Thomas Hooker came to Chelmsford Essex in 1625. He was Chelmsford's new Town Lecturer, a Leicestershire-born graduate who had been educated at Emmanuel, the most Puritan college in Cambridge University. Chelmsford, which had been described as a ‘town of great concourse, wanting one to break the Bread of Life unto them" was also coping at the time with a terrible outbreak of plague.
As Chelmsford's new lecturer, Hooker was a success. John Burles, maltster and innkeeper of the Maidenham Inn in Duke Street who was dying of the plague, dictated his will on his sick-bed on 26 August leaving twenty shillings to Mr Hooker "preacher of God's word in Chelmsford'. Hooker's sermons were powerful and popular. People flocked to hear them on the first Friday of each month. He enjoyed a strong rapport with the then Rector, John Michaelson. However, Bishop Laud of London, in whose diocese Chelmsford then was, did not approve of his outspoken views.
Hooker was ejected from his Chelmsford appointment and was provided with a refuge in Holland by the 2nd Earl of Warwick. In 1633 he sailed with his family on the Griffin, landing on 4 September 1633 at Boston where he becamer pastor of the eighth church in Massachusetts. Two years later, a combination of religious differences and land-hunger drove him and his followers to move further on. He led a breakaway party of 100 men, women and children out of Massachusetts, driving their cattle before them for a hundred miles through the wilderness, over mountains, through swamps, thickets and rivers, into the Connecticut River valley. There they established a new colony and Hooker founded its first church. He died at Hartford, a victim of an epidemic sickness in 1647. Mrs Elizah Corlet, in an elegy written after Hooker's death, recalled his preaching years in Essex:
Happy Chelmsford, brought most near to Heaven,
When Hooker to thy sacred courts was given,
Bear witness to that excellence that grew
In daily beauty to thy raptured view...
A stone tablet, set into the rear wall of Center Church, Hartford, in 1915 by the Connecticut Society of the Colonial Dames of America, near the site where Hooker was buried, commemorates his life.
'A leader of the founders of this commonwealth,
A preacher of persuasive powers,
A statesman who based all civil authority
On the Free Consent of the people'.
The citizens of Hartford are rightly proud of Thomas Hooker.
There is no memorial to Thomas Hooker in Chelmsford Cathedral, but close by in a narrow alleyway, just outside the Cathedral grounds, opposite the south porch there is affixed the Hooker Memorial Civic Plaque fixed high on the wall. It reads:
Thomas Hooker, 1586 - 1647, Curate at St. Mary's Church and Chelmsford Town Lecturer 1626-29. Founder of the State of Connecticut, Father of American Democracy.