call number F 97 .B33].

Coleman, R. V. The Old Patent of Connecticut. Westport, Connecticut: priv. Print., 1936 [CSL call number F 97 .C65 1936].

Crofut, Florence S. Marcy. Guide to the History and the Historic Sites of Connecticut. New Haven" Yale University Press, 1937 [CSL call number HistRef F 94 .C88 1937]. See Volume I, Chapter II, p.19.

Dunn, Richard S. "John Winthrop, Jr., and the Narragansett Country." William and Mary Quarterly 3rd Ser., vol. 13, no. 1. pp. 68-86 [CSL call number E 186 .W55].

Hoadley, Charles J. The Warwick Patent. Hartford: The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1902 [CSL call number F 97 .H67].

Jacobus, Donald Lines and Edgar Francis Waterman. Hale, House and Related Families…. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1952 [CSL call number CS 71 .H163 1952]2.

Jones, Mary Jeanne Anderson. Congregational Commonwealth Connecticut, 1636-1662. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1968 [CSL call number F 97 .J75]. See pp. 173-5 for a transcription of "The Warwick Patent, or The Old Patent of Connecticut."

Peters, Samuel. General History of Connecticut. London: 1781. Reprint. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Literature House / Gregg Press, 1970 [CSL call number E 97 .P29 1970].

Thistlethwaite, Frank. Dorset Pilgrims: The Story of West Coast Pilgrims Who Went to New England in the 17th Century. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1989 [CSL call number F 7 .T48 1989].

Trumbull, Benjamin. A Complete History of Connecticut Civil and Ecclesiastical…. New London: H. D. Utley, 1898 [CSL call number F 97 .T79 1898]. See Volume 1, pp. 9-11 and a transcription of "The old patent of Connecticut, 1631," pp. 423-4.

Prepared by the History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library, August 2008.