A few days ago, as part of my temporary work, I found myself making a delivery at a house with a blue plaque on it. I was surprised to read that this old farmhouse was the home, from 1626 to 1631, of Thomas Hooker, described as “The Father of American Democracy”, and of John Eliot, “Apostle to the Indians” (i.e. the Native Americans).
The house is now known as Cuckoos Farm, in the village of Little Baddow near Chelmsford – in England, not in Massachusetts. This is officially listed as a 17th century timber-framed and plastered house, although sadly the windows are modern. It is about five miles from my home in Great Baddow.
There is more information about Hooker and Eliot, and their residence on Little Baddow, on the website of the Little Baddow History Centre. I was already aware that Hooker, a Puritan, had been a lecturer at what is now Chelmsford Cathedral, and I had heard of Eliot as a Bible translator. But I did not know that when Hooker was forced to leave Chelmsford he opened a school in Little Baddow, with Eliot as his assistant.
There seems to be some uncertainty about the dates. The school in Little Baddow may not actually have been founded until 1630. By 1633 both Hooker and Eliot had separately emigrated to Massachusetts. But their Puritan heritage lived on in Little Baddow. A Congregational chapel built in 1707 near Cuckoos Farm is still in use, now as a United Reformed Church.
Thomas Hooker was indeed one of the pioneers of American democracy, of which, in John Fiske’s words, he “deserves more than any other man to be called the father”. He is also celebrated as “the Father of Connecticut”, as he was one of the founders of that colony, and a drafter of its Fundamental Orders, a precursor of the Constitution of the USA. It is interesting to see that, although himself a pastor involved in politics, he was also a pioneer in separating church and state: he opposed the practice in Massachusetts of allowing the church to control who was allowed to vote, and this was one of his main motivations for leaving Massachusetts to found a new colony.
John Eliot is in some ways of greater interest to me because he was a pioneer missionary Bible translator. His complete Bible in the language of the Massachusett Indians (Native Americans) was perhaps one of the first ever in the language of a newly evangelised people group. Eliot was also a pastor involved in politics. Indeed, he was the author of “the first book on politics written by an American and also the first book to be banned by an American government”. But his politics were very different from Hooker’s: he proposed a theocracy based on Old Testament models, and might perhaps be considered a forerunner of today’s Christian Reconstructionists or “Dominionists”.
It is fitting that these two pioneers are still remembered in the village where they spent several years. It is sad that their story is not as well known as it might be.