- Written by Kit Collier and Joseph B. Barnes, Esq.
Connecticut Becomes Constitution State
Robert Treat of Milford was one of Connecticut’s great unsung heroes. Only brief sketches published in the early 20th century or before exist but Connecticut’s public records are replete with the name of Robert Treat, an early settler of Milford, deputy governor and governor of Connecticut, and officer of the colony’s military.
Fifth child of Richard and Alice (Gaylord) Treat, Robert was christened on February 25, 1625 (NS) in Pitminster, Somerset, England. Treat’s family was one of the founding settlers of Wethersfield, Connecticut’s first town.
Lambert’s History of New Haven Colony states he was Milford’s first Town Clerk from 1640 to 1648. This may be in dispute. Other sources say he arrived with Rev. Prudden from Wethersfield at age 16 or 17. That would have been after 1641 in our Gregorian (“NS”) calendar. Dating of most colonial events up until 1751 were under the Julian (OS or “Old Style”) calendar with a new years day of March 25 (not January 1st). Confusion in dating is often problematic. It is possible a literate young man in a society of young men could have taken the post at age 15 or 16 in 1640 (OS), or, being ambitious, he may have just overstated his age.
He was, nonetheless, a figure of influence in the nascent village including laying out much of the town as an early surveyor, acting as attorney, as an individual magistrate or as judge of local disputes in concert with other local luminaries such as Benjamin Fenn, and gaining appointment as an officer in the town militia, as lieutenant of the Train Band in 1654 and later as its captain.
He served as a deputy to the General Court at New Haven (combination legislature and court where all business of colonial government took place) in 1653 and each year thereafter until he was elected magistrate from 1659 serving until 1664 when he declined reelection due to opposition to the union of New Haven and Connecticut Colonies under the Charter of 1662. At that time great discontent prevailed over the proposed union. Milford declined to send any representatives to the General Court at all. Treat was one of the local leaders most resistant to the new government - one that would permit the unregenerate to vote in civil as well as ecclesiastical matters. In protest, he resigned as a magistrate but was lured into playing a compromising role of helping the integration of the two colonies’ governments, much to his later regret.
The religious liberalism of Connecticut Colony so rankled him that in 1667 he led a group of similarly disgruntled Milfordites, New Haven area families, and most of the populace of the Village of Branford to found a new town that he insisted also be named Milford. The equally religious flock from Branford, led by Rev. Abraham Pierson, had the named changed to “New Ark,” later, Newark, N.J. Throughout, Treat played an influential organizational, military and political role there, including that of City Clerk.
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