The Massachusetts Bay Colony
Rev. John White's association.—The Reverend John White of Dorchester interested people in Lincolnshire and London, and formed an association, which, through the assistance of Warwick, in 1628 procured a patent for lands between the parallel which passed three miles north of the source of the Merrimac to that which passed three miles south of the head of the Charles River, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In September, 1628, John Endicott with about fifty followers arrived at Salem.
The Massachusetts Bay Company.—Trouble for the new association was brewing in England. Members of the Gorges family attempted to interfere with the new settlement, and Morton and Oldham joined with them. The new association, however, succeeded in defeating the former patentees, and in March, 1629, a royal charter was obtained which confirmed the grant made to Endicott and his partners. The new corporation was called the "Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England." The administration was placed in the hands of a governor, deputy governor, and eighteen assistants, who were to be elected annually by the freemen or members of the corporation. Four times a year the officers and freemen were to meet in a general court at which new freemen might be admitted to membership, subordinate officers might be appointed, and laws and ordinances enacted. On June 27, 1629, five ships with about four hundred settlers arrived at Salem.
The Cambridge agreement.—At this time Laud had begun his persecution of the Puritans and the king had started on his career of personal government. Under these circumstances the Puritan leaders looked to the New World for an asylum. John Winthrop, a wealthy gentleman of Groton in Suffolk, who had been a follower of Warwick in parliament, now became interested in the Massachusetts enterprise. Winthrop and several prominent men of Cambridge met and agreed to emigrate to New England provided the charter and government might be legally transferred to America. The company decided to transfer the government. Winthrop was made governor, and Thomas Dudley deputy governor.
The "Great Migration."—In June, 1630, eleven ships anchored at Salem and before the winter six more arrived, bringing in all over a thousand people. They found Endicott's followers in a deplorable condition. About one-fourth had died during the previous winter; many of the survivors were sick and there was a shortage of provisions. The new arrivals had brought only a limited supply and for the first year famine stalked in the land. The dreary prospect caused about a hundred of the newcomers to return immediately to England. Winthrop and most of his followers removed to Charlestown. By December two hundred had died. Believing that the inadequate water supply at Charlestown was the main cause of sickness, the settlers began to scatter, and before the new year settlements had been started at Dorchester, Boston, Watertown, Roxbury, Mystic, and Lynn.
The hardships endured by the followers of Endicott and Winthrop prevented many from coming during 1631 and 1632, but in 1633 a new wave of migration set in. Laud became arch-bishop in that year and began a rigorous enforcement of the laws against nonconformists. Many ministers with their congregations in consequence migrated. By the end of 1634 there were nearly four thousand settlers in Massachusetts. The migration continued until the outbreak of war in 1642, by which time the population had increased to about sixteen thousand.
The form of government.—The charter vested the government in the governor, deputy governor, assistants, and freemen of the company but not more than twelve of the colonists were legally eligible to membership in the general court. Before disembarking this little group decided that each of the assistants should exercise the same powers as an English justice of the peace. The colony was to be governed by the common law of England, which was to be supplemented by biblical law. At the first general court, held at Boston, October 19, 1630, one hundred and nine men applied for admission as freemen of the corporation. This Winthrop and his associates hesitated to grant, but finally they agreed to admit them, allowing them to elect assistants, but not to hold office. It was also provided that in future no person should be admitted as a freeman unless a member of some church within the colony. Though Winthrop and his followers at first claimed to be members of the Church of England, the necessities of the frontier soon asserted themselves, and each community became a political, economic, and a religious unit.
The New England towns.—The New England towns were based upon the idea of group settlement and wherever New Englanders migrated the local organization was reproduced. As Professor Osgood says, "The settlement of a town normally began with the laying out of a village plot and the assignment of home lots. This to an extent determined the location of highways, of the village common, and of some of the outlying fields. On or near the common the church was built, and in not a few cases the site that was chosen for this building went far toward determining the entire lay-out of the town. The idea of a home lot was a plot of ground for a dwelling-house and outbuildings, for a dooryard and garden, and usually also an enclosure for feeding cattle and raising corn."
Principal Settlements in Massachusetts, 1630.
The first settlers located wherever they pleased, but the Massachusetts general court soon took over the superintendence of town founding and prescribed more or less definitely the boundaries of each town. The grants were made in tracts of thirty-six square miles or more. Within a town there were many common fields which were handled by associated proprietors. The fields were surrounded by common fences and were cultivated by a joint system. The herds were also held in common. The original grantees and their legal heirs or successors made up the commoners or proprietors. Originally the town and the proprietors were approximately the same. An important function of the town meeting was in allotting land. Soon each community began to receive newcomers who were freemen but not proprietors. At first the proprietors were in control, but as the freemen increased in number frequent struggles occurred over the arrangement of town lands.
The meeting house was the center of local life. There the town meeting was held and there the people repaired on the Sabbath. In early days the military stores and equipment were usually kept in the edifice and the men attended service with arms in hand. The town constructed and took care of the meeting house and the minister was supported by taxation. One of the early acts of each town was to establish a school, the meeting house frequently being used as a school-house.
A representative system introduced.—The governor and assistants soon found their power challenged. In 1632 a tax was voted for fortifying Newtown, the modern Cambridge. The tax caused considerable grumbling, and the general court decided that, in future, the governor and assistants should be advised in matters of taxation by two delegates from each town, and that all magistrates should be elected by the entire body of freemen. In 1634 a committee of two freemen from each town demanded larger rights. The result was a representative system, each town sending representatives according to its size to meet with the general court. This system was in no sense a popular government, the franchise continuing to be restricted to a limited number of church members, the leaders of whom were distinctly aristocratic.
The struggle with Laud.—The patentees who had been deprived of their rights found a ready listener in Archbishop Laud, who disliked the Puritan commonwealth growing so lustily on the shores of Massachusetts Bay. Grounds for accusation were found in the fact that the Massachusetts magistrates expelled those who disagreed with their religious ideas. Complaints were filed with the privy council by Gorges and Mason, but a committee of the council in 1633 made a report which was favorable to the colony. In 1634 the attack was renewed, and this time with better success, for the king appointed the Commission for Foreign Plantations, headed by Laud, to take over the general supervision of all the colonies. Immediately a demand was made for the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Governor Dudley and the assistants replied that the charter could not be returned except by order of the general court, which was not in session. They immediately fortified Castle Island, Dorchester, and Charlestown.
In 1635 the coast of New England was reapportioned, Sir Ferdinando Gorges receiving the lands in Maine between the Penobscot and the Piscataqua, Mason receiving New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts as far as Cape Ann, and Lord Edward Gorges from Cape Ann to Narragansett Bay. The same year the Council for New England resigned its charter, and the king decided to seize the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company. The pecuniary difficulties of the king, the destruction of a boat which was built by Mason and Gorges, and the death of Mason combined to help the colony. Though the charter was again demanded in 1638 by the lord commissioners, the general court refused to recognize the order, and the increasing difficulties of the king made it possible for the Massachusetts authorities to continue their independent course.
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