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

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 formed two joint stock companies. The London Company covered a more southern territory and proceeded to establish the Jamestown Settlementmarker. The Plymouth Company under the guidance of Sir Ferdinando Gorges covered the more northern area, including present-day New England, and established the Sagadahoc Colonymarker in 1607 in present-day Maine. 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. 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 1623, the Plymouth Council for New England (successor to the Plymouth Company) established a small fishing village at Cape Annmarker under the supervision of the Dorchester Company. This company was originally organized at the urging of the Puritan Rev. John White (1575–1648) of Dorchestermarker, in the English county of Dorsetmarker. 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. 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, did not abandon the area, but removed to establish a new town at the nearby Indian village of Naumkeagmarker. 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 Bay Company. 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. The next year, 1629, Naumkeag was renamed Salem and fortified by another three hundred settlers, led by Rev. Francis Higginson, 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, 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

Hingham Memorial Bell Tower, dedicated in 1912 to the Puritan settlers of Hingham, Massachusetts
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 Charlespromised 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 Laude, a favourite advisor 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, Englandmarker 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, 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.

A Puritan colony

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.

The colony celebrated its first Thanksgiving Day on November 25, 1620. 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, 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, written by Nathaniel Ward, based partly on John Cotton's draft (Abstract of the Laws of New-England, As They Are Now Established), 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]." Indeed, the first person to be executed in the colony was Margaret Jones, a female physician accused of being a "witch". 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. John Winthrop wanted the puritan colony to be a "city upon a hill," or an example of their faith for other colonies to follow.

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 Vineyardmarker, Nantucketmarker, and what is now Mainemarker, New Brunswickmarker, and Nova Scotiamarker to form the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

See also


  1. Young (1846), pp. 26-29.
  2. Francis, Richard. Judge Sewall's Apology. 41
  3. Hanover Historical Texts Project
  5. Cotton, ibid., I.1, para. 1-2
  6. 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
  7. Quaqua Society: Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  8. 1630: Information and Much More from

External links

  • [28574] The history and first seal of the MA Bay Colony depicting a dejected American Indian saying "Come over and help us", with his arrows turned downwards.
  • Quaqua Society--Massachusetts Bay Colony History of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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