John Davenport, first minister at New Haven, Conn., born in Coventry, England, in 1598, died in Boston, Mass., March 15, 1670. He was educated at Oxford, and became an eminent preacher among the Puritans in London, and minister of St. Stephen's church. About 1630 he was engaged in purchasing the church lands in the hands of laymen, for the benefit of poor congregations; and great progress was already made in the execution of the plan, when it was interrupted by Bishop Laud, who feared it would turn to the profit of the nonconformists. Davenport soon became a nonconformist himself, was obliged to resign his charge, and retired to Holland in 1633. There he became involved in a controversy, taking sides against the general baptism of children, and in about two years returned to London. He had been concerned in the patent of the Massachusetts colony, and seeing a favorable account of it in a letter from Mr. Cotton, he went to Boston, arriving there June 26, 1637. He was invited to sit with the synod then in session, but was deterred by the sharp religious controversies of Massachusetts from settling there, and on March 30, 1638, sailed with a company for Quinnipiack to found a new colony, which was called New Haven. The first Sabbath after the arrival he preached under an oak.
He was minister in New Haven for 30 years, and was active in the organization of the civil government. The Bible was made the basis of the civil law, and as trial by jury is not mentioned in the Bible, no place was given it in the state. The constituent assembly, held in a barn, June 4, 1639, resolved that church members only should be burgesses. The carefulness of Davenport in regard to the admission of members to the church gave him also the keys of political power. Such was his reputation abroad, that he was invited, with Hooker and Cotton, to sit with the Westminster assembly of divines, but he could not be spared from his church. When the regicides Goffe and Whalley were flying from pursuit, he hid them in his house, and exhorted his people from the pulpit not to betray them. About 1662 a sharp discussion arose in New England in regard to the general baptism of children. Davenport took the same ground he had taken in Amsterdam. He succeeded Wilson as pastor in Boston, Dec. 9, 1668. Some who disapproved of his controversial position left the church when he came, and united to form the church afterward known as the Old South.