by Brian Rogers

The Rogers Family Cemetery
Photograph courtesy of Charles E. Shain Library Connecticut College

During the year-long 1996 celebration of the 350th anniversary of New London, one of the events drew attention to the unusual history of the Rogers and Bolles families in southeastern Connecticut. Held at the ancient Rogers family cemetery on the banks of the Thames at Connecticut College, the September program was called "Dissenters and Community Builders."

The principal speaker, Professor Camille Hanlon, traced the evolution of a tradition of principled dissent in the Rogers and Bolles families and their friends and followers. As Professor Hanlon has written, "The Rogers family came to New London in 1660, prospered in farming and trade, became dissenters from the local Congregational Church, and were persecuted for a hundred years before the first state constitution granted everyone religious liberty. Together with their neighbors, the Bolles family [and later the Waterhouse (Waterous) family and their associates], they stood their ground nonviolently throughout this long ordeal, speaking and writing eloquently for their cause until the majority accepted their views. Not satisfied with defending their own freedom, these nonviolent warriors were early defenders of the rights of persons of color, [steadfastly enduring] further persecution because of their actions on behalf of Native and African Americans."

The best known of the Rogers was John (1648-1721), whose father James had come to New London from Milford at the behest of John Winthrop Jr. to operate the local flour mill. In 1664, when John was still a teenager, James's success as a businessman had made him the wealthiest of New London's 105 inhabitants, wealthier even than his friend John Winthrop Jr., Governor of the Colony. Inspired in part by his father's religious dissent, John developed his own strong views on religious freedom and founded a controversial sect known as the Rogerenes.

The Winthrop mill still stands in New London today.
Photograph courtesy of Charles E. Shain Library Connecticut College

In addition to freedom of religion (including separation of church and state), the Rogerenes espoused the equality of women and men, the abolition of slavery, peaceful co-existence with, and respect for, the Native Americans of the region, and temperance. The group identified itself with Quaker beliefs, hence the name Quaker Hill by which this area is still known, and for a time embraced the sabbatarianism of the free-thinking Seventh Day Baptists of Newport and Westerly, Rhode Island. As the New London community evolved, and the Rogerenes were gradually becoming less isolated within it, John Waterhouse and others established the Rogerene community of Quakertown in what is now Ledyard, across the river. Quakertown became a station on the Underground Railroad at mid-century, and in the second half of the century the Rogerenes became outspoken peace activists and sponsored annual conventions of the Universal Peace Union . As we enter a new millenium, the most poignant physical reminders of this remarkable sect are two humble burying grounds, one at Connecticut College, the other in the Quakertown section of Ledyard. The courageous spirit of the Rogerenes endures, however, in many of the most admirable characteristics of contemporary American life.

A selective bibliography of writings about the Rogerenes includes:

In addition, Rogerene beliefs and attitudes have been preserved in the l8th century writings of John Rogers, and in The Battle-Axe, an early 19th century argument against war and hypocrisy by Timothy Waterous and his sons (3rd ed. privately printed, 1927).

Brian Rogers is a retired Special Collections Librarian at Connecticut College in Middletown, CT.