Massachusetts Bay Colony

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In 1630 John Winthrop organized a fleet of 11 ships to carry almost 1000 immigrants from England to America and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Massachusetts Bay Colony



Earliest exploration of the New England area was done by Giovanni de Verrazano in 1524.  In 1614, English Captain John Smith sailed here and extensively explored the area. His writings provided the basis early Colonists to make their plans.

The first English Colony was at Jamestown Virginia in 1607. The second was the founding of Plymouth_Colony in 1620 in Massachusetts.  Both were actually very small settlements that only just barely survived.  There were a couple of settlements that either collapsed or were abandoned and the settlers returned to Europe.

The next big colony push was John Winthrop leading a small flotilla in 1630 to settle near the area of present day Boston.  It was named the Massachusetts Bay Colony after the name of the indian tribes that lived in that area.  It's principle cities were Boston, Watertown, Charlestown, and Salem along with a many of the small farmtowns that stand today.

A key catalyst for this big migration was the internal strife in England in the first half of the 17th Century.  The Stuart dynasty has just come to power and aligned itself with the Church of England (Anglican faith) and began intense persecution of those who practised Catholism (the predessor of Anglican church) and Puritans, which was the intended to be a even more "pure" form of Christian faith than either the Catholic or Anglican church.  There was also the rich acquiring up a lot of farmlands forcing the poor off their farms and into London.  Then the Thirty Years War started in 1618 that pitted England and other Protestant countries against the Catholic countries of Spain and Central Europe.

Governor Winthrop was a leading organizer of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his principle motivation was to create the ideal Puritan community as an example to the world.  Unlike the Pilgrims that settled Plymouth, this group enjoyed greater abundance of financial backing and starting supplies.

Winthrop Fleet

The Winthrop Fleet consisted of eleven ships sailing from Yarmouth, Isle of Wright to Salem. Some sailed April 8, arriving June 13, 1630 and the following days, the others to sail in May, arriving in July.  

In 1630 John Winthrop organized a fleet of 11 ships to carry almost 1000 immigrants from England to America and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Departing in two groups in April and May, they arrived at various dates in June and July. These ships were:The Ambrose; The Arabella; The Charles; The Hopewell; The Jewel; The Mayflower; The Success; The Talbot ; The Trial; The Whale; The William & Francis

For an incomplete list of these immigrants (work in progress) see  Immigrant Ships To America/First Families/Winthrop Fleet

More immigrants followed afterwards to the tune of 2000 per year, mostly Puritans escaping religious persecution in England.

Colony Founding

Most early New England settlements were founded near where rivers reached the sea because of dependence on England for supplies and also river basins had the best farmland.  1000 settlers came with Winthrop in 1630 but about 20% died in the first harsh winter.  This was despite being better supplied and financed than the early Plymouth Colony.

First settlements were crude dugouts, indian-style wigwams or simple cabins.

Religious Life

Puritans strongly believed their faith was the only true faith and the all others were incorrect, especially the Church of England, Roman Catholics and Quakers and other Protestant groups.  They were quite intollerant expelled those disagreed with the established orthodoxy.  Including Roger Williams in 1635 and Anne Hutchison in 1636, both to Rhode Island. 

In 1636, Harvard College was founded by the Puritans to help promote their ideals.  All classes were taught in Latin.

By 1640, the Bay Colony had a core leadership group of 300 practicing Puritans that strongly enforced strict moral standards throughout the colony.

By 1640s and 1650s, many colonists strayed away from their Puritan faith as they pursued material wealth and personal well-being.

Many Puritan churches became Congregationalist Churches, since each congregation stood as the governing board of the church.


90% of the early settlers practiced some form of agricultural pursuit.

Early Massachusetts thrived around three principle ports - Salem, Boston and Plymouth.

1640 was the arrival of the first printing press.  It published the first book in America - the Bay Psalm Book.  later Boston would grow into a major publishing center.

Another major industry was working the sea (unlike Plymouth Colony).  The Bay Colony produced many sailors, fishermen and shipwrights. The famous Marblehead fishing port grew up next to Salem.

Another major business was timber.  The Hutchison family ran 19 sawmills in New Hampshire.

As early as 1647, Boston was becoming a major seaport, shipping food, timber and cattle to the West Indies sugar plantations at profitable rates. 00:34, September 29, 2010 (UTC)

Indian Relations

In general white settlements continuously encroached on lands of the natives and surrounded their villages.  Woodlands were cleared to make farmland and thus disrupting hunting grounds and forcing native hunters to travel much further to find game to support their families.

Some Puritans actively sought to convert and educate the natives. By 1675, there were some 1100 natives living in 14 "praying villages".  They enjoyed free elementary schooling from the Puritans.

An early exception was the Pequot Massacre in 1637.  This native tribe living in the Connecticutt area, grew to resent the English encroachment.  Governor Winthrop organized a surprise attack on the main Pequot village in 1637 which resulted in the deaths of over 700 men, women and children.

In general, relations grew well until the King Philip war 

King Philip's War - 1675

The Native American tribes in New England (i.e. Massachusetts, Narragansett, Wampanoags, Pocumtucs, and Nipmucs) became increasingly disturbed by English growth in the area and feared that their livelyhood was significantly threatened.   In June 1675, natives of the Wampanoag tribe led by Metacom (called King Philip by the Colonists) raided Swansea, a settlement of Plymouth Colony and resulted in the death of 11 colonists. Raids by the natives continued into the Fall of 1675, targeting M.B.C. settlements at Springfield, Hadley and Northampton.

In Dec 1675, Governor Winslow (of Plymouth Colony) was able to organize an armed force of militia from both Plymouth and M.B.C. and delivered a devastating blow against one of King Philip's key allies, the Narragansett at Great Swamp (in present day Rhode Island).  Both sides suffered what would have been termed terrible losses.  The Colonists lost over 240 killed and many more wounded.  The Narragansetts lost over 900 killed and wounded and therefore could no longer participate effectively in the war.

Raids by the Native tribes continued through the winter of 1675/1676, targeting Medfield and other locations.  However, come springtime, many of the Native warriors needed to turn to their spring hunting grounds and start providing for their families.  The colonial militia meanwhile continued to prosecute the war and hunt down natives.  Amnesty was offered freely to those who laid down their arms. 

On 12 Aug, 1676, Colonial forces with Native allies were able to trackdown and kill Metacom.  This effectively ended organized warfare by the natives, but they did continue a number of raiding parties for a couple more years.

See - for more about this event.

Provincial Government 

Up until 1684, the M.B.C. governed themselves under their colonial charter, but in that year the English crown revoked their charter and placed a territorial governor directly over them.  This would become a source of great friction which later developed into the American Revolution some 90 years later.

In 1680, New Hampshire was split off from Massachusetts.  However Massachusetts still retained control over much of present day Maine.

The province of Massachusetts Bay was formed in 1691 with the merger of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, Province of Maine, Nova Scotia, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Nova Scotia was split off in 1696.  Previously New Hampshire had been part of M.B.C for 1641-1679 and again for 1688-1691.

See Wiki History of Massachusetts Bay Province for more info about this time period (1691-1776).

Salem Witch Trials - 1692

Hysteria over witchcraft had crossed over much of Europe more than century earlier, but in the late 17th century it surged again, this time including many of the American Colonies.  But no where did ready such a level of excitement as in the Colonial town of Salem in the years of 1688-1692 in an episode called the Salem Witch Trials.

This episode is of quite some significance to family historians, since many of those prosecuted and put to death where elderly matriarchs of large colonial families and are survived today by a very great posterity.  Many of them suffered because of their advanced age and accompanying senility in that they were unable to appreciate the gravity of charges leveled against them.  Wild accusations were being made on a daily basis.

The whole episode finally came to an abrupt end in 1692 when accusations where made against the wife of the governor.  One participating judge would later issue a broad apology for his participation in the affair, but not until several years after at least 11 distinguished women had been put to death and many others pilloried in public stockades.

See [] for more info on this event.


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