Massachusetts Bay Colony

A Brief History

Important Dates


1498 - Explorer John Cabot Sails Along Massachusetts Coast  
1602 - Bartholomew Gosnold Explores Southern Maine to Cape Cod 
1606 - King James I Grants Charter to Plymouth Company 
1620 - Colony at Plymouth established after Mayflower Voyage 
1622 - Colony at Weymouth established by Robert Gorges (fails 1624) 
1628 - Colony at Salem established by John Endicott 
1629 - Massachusetts Bay Company Chartered 
1630 - Mass Bay Colony Established at Boston by John Winthrop 
1632 - Boston is made Capital of Massachusetts Bay Colony 
1634 - Four Year War With Pequots Begins, Nearly Wipes Out Tribe 
1635 - Roger Williams Banished Due to his Opinions 
1636 - Harvard College Established at Cambridge 
1638 - Slave Ship Desire Arrives at Salem from Nicaraguan Coast 
1641 - Province of New Hampshire merged into Mass Bay Colony 
1643 - N.E. Confederation Established (MA, Plymouth, CT, New Haven) 
1648 - Margaret Jones, Herbal Practitioner, Hanged as a Witch at Boston 
1652 - First coins minted in English Colonies at Boston 
1659 - William Leddra Hanged at Boston for Practicing Quaker Religion 
1675 - King Philip's War (Wampanoags) Endangers Colony for 3 Years 
1680 - Province of New Hampshire Separated from Mass Bay Colony 
1684 - King Charles II Revokes Mass Charter due to Insubordination 
1686 - Dominion of N.E. Established (MA, CT, Provinces in ME, NH, RI) 
1688 - NY, East Jersey, and West Jersey Provinces join Dominion 
1688 - Kings James II Overthrown, Dominion Soon Disintegrates 
1689 - Governor Andros Arrested and Jailed by People at Boston 
1689 - Lieutenant Governor Nicholson Arrested at New York 
1692 - Province of Mass Bay Implements Charter (MA, ME, NS, NB) 
1692 - Salem Witch Hysteria Occurs 
1710 - Britain Conquers French Acadia after Siege of Port Royal NS 
1711 - Great Boston Fire Occurs, nearly 400 Buildings Destroyed 
1721 - Small Pox Epidemic at Boston, 844 People Perish 
1741 - Final Separation of New Hampshire from Massachusetts 
1745 - French Fort at Louisbourg, Cape Breton, NS Captured by British 
1748 - Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle returns Louisbourg to French Control 
1754 - French and Indian War between France and England until 1760 
1756 - North American War expands to Europe as Seven Years War 
1758 - British Capture Louisbourg NS after Second Siege 
1760 - British Crackdown on Smuggling to Increase Tax Revenues 
1820 - Final Separation of Maine from the State of Massachusetts 


Approximate Population of BOSTON


1650 - 3,000 
1680 - 4,500 
1690 - 7,000 
1700 - 6,700 
1710 - 9,000 
1720 - 11,000 
1730 - 13,000 
1740 - 17,000 
1750 - 15,700 
1760 - 15,600 
1770 - 15,500 
1815 - 38,200 
1825 - 58,200 
1835 - 85,000 
1845 - 105,000 


Social Studies Links


1. Topography 
2. Boston Climatology 
3. Worcester Climatology 
4. Pittsfield Climatology 


Early History


"In 1628, the foundation was laid for another colony in New England, by the name of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Several enterprising men at that time purchasing from the Council of Plymouth a tract of land for the purpose of settling. it. During the same year, the purchasers sent one Mr. John Endicott, with one hundred colonists, to begin a settlement, which they effected at Salem, previously called by the Indians Naumkeak.

The settlement of Massachusetts Bay, like the Colony of Plymouth, was commenced by non-conformists, for the purpose of enjoying greater religious liberty in matters of worship. Among the most active in this enterprise were Mr. Endicott and Mr. White; the latter a pious and active minister of Dorchester, England.

The tract purchased extended three miles north of the Merrimack River, and three miles south of Charles River, and east and west from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1629, the Massachusetts Company obtained a charter from the king, being incorporated by the name of The Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England. Mr. Endicott, being in the country, was appointed the first governor. In June, two hundred additional settlers arrived, bringing with them horses, sheep and goats, and large stores of necessaries. A part of these emigrants, not being pleased with the situation of Salem commenced the settlement of Mishawam, or Charlestown.

The following year, 1630, it being judged reasonable that a colony should be ruled by men residing in the plantation, the proprietors agreed that the charter and powers of government, conferred by it, should be transmitted from London to the colony in America. Accordingly, this was done, the officers of government being in the first instance chosen by the company in England. The excellent John Winthrop was chosen governor, and Thomas Dudley deputy governor; Isaac Johnson, Sir Richard Saltonstall, and others, to the number of eighteen, were chosen assistants.

Governor Winthrop was accompanied to Massachusetts by nearly three hundred families, or fifteen hundred souls many of whom were distinguished for their quality, as well as their intelligence and piety. This company designed to settle at Charlestown; but the prevalence of a fatal sickness previous to their arrival, imputed to the badness of the water, induced many of the emigrants to form other settlements, some at Dorchester, others at Roxbury and Watertown. Governor Winthrop, with some of the most distinguished gentlemen of the company, hearing of an excellent spring of water at Shawmut, established themselves there, and erected a few cottages. This was the commencement of Boston, which for a short time was called by the English as Tri-Mountain.

On the arrival of Governor Winthrop, who continued from this time to his death the head and father of the colony, he found the plantation in a distressed and suffering state. In the preceding autumn the colony contained about three hundred, inhabitants; eighty of these had died, and a great part of the survivors were in a weak and sickly state. Their supply of corn was not sufficient for more than a fortnight, and their other provisions were nearly exhausted.

In addition to these evils, they were informed that a combination of various tribes of Indians was forming for the utter extirpation of the colony. Their strength was weakness, but confidence was in their God, and they were not forsaken. Many of the planters who arrived this summer, after long voyages, were in a sickly state, and disease continued to rage through the season. By the close of the year, the number of deaths exceeded two hundred. Among these were several of the principal persons in the colony. Mr. Higginson, the venerable minister of Salem, spent about a year with that parent church, and was removed to the church in glory. His excellent colleague, Mr. Skelton, did not long survive him. Mr. Johnson, one of the assistants, and his lady, who was a great patroness of the settlement, died soon after their arrival. Of the latter an early historian observes, "She left an earthly paradise, in the family of an earldom, to encounter the sorrows of a wilderness, for the entertainments of a pure worship in, the house of God; and then immediately left that wilderness for the heavenly paradise."

The succeeding winter commenced in December with great severity. Few of the houses which had been erected were comfortable, and the most of them were miserable coverings. Unused to such severities of climate, the poor people suffered severely from the cold. Many were frozen to death. The inconveniences of their accommodations increased the diseases which continued to prevail among them. But their constancy had not yet been brought to the last trial. During the continuance of the severe season, their stock of provisions began to fail. Those who wanted were supplied by those who possessed, as long as any remained. A poor man came to the governor to complain, and was informed that the last bread of his house was in the oven. Many subsisted upon shell fish, ground-nuts, and acorns, which, at that season, could not have been procured but with utmost difficulty.

In consideration of their perilous condition, the sixth day of February was appointed a day of public fasting and prayer, to seek deliverance from God. On the fifth of February, the day before the appointed fast, the ship Lion, which had been sent to England for supplies, arrived laden with provisions. She had a stormy passage, and rode amidst heavy drifts of ice after entering the harbor. These provisions were distributed among the people according to their necessities, and their appointed fast was exchanged for a day of general Thanksgiving.

Early in 1631, two important rules were adopted at a meeting of the electors in General Court, namely, (1) That the freemen alone should have the power of electing the governor, deputy governor and assistants, and (2) that those only should be made freemen who belonged to some church within the limits of the colony. This latter rule would not be tolerated at the present day. It was repealed in 1665.

In 1634, a still more important change was effected in the mode of legislation. The settlements had become so numerous and extended, that the freemen could not, without great inconvenience, meet and transact the public business in person. It was therefore ordered that the whole body of the freemen should be convened only for the election of the magistrates; who, with deputies to be chosen by the several towns, should have the power of enacting the laws. "Thus," observes an 1800s historian, "did the epidemic of America break out in Massachusetts, just fifteen years after its first appearance in Virginia. The trading corporation had become a representative democracy."

For ten years from this time, a discussion was had as to the relative powers of the assistants and deputies. Both received office at the hands of the people; but the former were elected by the freemen of the colony, the latter by the towns. The two bodies used to meet in convention; but the assistants claimed and exercised the right of a separate negative vote on all joint proceedings. At last, in 1644, a remedy was found for this long and disturbing evil, by dividing the court in their consultations; the magistrates and the deputies each constituting a separate branch, and each possessing a negative on the proceedings of the other. Thus commenced the separate existence of the democratic branch of the Legislature, or House of Representatives.

In the autumn of 1635, Roger Williams was banished from the colony, for publishing novel opinions, which were deemed seditions and heretical, both by ministers and magistrates. He seems to have denied the right to possess the lands of the Indiana by virtue of any patent from the king, or any deed from a company, without their consent. He also maintained that an oath should not be tendered to an unregenerate man; and, that no Christian could lawfully pray with such, though it were a wife or child. But while on these and other points Mr. Williams was over scrupulous, and even at fault, the principal accusation against him, and the chief cause of his banishment, was his distinguishing doctrine, that the civil power has no control over the religious opinions of men; a doctrine which at the present day no man would venture to deny, and which shows that in this respect Mr. Williams was far in advance of the age.

The banishment of Mr. Williams was doubtless a great wrong. But it is not necessary to impeach the motives of the pilgrim fathers. They acted from a sincere but misdirected desire to uphold the government and the church, both of which they truly believed in danger. Soon after his banishment, Mr. Williams removed, and laid the foundation of Rhode Island.

During the same year, 1635, three thousand new settlers were added to the colony; among whom were Reverend Hugh Peters, a minister of great energy and popular eloquence, and Henry Vane, afterwards Sir Henry Vane, a young man distinguished for his intelligence and integrity. By his correct deportment and winning manners, the latter so won upon the colonists, that the year following they elected him governor; an "unwise choice," states an 1800s historian; "for neither the age nor the distinction of Vane entitled him to the honor."

And the colonists soon had reason to repent their choice. During his administration, the celebrated Anne Hutchinson, a woman of great eloquence and enthusiasm, advanced certain mystical doctrines, one of which was the monstrous doctrine that the elected saints might be assured of their salvation, however vicious their lives might be. Many embraced her views and supported her cause; among whom were Governor Vane, and Messrs., Cotton and Wheelright, two distinguished clergymen. Governor Winthrop, and a majority of the churches, however, deemed her sentiments heretical and seditious. Great excitement for a time prevailed among the people; conferences were held, fasts observed; and, at length, a general synod was called, by which her opinions were condemned, and she and some of her adherents were banished from the colony. Failing to be reelected, Governor Vane returned the following year to England. Mrs. Hutchinson sought an asylum among the Dutch, near New York, where she and her family, except one daughter, were some time afterwards massacred by the Indians.

As many of the pilgrims were persons of liberal education, they were able to appreciate the importance of learning to the rising commonwealth, as among its surest safeguards. As early as 1636, therefore, the General Court had laid the foundation of a public school or college, by the appropriation of four hundred pounds; and which, the next year, was located at Newtown. In 1638, Reverend John Harvard, a pious minister of Charlestown, dying, left to the institution upwards of three thousand dollars. In consideration of this liberal benefaction, the General Court gave to the institution the name of "Harvard College;" and, in memory of the place where many of the first New England settlers had received their education, that part of Newtown in which the college was located received the name of "Cambridge." As early as 1647, Massachusetts required by law that every township which had fifty householders should have a schoolhouse and employ a teacher, and that such as had one thousand freeholders should have a grammar school.

The next event of importance in our history is the union of the colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven, by the name of The United Colonies of New England. The articles of this confederation, which had been agitated for three years, were signed May, 1643. To this union the colonies were strongly urged by a sense of common danger from the Indians, and by the claims and encroachments of the Dutch at Manhattan, New York.

By those articles, each colony retained its distinct and separate government. No two colonies might be united into one, nor any colony be received into the confederacy, without the consent of the whole. Each colony was to elect two commissioners, who should meet annually, and at other times if necessary, and should determine "all affairs of war and peace, of leagues, aids, charges, and numbers of men for war," etc. Upon notice that any colony was invaded, the rest were immediately to dispatch assistance.

This union subsisted more than forty years, until the charters of the colonies were either taken away or suspended by James II and his commissioners. In 1648, Rhode Island petitioned to be admitted to this confederacy, but was denied, unless she would be incorporated with Plymouth, and lose her separate existence. This she refused, and was consequently excluded. The effects of this union on the New England colonies were, in a high degree, salutary. On the completion of it, several Indian sachems, among whom were the chiefs of the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes, came forward and submitted to the English government. The colonies, also, became formidable, by means of it, to the Dutch. This union was also made subservient to the civil and religious improvement of the Indians.

Prior to this period, Mr. Mayhew and the devoted John Eliot had made considerable progress towards modernizing the Indians, and converting them to Christianity. They had learned the Indian language, and had preached to the Indians in their own tongue. Upon a report in England of what these men had done, a society was formed for propagating the Gospel among the Indians, which sent over books, money, etc., to be distributed by the commissioners of the United Colonies. The Indians, at first, made great opposition to Christianity; and such was their aversion to it, that, had they not been over-awed by the United Colonies, it is probable they would have put to death those among them who embraced it. Such, however, were the ardor, energy and ability, of Messrs. Mayhew and Eliot, aided by the countenance and support of government, and seemingly blessed by Providence, that, in 1660, there were ten towns of converted Indians in Massachusetts. In 1695, there were not less than three thousand adult Indian converts, in the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

With the history of Massachusetts, the early history of New Hampshire and of the Province of Maine, is intimately connected. As early as 1641, the settlements which existed in the former were incorporated with Massachusetts; and in 1652, the inhabitants in the latter were, at their own request, taken under her protection. As early as 1626, a few feeble settlements were commenced along the coast of Maine; but before they had gathered much strength, the "Plymouth Council" granted to several companies portions of the same territory, from the Piscataqua to the Penobscot. These conflicting patents gave rise, in after years, to long and angry litigation.

In 1639, Sir Ferdinand Gorges, who had obtained a royal charter of the province, first established a government over it, and the following year a General Court was held in Saco Maine. His death occurring in 1649, the officers whom he had appointed deserted it, upon which the inhabitants found it necessary td provide for themselves, and accordingly sought the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.

In 1664 a royal fleet, destined for the reduction of the Dutch colonies on the Hudson, arrived in Boston, on board of which were four commissioners—Colonel Nichols, commander of the fleet, Sir Robert Carr, George Cartwright, and Richard Maverick—authorized and directed to look after the colonies of his majesty, and to proceed to settle the peace and security of the country. King Charles entertained no good will towards them, and the measure was considered a hostile one.

The conduct of the commissioners was exceedingly arbitrary and offensive. Under pretext of executing their commission, they received complaints against the colonies from the Indians; required persons, against the consent of the people, to be admitted to the privileges of freemen, to church membership, and full communion; heard and decided in causes which had already been determined by the established courts; and gave protection to criminals. After involving the colonies in great embarrassment and expense, although little attention was paid to their acts, they were recalled, and the colonies enjoyed a season of peace and prosperity, until the break out of King Philip's War.


— A History of the United States, by Charles A. Goodrich, 1857 (edited)


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