One of the first Europeans to see the region we know as Connecticut was Adriaen Block, exploring for the Dutch, who sailed up the Connecticut River in 1614. Block was a fur trader, dealing with the Dutch outposts along the Hudson River. In 1613 he was forced to spend the winter on Manhattan Island after his ship caught fire. With the help of another ship owner, his party constructed a new ship and set sail in the spring of 1614. They sailed into Long Island Sound en route to Europe, and explored the lower part of the Connecticut River.
He reported that the river was shallow but navigable as far as 17 leagues or 51 miles upstream. He found few signs of the natives along the coast but they became more numerous inland. Near the end of the navigable portion of the river, he discovered a settlement. The natives grew maize, and their village resembled a fort. The author quoting Block believed that the village was located at South Windsor.
The Dutch followed up Block’s report by building a small settlement at the present site of Old Saybrook, called Kievits Hoek or “Plover’s Corner.” That site was later abandoned. A more permanent trading post was built at Hartford, in 1633. The Dutch acquired land from the locals and built a fort and the trading post.
In 1630, the Council of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts gave Robert, Earl of Warwick, the first English land grant involving Connecticut. It covered the area “which extends from the Narragansett river, one hundred and twenty miles on a straight line southwest to the coast, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.”
In 1633, Plymouth Colony dispatched an expedition to the Connecticut River to counter the Dutch moves in the area. William Holmes headed that group, exchanging threats with the Dutch at Hartford before moving upstream. At Windsor, on the west bank of the river, the expedition built a structure. The Dutch sent an armed group of 70 men to drive the English out in 1634 but found the position too strong to attack.
In late 1635, settlers from Massachusetts set out to settle at the Windsor site. With little understanding of the geography of the region and the weather in the late autumn, there were significant losses in livestock. The group spent that winter in near starvation, living on “acorns, malt, and grains” along with what they could gather through hunting and through the charity of the local natives.
The proprietors of the English grant dispatched a small ship and 20 men to the mouth of the river in Oct. 1635. Their orders were to construct a fort, which began the Colony of Saybrook. That colony would exist until 1644 when it would fall under the jurisdiction of the Colony of Connecticut. The fort itself was destroyed by fire in 1647.
The Saybrook Plantation included “the seven modern towns we know today as Chester, Deep River, Essex, Lyme, Old Lyme, Westbrook and Old Saybrook.”
The natives in the area consisted of two major tribes, the Pequots and the Mohegans. Tensions between the English and the Pequots began to build in the early 1630s and the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony determined to drive the natives out or kill them. The Pequot War of 1636-1638 would all but eliminate the tribe. The Mohegans allied themselves with the English to attack their traditional enemy and no mercy was shown by either the English or their Indian companions.
English victories in this war and other wars or expeditions against the Indians are often believed to be the result of superior weapons. In fact, the two sides were very nearly a match for weapons. While the English carried firearms, they were highly inaccurate, took a long time to reload and subject to being rendered useless by rain or snow. Battles and skirmishes were won by either side based on surprising the enemy more often than not.
In 1638, New Haven was founded. English soldiers pursuing the Pequot had become familiar with the region and its fertile soils.
On January 24, 1639, the three towns on the Connecticut River determined to establish their own government apart from that of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield established the Colony of Connecticut with a written constitution. In June, New Haven did the same and established the Colony of New Haven.
This places us into the era where Jeffrey Ferris and his family appear in the annals of Connecticut history. Records show that he was made a freeman at Boston on May 6, 1635. He is known to have conducted a land sale in Weathersfield, CT, and by 1640-1641 was living in Stamford, CT.
From the book Greenwich Old & New (1935)
Along with a great number of restless, energetic Englishmen who left their homes for various reasons, Jeffrey Ferris came to American in 1634. Born in Leichestershire, England, in 1610, he was twenty four when he came to Watertown. Over six feet tall, with blue eyes and red hair, he was a typical middle class Englishman, God fearing, respectable, industrious and as later events proved, a good businessman. He was enough of a Puritan to be eligible as a citizen of Watertown, for his name was registered as a freeman of Boston in 1635. At that time church membership was the essential requirement for citizenship. This entitled him to be called Goodman Ferris.
The Puritans had taken control of Massachusetts by this time and their rule was intolerable to many. Thus, we see the emigration from the Bay Colony to Connecticut. Ferris spent about four years in Weathersfield before moving on. About 1640, he is to be found in the area that we know as Greenwich, CT.
There exists a deed conveying land from the natives to the English in that area dated July 18, 1640. One Indian chief, however, wrote on the deed that “Keofram hath soulde all his Right in ye above sd necks unto Jeffre Ferris.” The mark made by the chief is that of a blockhouse so some historians suggest that Jeffrey had established himself in the area prior to July, 1640.
It is also important to note that the boundary between the Dutch colony of New Netherlands and the various English colonies was, well, indistinct, at best. Greenwich was, for a time, part of the Dutch colony, and there were Ferris men who took the oath of loyalty. Jeffrey did not and is said to have moved to Fairfield.
The 1650 Treaty of Hartford saw the Dutch surrender all claims to the Connecticut River valley. Negotiated by the famous Peter Stuyvesant, the treaty set the boundary between the two regions at ten miles east of the Hudson River. The treaty also created a boundary on Long Island, from Oyster Bay southward. It was never recognized by the Dutch government. In 1674 the colony of New Netherlands was surrendered to the English.
In 1684, Connecticut and New York resolved the dispute by having surveyors draw a line twenty miles east of the Hudson. Connecticut received a panhandle so that it could keep its towns of Stamford and Greenwich. New York gained a small strip of land cutting north and slightly east into Connecticut, which was known as “the Oblong.”
Connecticut, as one of the 13 original colonies, was established by royal charter in 1662. The colony of New Haven was included but it resisted that inclusion until 1665.
Jeffrey Ferris is believed to have had three wives. His will, dated June 6, 1664, refers to sons James, Peter and Joseph, along with a daughter Mary. A fourth son is known, but not mentioned in Jeffrey’s will. There is confusion about the birth dates and birthplaces of several of the Ferris children.
John Ferris b. 1634 or 1640
Joseph Ferris b. 1635 or 1638
Peter Ferris b. 1636
James Ferris b. 1643
Mary Ferris Lockwood b. 1637 or 1640