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Colony of Massachusetts
Colony of England



Location of Massachusetts Colony
A map of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
Capital Charlestown, Boston
 - Established 1629
 - New England Confederation 1643
 - Dominion of New England 1686
 - Province of Massachusetts Bay 1692
 - Disestablished 1692

The Massachusetts Colony (sometimes called the Massachusetts Company, for the institution that founded it) was an English settlement on the east coast of North America in the 17th century, in New England, centered around the present-day cities of Salem and Boston. The area is now in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the 50 United States of America.


Previous nearby settlements

Plans for the first permanent European settlements on the east coast of North America began in 1606, when King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) formed two joint stock companies. The London Company covered a more southern territory and proceeded to establish the Jamestown Settlement. The Plymouth Company under the guidance of Sir Ferdinando Gorges covered the more northern area, including present-day New England, and established the Sagadahoc Colony in 1607 in present-day Maine.[1] The experience proved exceptionally difficult for the 120 settlers, however, and the colonists abandoned the colony after only one year.

In November 1620, a group of separatist Pilgrims famously established Plymouth Colony. Although this settlement faced great hardships and earned few profits, it enjoyed a positive reputation in England and may have sown the seeds for further immigration. Edward Winslow and William Bradford published an account of their adventures in 1622, called Mourt's Relation.[2] This book glossed over some of the difficulties and challenges carving a settlement out of the wilderness, but it may have been partly responsible for erasing the memory of the Sagadahoc Colony and encouraging further settlement.

In 1624, the Plymouth Council for New England (successor to the Plymouth Company) established a small fishing village at Cape Ann under the supervision of the Dorchester Company (Thomas Gardner (Planter) as Overseer). This company was originally organized at the urging of the Puritan Rev. John White (1575–1648) of Dorchester, in the English county of Dorset. White has been called “the father of the Massachusetts Colony”, despite remaining in England his entire life, because of his influence in establishing this settlement.[3] But the settlement was not profitable, and the financial backers of the Dorchester Company terminated their support by the end of 1625.

In 1626, a few settlers from the Cape Ann fishing village, including Roger Conant who had arrived in 1625, did not abandon the area, but removed to establish a new town at the nearby Indian village of Naumkeag (later named Salem). Rev. John White helped this small band by going back to the Council for New England and obtaining a new land grant and fresh financial support. Dated 19 March 1627, this new patent was known as the Massachusetts Company.[4] This Company sent about one hundred new settlers and provisions in 1628 to join Conant, led by John Endecott, who became the governor of the fledgling settlement.[5] The next year, 1629, Naumkeag was renamed Salem [6] and fortified by another three hundred settlers, led by Rev. Francis Higginson,[7] first minister of the settlement. Nevertheless, the colonists struggled against disease and starvation, and many died.

From their first arrival aboard the Mayflower in 1620 through 1629, only about 300 Puritans had survived in New England,[8] scattered in several small and isolated settlements. In 1630, their population was significantly increased when the ship Mary and John arrived in New England carrying 140 passengers from the English West Country counties of Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. These included William Phelps along with Roger Ludlowe, John Mason, Rev. John Warham and John Maverick, Nicholas Upsall, Henry Wolcott and other men who would become prominent in the founding of a new nation. It was the first of eleven ships later called the Winthrop Fleet to land in Massachusetts.

English Origins of the Colony

The colony's first seal, depicting a dejected American Indian with arrows turned downwards, saying "Come over and help us".
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 300th Aniversary Issue of 1930

The early colony was made up of Puritans from England. People knew that creating a new colony out of the wilderness would be difficult. But political and religious events in England were driving many Puritans to flee England. They were angry because King Charles promised his wife, Maria that she could practice the Roman Catholic religion, and raise their children practicing Catholicism. The Puritans hated this, because they had tried to purify the Church of England of all its Catholic remnants. Both King James I and his son Charles I attempted to suppress the Puritan movement.

Meanwhile, Archbishop William Laud, a favorite adviser of Charles, tried to eliminate the religious practices of Puritans in England. The imprisonment of many Puritans led them to believe religious reform would not be possible while Charles was King, and to seek a new life in the American colonies. The Reverend John White of Dorchester, England had worked hard to obtain a patent in 1628 for lands between the parallel that ran three miles south of the Charles River to three miles north of the Merrimack River, and all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific – though they had no idea of the size of the land mass.

Concerned about the legality of conflicting land claims given to several companies including the New England Company to the still little-known territories of the New World, and because of the increasing number of Puritans that wanted to join the company, White sought a Royal Charter for the colony. Charles granted the new charter in March 1629,[9] superseding the land grant and establishing a legal basis for the new English Colony of Jamestown. It was not apparent that Charles knew the Company was meant to support the Puritan emigration, and he was likely left to assume it was purely for business purposes, as was the custom. The charter omitted a significant clause – the location for the annual stockholders' meeting and election of their leaders. This allowed formation of the Cambridge Agreement later that year, which set the locus of government in New England. The Massachusetts Bay Colony became the only English chartered colony whose board of governors did not reside in England. This independence helped the settlers to maintain their Puritan religious practices with very little oversight by the King, Archbishop Laud, and the Anglican Church. The charter remained in force for 55 years, when, as a result of colonial insubordination with trade, tariff and navigation laws, Charles II revoked it in 1684.[10]

A Puritan colony

Detail of sounding board, Old Ship Church, Hingham, Massachusetts, oldest Puritan meetinghouse in Massachusetts

The first 400 settlers under this new charter departed in April 1629. Most, but not all of the members of the Company were Puritans, and events during the spring and summer of 1629 convinced them that many others would be attracted to such a colony.

After this the colony continued to grow, aided by the Great Migration. Many ministers reacting to the newly repressive religious policies of England made the trip with their flocks. John Cotton, Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, Samuel Skelton, and others became leaders of Puritan congregations in Massachusetts.

The colony's charter was granted to the Massachusetts General Court the authority to elect officers and to make laws for the colony. Its first meeting in America was held October 1630, but was attended by only eight freemen. Soon after they created the First Church of Boston. The freemen voted to grant all legislative, executive, and judicial power to a "Council" of the Governor's assistants (those same eight men). They then set up town boundaries, created taxes, and elected officers. To quell unrest caused by this limited franchise, the eight then added 118 settlers to the court as freemen, but power remained with the council. The first murmurs against the system arose when a tax was imposed on the entire colony in 1632, but Winthrop was able to quiet fears.

In 1634, the issue of governance arose again, as deputies demanded to see the charter that had been kept hidden from them. They learned of the provisions that the general court should make all laws, and that all freemen should be members. The group demanded that the charter be enforced to the letter, but eventually reached a compromise with Governor Winthrop. They agreed to a General Court made up of two delegates elected by each town, the Governor's council of advisors, and the Governor himself. This Court was to have authority over "The raising up public stock" (taxes) and "what they should agree upon should bind all." What Winthrop did not expect was that what they would "bind" themselves to included the election of the governor, and Dudley Hogar was elected. The first revolution was complete: a trading company had become a representative democracy. By 1641, the colony had added its first code of laws, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties,[11] written by Nathaniel Ward, based partly on John Cotton's draft (Abstract of the Laws of New-England, As They Are Now Established),[12] which specified required behavior and punishments by appeal to the Judeo-Christian social sanctions recorded in the Bible. It is worthy of note that these men did not see any tension between the kind of theocracy they advocated and the type of democracy that was taking shape; to the contrary, they even held that the one required the other. For example: "All magistrates are to be chosen. Deut. 1:13, 17, 15. First, by the free [people]. Secondly, out of the free [people]."[13] Indeed, the first person to be executed in the colony was Margaret Jones, a female physician accused of being a "witch".[14] A delusional Dorothy Talbye was hanged in 1638 for murdering her daughter, as at the time Massachusetts's common law made no distinction between insanity (or mental illness) and criminal behavior.[15] John Winthrop wanted the puritan colony to be a "city upon a hill," or an example of their faith for other colonies to follow.[16]

Timeline of settlement

Later history

The Province of New Hampshire was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1641 to 1679, and again from 1688 to 1691.

In 1643, Massachusetts Bay joined Plymouth Colony, Connecticut Colony, and New Haven Colony in the New England Confederation, which became largely dormant into the 1650s. It was revived briefly in the 1670s during King Philip's War.

From 1686, Massachusetts Bay was administratively unified by James II of England with the other New England colonies in the Dominion of New England. In 1688, the Province of New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey were added. In 1689, the Dominion was dissolved with the overthrow of the king via the Glorious Revolution.

In 1691–92, Massachusetts Bay was unified with Plymouth Colony, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and what is now Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia to form the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

See also


  1. ^ Thayer, Henry Otis (1892). The Sagadahoc Colony. Portland: Printed for the Gorges Society. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  2. ^ Bradford, William (1865). Mourt’s Relation, or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth. Boston: J. K. Wiggin. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  3. ^ Young, Alexander (1846). Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1623–1636. Boston: C. C. Little and J. Brown. p. 26. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  4. ^ Young (1846), pp. 26-29.
  5. ^ Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society. American Antiquarian Society. 1871. p. 123. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  6. ^ Hubbard, William (1848). A General History of New England. Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  7. ^ Higginson, Thomas (1891). Life of Francis Higginson, First Minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  8. ^ "Native Blood: The Myth of Thanksgiving". November 24, 1996. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  9. ^ MacDonald, William (1908). Documentary Source Book of American History: 1606–1898. New York: The Macmillan Company. p. 22. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  10. ^ Francis, Richard. Judge Sewall's Apology. 41
  11. ^ Hanover Historical Texts Project
  12. ^
  13. ^ Cotton, ibid., I.1, para. 1-2
  14. ^ Haggard, Howard W. Devils, Drugs, and Doctors: The Story of the Science of Healing from Medicine-Man to Doctor. 1929; New York: Pocket Books, 1959, p. 73. ISBN 0-7661-3582-9
  15. ^ Addison, Albert Christopher (1912). The Romantic Story of the Puritan Fathers: And Their Founding of New Boston. L.C. Page & Co.,M1. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  16. ^ Quaqua Society: Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  17. ^ 1630: Information and Much More from

External links


Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

In 1630 John Winthrop organized a fleet of 11 ships to carry almost 1000 immigrants from England to America and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Massachusetts Bay Colony



Earliest exploration of the New England area was done by Giovanni de Verrazano in 1524.  In 1614, English Captain John Smith sailed here and extensively explored the area. His writings provided the basis early Colonists to make their plans.

The first English Colony was at Jamestown Virginia in 1607. The second was the founding of Plymouth_Colony in 1620 in Massachusetts.  Both were actually very small settlements that only just barely survived.  There were a couple of settlements that either collapsed or were abandoned and the settlers returned to Europe.

The next big colony push was John Winthrop leading a small flotilla in 1630 to settle near the area of present day Boston.  It was named the Massachusetts Bay Colony after the name of the indian tribes that lived in that area.  It's principle cities were Boston, Watertown, Charlestown, and Salem along with a many of the small farmtowns that stand today.

A key catalyst for this big migration was the internal strife in England in the first half of the 17th Century.  The Stuart dynasty has just come to power and aligned itself with the Church of England (Anglican faith) and began intense persecution of those who practised Catholism (the predessor of Anglican church) and Puritans, which was the intended to be a even more "pure" form of Christian faith than either the Catholic or Anglican church.  There was also the rich acquiring up a lot of farmlands forcing the poor off their farms and into London.  Then the Thirty Years War started in 1618 that pitted England and other Protestant countries against the Catholic countries of Spain and Central Europe.

Governor Winthrop was a leading organizer of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his principle motivation was to create the ideal Puritan community as an example to the world.  Unlike the Pilgrims that settled Plymouth, this group enjoyed greater abundance of financial backing and starting supplies.

Winthrop Fleet

The Winthrop Fleet consisted of eleven ships sailing from Yarmouth, Isle of Wright to Salem. Some sailed April 8, arriving June 13, 1630 and the following days, the others to sail in May, arriving in July.  

In 1630 John Winthrop organized a fleet of 11 ships to carry almost 1000 immigrants from England to America and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Departing in two groups in April and May, they arrived at various dates in June and July. These ships were:The Ambrose; The Arabella; The Charles; The Hopewell; The Jewel; The Mayflower; The Success; The Talbot ; The Trial; The Whale; The William & Francis

For an incomplete list of these immigrants (work in progress) see  Immigrant Ships To America/First Families/Winthrop Fleet

More immigrants followed afterwards to the tune of 2000 per year, mostly Puritans escaping religious persecution in England.

Colony Founding

Most early New England settlements were founded near where rivers reached the sea because of dependence on England for supplies and also river basins had the best farmland.  1000 settlers came with Winthrop in 1630 but about 20% died in the first harsh winter.  This was despite being better supplied and financed than the early Plymouth Colony.

First settlements were crude dugouts, indian-style wigwams or simple cabins.

Religious Life

Puritans strongly believed their faith was the only true faith and the all others were incorrect, especially the Church of England, Roman Catholics and Quakers and other Protestant groups.  They were quite intollerant expelled those disagreed with the established orthodoxy.  Including Roger Williams in 1635 and Anne Hutchison in 1636, both to Rhode Island. 

In 1636, Harvard College was founded by the Puritans to help promote their ideals.  All classes were taught in Latin.

By 1640, the Bay Colony had a core leadership group of 300 practicing Puritans that strongly enforced strict moral standards throughout the colony.

By 1640s and 1650s, many colonists strayed away from their Puritan faith as they pursued material wealth and personal well-being.

Many Puritan churches became Congregationalist Churches, since each congregation stood as the governing board of the church.


90% of the early settlers practised some form of agricultural pursuit.

Early Massachusetts thrived around three principle ports - Salem, Boston and Plymouth.

1640 was the arrival of the first printing press.  It published the first book in America - the Bay Psalm Book.  later Boston would grow into a major publishing center.

Another major industry was working the sea (unlike Plymouth Colony).  The Bay Colony produced many sailors, fishermen and shipwrights. The famous Marblehead fishing port grew up next to Salem.

Another major business was timber.  The Hutchison family ran 19 sawmills in New Hampshire.

As early as 1647, Boston was becoming a major seaport, shipping food, timber and cattle to the West Indies sugar plantations at profitable rates.

Indian Relations

In general white settlements continuously encroached on lands of the natives and surrounded their villages.  Woodlands were cleared to make farmland and thus disrupting hunting grounds and forcing native hunters to travel much further to find game to support their families.

Some Puritans actively sought to convert and educate the natives. By 1675, there were some 1100 natives living in 14 "praying villages".  They enjoyed free elementary schooling from the Puritans.

An early exception was the Pequot Massacre in 1637.  This native tribe living in the Connecticutt area, grew to resent the English encroachment.  Governor Winthrop organized a surprise attack on the main Pequot village in 1637 which resulted in the deaths of over 700 men, women and children.

In general, relations grew well until the King Philip war of 1675.

King Philip's War - 1675

The Native American tribes in New England (i.e. Massachusetts, Narragansett, Wampanoags, Pocumtucs, and Nipmucs) became increasingly disturbed by English growth in the area and feared that their livelyhood was significantly threatened.   In June 1675, natives of the Wampanoag tribe led by Metacom (called King Philip by the Colonists) raided Swansea, a settlement of Plymouth Colony and resulted in the death of 11 colonists. Raids by the natives continued into the Fall of 1675, targeting M.B.C. settlements at Springfield, Hadley and Northampton.

In Dec 1675, Governor Winslow (of Plymouth Colony) was able to organize an armed force of militia from both Plymouth and M.B.C. and delivered a devastating blow against one of King Philip's key allies, the Narragansett at Great Swamp (in present day Rhode Island).  Both sides suffered what would have been termed terrible losses.  The Colonists lost over 240 killed and many more wounded.  The Narragansetts lost over 900 killed and wounded and therefore could no longer participate effectively in the war.

Raids by the Native tribes continued through the winter of 1675/1676, targeting Medfield and other locations.  However, come springtime, many of the Native warriors needed to turn to their spring hunting grounds and start providing for their families.  The colonial militia meanwhile continued to prosecute the war and hunt down natives.  Amnesty was offered freely to those who laid down their arms. 

On 12 Aug, 1676, Colonial forces with Native allies were able to trackdown and kill Metacom.  This effectively ended organized warfare by the natives, but they did continue a number of raiding parties for a couple more years.

See - for more about this event.

Provincial Government 

Up until 1684, the M.B.C. governed themselves under their colonial charter, but in that year the English crown revoked their charter and placed a territorial governor directly over them.  This would become a source of great friction which later developed into the American Revolution some 90 years later.

In 1680, New Hampshire was split off from Massachusetts.  However Massachusetts still retained control over much of present day Maine.

The province of Massachusetts Bay was formed in 1691 with the merger of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Province of Maine, Nova Scotia, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Nova Scotia was split off in 1696.  Previously New Hampshire had been part of M.B.C for 1641-1679 and again for 1688-1691.

See Wiki History of Massachusetts Bay Province for more info about this time period (1691-1776).

Salem Witch Trials - 1692

Hysteria over witchcraft had crossed over much of Europe more than century earlier, but in the late 17th century it surged again, this time including many of the American Colonies.  But no where did ready such a level of excitement as in the Colonial town of Salem in the years of 1688-1692 in an episode called the Salem Witch Trials.

This episode is of quite some significance to family historians, since many of those prosecuted and put to death where elderly matriarchs of large colonial families and are survived today by a very great posterity.  Many of them suffered because of their advanced age and accompanying senility in that they were unable to appreciate the gravity of charges leveled against them.  Wild accusations were being made on a daily basis.

The whole episode finally came to an abrupt end in 1692 when accusations where made against the wife of the governor.  One participating judge would later issue a broad apology for his participation in the affair, but not until several years after at least 11 distinguished women had been put to death and many others pilloried in public stockades.

See [] for more info on this event.


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This article uses material from the "Massachusetts Bay Colony" article on the Genealogy wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

Simple English

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a small town in the modern state of Massachusetts. It was created by the English in 1629, and got its name from a group of Native Americans that were living close to the colony. It is near the city that is now called Boston.

The people who lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were called Puritans. Puritans are one kind of Christians that read the Bible very seriously. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was the place where Thanksgiving was first celebrated.

This colony was also the home of a man named John Winthrop, a man who built his house on top of a hill to "be closer to God"

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