Motivation for Founding:
The Puritans wanted to create a colony where they would be free to practice their religion. In 1629, King Charles I began to take action against the Puritans. John Winthrop, who had previously not been associated with the company decided to join and help colonize the Massachusetts Bay colony. He would later become its governor.

John Winthrop gave a speech while aboard the Arbella in which he said, "Wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake...."

These words embody the spirit of the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While they emigrated to the New World to be able to freely practice their religion, they did not espouse freedom of religion for other settlers.

In 1691, Plymouth Colony would become part of the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony.


"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.


Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England, though the exact beginning of black slavery in what became Massachusetts cannot be dated exactly. Slavery there is said to have predated the settlement of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1629, and circumstantial evidence gives a date of 1624-1629 for the first slaves. "Samuel Maverick, apparently New England's first slaveholder, arrived in Massachusetts in 1624 and, according to [John Gorham] Palfrey, owned two Negroes before John Winthrop, who later became governor of the colony, arrived in 1630."[1]

The first certain reference to African slavery is in connection with the bloody Pequot War in 1637. The Pequot Indians of central Connecticut, pressed hard by encroaching European settlements, struck back and attacked the town of Wetherfield. A few months later, Massachusetts and Connecticut militias joined forces and raided the Pequot village near Mystic, Connecticut. Of the few Indians who escaped slaughter, the women and children were enslaved in New England, and Roger Williams of Rhode Island wrote to Winthrop congratulating him on God's having placed in his hands "another drove of Adams' degenerate seed." But most of the men and boys, deemed too dangerous to keep in the colony, were transported to the West Indies aboard the ship Desire, to be exchanged for African slaves. The Desire arrived back in Massachusetts in 1638, after exchanging its cargo, according to Winthrop, loaded with "Salt, cotton, tobacco and Negroes."

"Such exchanges became routine during subsequent Indian wars, for the danger of keeping revengeful warriors in the colony far outweighed the value of their labor."[2] In 1646, this became the official policy of the New England Confederation. As elsewhere in the New World, the shortage and expense of free, white labor motivated the quest for slaves. In 1645, Emanuel Downing, brother-in-law of John Winthrop, wrote to him longing for a "juste warre" with the Pequots, so the colonists might capture enough Indian men, women, and children to exchange in Barbados for black slaves, because the colony would never thrive "untill we gett ... a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all our business."[3]

Most, if not all, of the limited 17th century New England slave trade was in the hands of Massachusetts. Boston merchants made New England's first attempt at direct import of slaves from West Africa to the West Indies in 1644, but though the venture was partially successful, it was premature because the big chartered companies still held monopoly on the Gold Coast and Guinea. By 1676, however, Boston ships had pioneered a slave trade to Madagascar, and they were selling black human beings to Virginians by 1678. For the home market, the Puritans generally took the Africans to the West Indies and sold them in exchange for a few experienced slaves, which they brought back to New England. In other cases, they brought back the weaklings that could not be sold on the harsh West Indies plantations (Phyllis Wheatley, the poetess, was one) and tried to get the best bargain they could for them in New England. Massachusetts merchants and ships were supplying slaves to Connecticut by 1680 and Rhode Island by 1696.

The break-up of the monopolies and the defeat of the Dutch opened the way for New England's aggressive pursuit of the slave trade in the early 1700s. At the same time, the expansion of New England industries created a shortage of labor, which slaves filled. From fewer than 200 slaves in 1676, and 550 in 1708, the Massachusetts slave population jumped to about 2,000 in 1715. It reached its largest percentage of the total population between 1755 and 1764, when it stood at around 2.2 percent. The slaves concentrated in the industrial and seaside towns, however, and Boston was about 10 percent black in 1752.

As in other maritime colonies of New England, the chief families were among the chief slavers. Cornelius Waldo, maternal great-grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a slave merchant on a large scale, a proud importer of "Choice Irish Duck, fine Florence wine, negro slaves and Irish butter." His ship, Africa, plied the Middle Passage packed with 200 black people at a time crammed below-decks, though lethal epidemics of "flux" sometimes tore through the captives and cut into Waldo's profits. Peter Fanueil, meanwhile, inherited one of the largest fortunes of his day, which was built in large part on his uncle's slave trade. His philanthropy with this money gave Boston its famed Fanueil Hall.

Massachusetts, like many American colonies, had roots in a scrupulous fundamentalist Protestantism. Christianity was no barrier to slave-ownership, however. The Puritans regarded themselves as God's Elect, and so they had no difficulty with slavery, which had the sanction of the Law of the God of Israel. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination easily supported the Puritans in a position that blacks were a people cursed and condemned by God to serve whites. Cotton Mather told blacks they were the "miserable children of Adam and Noah," for whom slavery had been ordained as a punishment.

A Massachusetts law of 1641 specifically linked slavery to Biblical authority, and established for slaves the set of rules "which the law of God, established in Israel concerning such people, doth morally require." When two Massachusetts slave merchants joined with London slave raiders in a massacre of an African village in 1645, the colonial government registered its indignation, because the two men were guilty of the Biblical crime of "man-stealing" (kidnapping Africans instead of acquiring them in the approved way, in exchange for rum or trinkets) -- and because the slaughter of 100 or so villagers had taken place on a Sunday. Nonetheless, because of its Scriptural foundation, Massachusetts' attitudes toward slaves in some ways were more progressive than those of other colonies.

Like Connecticut and Rhode Island, however, Massachusetts had a problem with masters who simply turned out their slaves when they grew too old or feeble to work. Unlike the later Southern system, which took pride in its paternal care for slaves in their old age, Massachusetts masters had to be forced to keep theirs by a 1703 law requiring them to post £50 bond for every slave manumitted, to provide against the slave becoming indigent and the responsibility of some town. There are also instances on record of slave mothers' children given away like puppies or kittens by masters unwilling or unable to support them. There was no law against this.

Later reminiscences, long after slavery's end, emphasized the benign nature of Massachusetts slavery, but the laws and statutes of the time show it to be grim enough, and the need for control over even so small a population of blacks as lived in Massachusetts was felt to be great. Fear of an uprising no doubt was behind the 1656 exclusion of blacks (and Indians) from military duty. Concern about fugitive slaves, meanwhile, probably lay behind the 1680 act by which the colony imposed heavy fines on captains of ships and vessels that took blacks aboard, or sailed away with them without permission from the governor. Protection of masters' property from slave theft certainly motivated the 1693 statute that forbade anyone from buying anything from a black, Indian or mulatto servant.

Boston, which had the largest slave population, also had its own layer of controls, on top of the province-wide ones. In statutes enacted at various times between the 1720s and 1750s, slaves in Boston were forbidden to buy provisions in market; carry a stick or a cane; keep hogs or swine; or stroll about the streets, lanes, or Common at night or at all on Sunday. Punishments for violation of these laws ranged up to 20 lashes, depending on aggravating factors.

Black slaves were singled out for punishment by whipping if they broke street lamps, under a law of 1753, and a special law allowed severe whippings for any black person who hit a white one (1705-6).

The colony, along with Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, punished both races for miscegenation. But Old Testament abhorrence of "mixed natures" may help explain why the Massachusetts statue was more severe than that of any other colony on the continent. The Massachusetts law against mixed marriage or sexual relations between the races [Massachusetts Acts and Resolves, I, 578], dating to 1705, was passed "for the better preventing of a spurious and mixt issue." It subjected a black man who slept with a white woman to being sold out of the province (likely to the cruel plantations of the West Indies). Both were to be flogged, and the woman bound out to service to support any children resulting from the illicit union. In cases involving a white man and a black woman, both were to be flogged, the man fined £5 and held liable for support of any children, and the woman to be sold out of the province.