By Bill Miller
“The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” the 1889 novel by Mark Twain, existed only in Twain’s great mind. The Connecticut Yankee I dug up in our family tree was a real character, being hunted down by King Charles I. That’s how he happened to be one of the founding fathers of Connecticut. Here is the story of a real, original Connecticut Yankee.
Sometime in 1623, in Kent, Yorkshire, England, Joseph Northrup entered this world, the first child of Joseph and Katherine B. Northrup. When Joseph, Jr. was only 14 he did a solo cruise across the Atlantic on the ship “Hector and Martha,” as a member of Eaton & Davenport’s Company “of good character and fortune.” The ship load of Puritans landed in Boston on July 26, 1637, and Joseph became the first Northrup in our family to walk on American soil. His journey has continued through 13 generations. My mother was a Northrup. He is my 9th great- grandfather.
Why would a young boy leave his family and homeland and make that trip? His parents may have encouraged it. The Yorkshire Northrups were living in a very strong Protestant and Puritan area. In 1625, James I, King of England (also James IV of Scotland) died. He had a very strong dislike for Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. That hatred was passed down to his son and heir, King Charles I, who continued the persecution of Puritans and all “separatists.” It was a culture of civil and religious conflict, and thousands were imprisoned or killed. His parents may have been among them. As a result, in 1630 a great migration began of Protestant non-conformists seeking refuge in America and religious freedom. Young Joseph was part of that migration, and settled into Puritan Boston, perhaps with family friends.
Eight years later, in 1638, after the Indian Wars had ended, Rev. Thomas Hooker, a Congregational minister, led a group of wealthy Puritans to start a new settlement in New Haven, Connecticut and to start a new government based on “the will of the people.” The next year, November 29, 1639, young Joseph was with a group of Presbyterian Puritans, led by Rev. Peter Prudden, to plant a new settlement at Milford, Connecticut, 15 miles down the coast from New Haven.
On January 9, 1642, at age 19, Joseph united with The First Church (Presbyterian) in Milford. Prior to 1649 he married Mary Norton, daughter of Francis and Mary Norton, a family who had come over with him. Together they had eight children, seven of which were males. His last son, William, is my 8th great-grandfather. That family of male Northrups scattered Northrups all across the land.
On our visit to Milford we found signs of his place in Milford history. His name was engraved in a “Founders stone” on a bridge near the old mill in Milford and on grave markers in the olde Milford Cemetery. Apart from being among the founders of Connecticut, there is no record of his role in the settlement. Like most of our ancestors, he did not leave a big footprint, but he helped shape the State of Connecticut and the new fabric of our nation. Without the courageous decisions of a young boy from England 387 years ago, I would not be here. My family and I are the descendants of a Connecticut Yankee!
To dig deeper into your roots and to share what you have found, go to the Lake Lure Genealogy Club meeting at Mountains Branch Library, or the genealogy center closest to you.