Massachusetts Bay Colony

In 1628 a group of Puritans, led by John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley, persuaded King James to grant them an area of land between the Massachusetts Bay and Charles River in North America. That year the group sent John Endecott to begin a plantation in Salem.

The main party of 700 people left Southampton in April 1630. The party included John Winthrop, Thomas Dudley, William Pynchon, Simon Bradstreet and Anne Bradstreet. Before they left John Cotton gave a sermon where he emphasized the parallel between the Puritans and the God's chosen people, claiming it was God's will that they should inhabit all the world. During the 1630s over 20,000 people emigrated to Massachusetts.

John Winthrop was the first governor of Massachusetts Colony. He chose Boston as the the capital and the seat of the General Court and the legislature. Thomas Dudley was appointed his deputy and on four occasions (1634, 1640, 1645 and 1650) he served as governor.

Massachusetts was virtually independent of the Britain. Its government was representative, although the franchise was restricted to church members. Non-Puritans were allowed to reside in the colony but were forbidden participation in the government

Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop did not always agree about the way the colony should be ruled. Whereas Winthrop was tolerant and liberal, Dudley favoured the expulsion of any person he considered to be a heretic. It was Dudley who managed to get Anne Hutchinson and her followers removed from the colony. A crisis meeting was held in 1635 and these conflicts were resolved. Two years later Winthrop published a new policy on heresy.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Thomas Dudley, letter sent to the Countess of Lincoln, in England (March, 1631)

In 1628 we procured a patent from His Majesty for our planting between the Massachusetts Bay and Charles River on the south and the river of Merrimac on the north and three miles on either side of those rivers and bay. And the same year we sent Mr. John Endecott and some with him to begin a plantation and to strengthen such as he should find there, which we sent thither from Dorchester and some places adjoining; from whom the same year receiving hopeful news, the next year, 1629, we sent diverse ships over with about 300 people, and some cows, goats, and horses, many of which arrived safely.

(2) John Cotton, sermon preached at Southampton when John Winthrop and his party departed to America in 1630.

Now, God makes room for a people three ways:

First when He casts out the enemies of a people before them by lawful war with the inhabitants, which God calls them unto, as in Ps. 44:2: "Thou didst drive out the heathen before them." But this course of warring against others and driving them out without provocation depends upon special commission from God, or else it is not imitable.

Second, when He gives a foreign people favor in the eyes of any native people to come and sit down with them, either by way of purchase, as Abraham did obtain the field of Machpelah; or else when they give it in courtesy, as Pharaoh did the land of Goshen unto the sons of Jacob.

Third, when He makes a country, though not altogether void of inhabitants, yet void in the place where they reside. Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the sons of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it nor ask their leaves. So that it is free from that common grant for any to take possession of vacant countries. Indeed, no nation is to drive out another without special commission from Heaven, such as the Israelites had, and will not recompense the wrongs done in a peaceable way. And then they may right themselves by lawful war and subdue the country unto themselves.

(3) In a letter sent to supporters in England, Thomas Dudley wrote about the Puritans arrival in Massachusetts in the summer of 1630.

In April 1630 we set sail from old England with four good ships. And in May following, eight more followed, two having gone before in February and March, and two more following in June and August, besides another set out by a private merchant. These seventeen ships arrived all safe in New England, for the increase of the plantation here, this year 1630.

Our four ships, which set out in April, arrived here in June and July, where we found the colony in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty of them being dead the winter before, and many of those alive, weak and sick. All the corn and bread among them all hardly sufficient to feed them a fortnight, insomuch that the remaining of 180 servants we had the two years before sent over, coming to us for victuals to sustain them, we found ourselves wholly unable to feed them.

But bearing these things as we might, we began to consult of the place of our sitting down, for Salem, where we landed, pleased us not. And so to that purpose some were sent to the Bay to search up the rivers for a convenient place; who, upon their return, reported to have found a good place upon Mystic; but some other of us seconding these to approve or dislike of their judgment, we found a place we liked better, three leagues up Charles River.

It was decided, for our present shelter to plant dispersedly, some at Charlestown which stands on the north side of the mouth of Charles River; some on the south side, which we named Boston, some of us upon Mystic, which we named Medford; some of us westward on Charles River, four miles from Charlestown, which place we named Watertown; others of us, two miles from Boston, in a place we named Rocksbury; others upon the river of Saugus, between Salem and Charlestown; and the western men, four miles south from Boston, at a place we named Dorchester.

(4) Journal of the Massachusetts Bat Colony (1635)

Mr. Vane and Mr. Peter, finding some distraction in the commonwealth arising from some differences in judgment, and with some alienation of affection among the magistrates and some other persons of quality, and that hereby factions began to grow among the people, some adhering more to the old governor, Mr. Winthrop, and others to the late governor, Mr. Dudley - the former carrying matters with more lenity, and the other with more severity - they procured a meeting, at Boston, of the governor, deputy, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Hooker, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Winthrop, Mr. Dudley, and themselves.

Mr. Winthrop spoke, professing solemnly that he knew not of any breach between his brother Dudley and himself, since they were reconciled long since. Then Mr. Dudley spoke to this effect: that for his part he came thither a mere patient, not with any intent to charge his brother Winthrop with anything; for though there had been formerly some differences and breaches between them, yet they had been healed, and for his part, he was not willing to renew them again.

(5) In March, 1637, John Wheelwright, the brother-in-law of Anne Hutchinson, was convicted of sedition and contempt because his religious views departed from orthodox Puritanism. In May, 1637, John Winthrop explained why dissenters would not be accepted by the colony.

(1) If we here be a corporation established by free consent, if the place of our cohabitation be our own, then no man has right to come into us, etc., without our consent.

(2) If no man has right to our lands, our government privileges, etc., but by our consent, then it is reason we should take notice of before we confer any such upon them.

(3) If we are bound to keep off whatsoever appears to tend to our ruin or damage, then we may lawfully refuse to receive such whose dispositions suit not with ours and whose society we know will be hurtful to us, and therefore it is lawful to take knowledge of all men before we receive them.

(6) Nathaniel Ward, The Simple Comler of Aggawam in America (1647)

Satan is now in his passions; he feels his passion approaching; he loves to fish in roiled waters. Through that dragon cannot sting the vitals of the elect mortally, yet that Beelzebub can fly-blow their intellectuals miserably. The finer religion grows, the finer he spins his cobwebs; he will hold pace with Christ so long as his wits will serve him. He sees himself beaten out of gross idolatries, heresies, ceremonies, where the light breaks forth with power; he will therefore, bestir him to prevaricate evangelical truths and ordinances.

The devil desires no better sport than to see lightheads handle their heels, and fetch their careers in a time, when the roof of liberty stands open. First, such as have given or taken any unfriendly reports of us New English should do well to recollect themselves. We have been reputed a effluvium of wild opinionists, swarmed into a remote wilderness to find elbowroom for our fanatic doctrines and practices. I trust our diligence past, and constant sedulity against such persons and courses, will plead better things for us. I dare take upon me, to be the herald of New England so far, as to proclaim to the world, in the name of the colony, that all Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, and other enthusiasts shall have free liberty to keep away from us, and such as will come to be gone as fast as they can, the sooner the better.