Nearby Words

Massachusetts Bay Colony

Massachusetts Bay Colony

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 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.

Prior to 1753, England and its colonies used the Julian calendar, and the dates for all events in England and its colonies are reported using this calendar, unless specified otherwise. When using the Julian calendar, all dates from January 1 to March 22 must be reported using the "double date" notation, such as 1628/29.

Previous nearby settlements

Given the overlapping land patents that various colonial groups obtained from English kings and companies, and later consolidation of territory into the Thirteen Colonies, several pre-existing groups would later become directly involved in the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Virginia Company of Plymouth was granted land from the 38th parallel to the 45th as part of the Virginia Charter in 1607. The only settlement, the Popham Colony (at the mouth of the Kennebec River in present-day Maine) was abandoned 1608. Land south of the 41st parallel (south of about Long Island Sound) was awarded to the sister Virginia Company of London, which had previously held joint claim to this territory.

In 1620, the territory of the defunct "Plymouth Company" was reorganized under the Plymouth Council for New England. King James I granted a charter for all the lands in America between 40° North and 48° N, "throughout the Maine Land from Sea to Sea." This included everything from the middle of present-day New Jersey in the south to present-day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the north.

Earlier in 1620, a group of settlers who wanted to separate from the Church of England, now referred to as the Pilgrims, sailed from England on the Mayflower and independently founded the Plymouth Colony on land owned by the Plymouth Council. The Pilgrims intended to settle on the Hudson River (in a part of "Virginia" granted to the Virginia Company of London, and not the Virginia Company of Plymouth), but due to violent storms and trouble sailing south along the coast, they ended up in Cape Cod Bay. The first settlement of the colony is now the site of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The writing of the Mayflower Compact and the founding of the Plymouth Colony are seminal events in the history of the nation. The Massachusetts Bay Colony benefited greatly from the prior establishment of an English settlement in Plymouth. Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were combined when a new charter was put into place in 1691-1692, creating the Province of Massachusetts.

Predecessor companies

The 1623 Sheffield Patent allocated Cape Ann to Robert Cushman, Edward Winslow, and their associates. During the winter of 1623-1624, John White and the Dorchester Company settled on this land at Stage Point (in present-day Gloucester, Massachusetts). In 1625, they invited Roger Conant to run the fishing colony. They were joined by some members of the Plymouth Colony.By 1626, the attempt had failed. Most colonists returned to England, but Conant led about 20 to Naumkeag(which was renamed Salem in 1629), where they set up a trading post.

The bankrupt Dorchester Company (in 1627?) was then superseded by the New England Company (which had overlapping membership). The Company received a land patent from the Plymouth Council for New England extending from the Merrimack River to the Charles River plus three miles on either side.

John Endecott led a group of Puritan settlers to Salem, and served as governor from their arrival on September 6, 1628, until John Winthrop was elected the next governor.

The "Massachusetts Bay Company" replaced both of these when the Puritans were able to convert the patents into a royal charter on 1629-03-04, which styled them the "Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England". John Winthrop was the third governor of this company.

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 July 8, 1629. 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 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 "binding" included the election of the governor, and Dudley 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.

King Charles II revoked the colony's charter in 1684 as a result of colonial insubordination with trade, tariff and navigation laws.

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 1691-1692, Massachusetts Bay was unified with Plymouth Colony, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, the Province of Maine and what is now Nova Scotia to form the Province of Massachusetts Bay.


See also

External links

  • 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.

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