THE ORIGIN OF THE TOWN NAME

Until 1700 almost the only official action of the colonial government (General Court) in regard to town organization, was to authorize the town name, usually chosen by its leading man, from his home in England. In October, 1700, we find implied or quasi incorporation, such as exists to this day in the records. "This assembly doth grant to the inhabitants of the town of Lebanon all such immunities, privileges and powers, as generally other townes within this Colonie have and doe enjoy."

The authoritative legal definition of a town in England, contemporary with the earliest Connecticut settlements is given in the first edition of Coke's Commentaries upon Littleton, published 1628: "It can not be a town in law, unless it hath, or in past time hath had, a church, and celebration of Divine services, sacraments and burials". The churches, which moved bodily, with their pastors, from Massachusetts to Connecticut, proceeded to exercise the secular powers which we regard as those of the town, but the English township is known by its ecclesiastical name of parish. Several of our towns were first set off as parishes from great town-tracts; yet the town in Connecticut colony essentially separated church and state in government, in that it never restricted political suffrage to church members. As to dates, the official colonial records are followed, as soon as they begin, 1636.

As Indian was not a written but a spoken language, its spelling is often a matter of astonishing versatility. Because of mutilation of the Indian names by Colonial scribes and by the Colonial pronunciation it is frequently impossible to arrive at any definite conclusion with regard to the original meaning. The variety of dialects, even in the Algonquin tribe, varied greatly, even among those living within thirty or forty miles of one another. This added greatly to the complications of spelling Indian words in English.

To add to the confusion, the white men continually applied Indian names to features of the landscape that were not at all in the Indian mind when they coined the word. Thus a word meaning a hill might be applied by the white men to all the surrounding territory and come eventually to mean a pond. And so the Indian names, or their Indian approximates, have come down to us not in the names of the towns, which the white men were creating in the tradition of their own race, but in features of the countryside streams, mountains, hills and other natural aspects.

Colonial Towns of Connecticut Links

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