Massachusetts Bay Colony

1629—1763

Massachusetts Bay Colony was established in 1629 when King Charles I issued a charter that established the Massachusetts Bay Company and gave the company permission to establish a settlement in New England. Prior to the American Revolution, it became the largest and most powerful British colony in New England and is one of the 13 Original Colonies that declared independence in 1776.

John Winthrop, Massachusetts Bay Governor

John Winthrop played an important role in the establishment, governance, and expansion of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Essential Facts About the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded in 1629 when King Charles I granted a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company for the purpose of establishing a settlement between the Charles River and the Merrimack River in New England and engaging in trade. The members of the company were Puritans.

The first ships set sail for the New World in April 1630, which was part of the “Great Puritan Migration” from England to Massachusetts that started in 1620 with the Pilgrims.

When the first group arrived in Massachusetts, they settled at Salem but were forced to move due to a lack of natural resources. After a brief stay at Charlestown, they moved across the river to the Shawmut Peninsula. They established their new settlement and called it “Boston.”

Over time, the colony grew and often had jurisdiction over the neighboring colony of New Hampshire and the territory of Maine. At one point, it was part of the New England Confederation with the other Puritan colonies in New England, including Plymouth, and was part of the Dominion of New England from 1686 to 1689.

After the Dominion collapsed, a new charter was issued in 1691 that combined Plymouth and Massachusetts into the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

This illustration depicts the arrival of John Winthrop and the Winthrop Fleet at Salem in 1630. Image Source: A Treasury of Knowledge and Cyclopaedia of History, Robert Sears, 1853, Archive.org.

Quick Facts About Massachusetts Bay Colony

  1. Region: The colonies are generally divided into three regions — New England, Middle, and Southern. Massachusetts Bay was one of the New England Colonies.
  2. First Settlement: The first settlement in Massachusetts Bay Colony that was under the control of the Massachusetts Bay Company was Weymouth.
  3. First Settlement Established: The first settlement at Weymouth was established in 1622 and was followed by a second one in 1623.
  4. Purpose: The purpose of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was to establish a settlement between the Charles River and the Merrimack and engage in trade.
  5. Charter: The Massachusetts Bay Company received a Corporate Charter from King Charles I on March 4, 1629.

Early European Colonies and Settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

There were at least five attempts to establish colonies within the territory of present-day Massachusetts. Only one of them, Plymouth, had long-term success. The others are referred to as the “Old Planter Colonies,” because they were primarily “planted” as business ventures.

Plymouth Colony

Plymouth Colony was the first permanent English settlement in New England. The colony was established by Puritan Separatists known as the Pilgrims in 1620. Plymouth survived the difficult times it endured in its early years. It was incorporated into Massachusetts in 1691.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, 1620
The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor in 1620. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Wessagusset Colony

Wessagusset Colony, also known as the Weston Colony, was founded in August 1622. Backed by Thomas Weston, it was a business venture that failed within a year due to conflicts with the local Native American Indians. The people living in the colony either moved to Plymouth or returned to England.

Weymouth Colony

Weymouth Colony was established in 1623 in the same location as Wessagusset by the Plymouth Council for New England. It was under the direction of Robert Gorges, the son of Sir Ferdinando Gorges. However, like its predecessor, it failed. Most of the settlers scattered, but a small number remained at Weymouth. One of the settlers, William Blackstone, moved to the area around present-day Boston. In 1630, what was left of Weymouth became part of Plymouth Colony.

Cape Ann Colony

Cape Ann Colony was also settled in 1623, at present-day Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was a fishing venture set up by the Plymouth Council for New England and the Dorchester Company. The settlement, under Thomas Gardner’s oversight, lost its financial support after two years. 

Naumkeag Colony

Salem was established by Roger Conant in 1626 as Naumkeag. Conant had been part of the Cape Ann Settlement. After the first Puritans arrived in 1630, Conant agreed to transfer control of the settlement to Massachusetts. It was then the name was changed from Naumkeag to Salem. Although Salem was an important port during the colonial era, it is most well-known for the Salem Witchcraft Trials that took place in the 1690s.

Growth and Expansion of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Great Puritan Migration started with the Pilgrims in 1620 and people searching for a fresh start in the New World followed soon after. The arrival of the Winthrop Fleet marked the beginning of a massive wave of Puritan immigrants who fled religious persecution in England. It is estimated that at least 20,000 made their way to Massachusetts. As they arrived, settlements were established throughout the colony. The original settlements in Plymouth Colony and the Old Planter Colonies were incorporated into Massachusetts over time. Prior to the arrival of the Winthrop Fleet, the settlements were:

  • 1620 — Plymouth and Kingston were settled.
  • 1623 — Gloucester and Rockport were established.
  • 1624 — Chelsea, Duxbury, and Nantasket (Hull) were settled.
  • 1625 — Quincy was settled.

In 1625, William Blackstone established a settlement on the Shawmut Peninsula. His settlement became Boston a few years later.

  • 1626 — Beverly, Peabody, and Salem (Naumkeag) were settled.

In 1628, the New England Company — the original name of the Massachusetts Bay Company — bought the rights to Naumkeag and took control in June of that year. The name of the settlement was changed from Naumkeag to Salem in 1629.

  • 1629 — Saugus (Lynn), Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, Melrose, and Swampscott were established.

In August 1630, following the arrival of the Winthrop Fleet, Winthrop and his group were invited to the Shawmut Peninsula by William Blackstone. The settlement was named Boston in September.

  • 1630 — Charlestown, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and West Roxbury were all established in close proximity to Boston. Newtown (Cambridge) was settled by Thomas Dudley, who wanted it to be the capital of the colony.

In 1630, Saugus (present-day), Scituate, Somerville, Watertown, and Weymouth were established. Watertown was founded by Sir Richard Saltonstall and Reverend George Philips. Both arrived with the Winthrop Fleet.

  • 1631 — Saugus was incorporated into Massachusetts.

In 1632, Hanson, Marshfield, Arlington, Everett, Medford, Nahant, and Revere were established. Boston also became the capital of the colony.

  • 1633 — Chelmsford, Hingham, and Ipswich were settled.
  • 1634 — Attleboro, Braintree, Essex, Norwell, and Waltham were established.

In 1635, Agawam, Concord, Dedman, Dover, Newbury, Newburyport, Topsfield, Westford, West Newbury, Wenham, and Winthrop were settled. Weymouth was incorporated as a town in Massachusetts.

In January 1636, Roger Williams left Massachusets and founded Providence, which grew into Rhode Island Colony.

The Banishment of Roger Williams (c. 1850) by Peter F. Rothermel. Image Source: Wikipedia.
  • 1636 — Newtown was incorporated into Massachusetts.
  • 1637 — Saugus renamed Lynn.
  • 1638 — Newtown was renamed Cambridge.

By 1640, due to the lack of oversight, Massachusetts extended its jurisdiction to New Hampshire and it became the “Upper Province of Massachusetts.”

In 1640, Lexington was first settled. Two years later, Gloucester became part of Massachusetts.

In 1643, Massachusetts joined the New England Confederation, along with the other Puritan colonies in New England — Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven.

In 1644, Nantasket, originally a Plymouth town, changed its name to Hull and was incorporated into Massachusetts.

In 1673, the Massachusetts General Court approved a settlement of the town of Dunstable.

In 1679, King Charles II issued a commission to John Cutt, authorizing him to set up a government for New Hampshire. New Hampshire was separated from Massachusetts and became a Royal Province.

King Charles II revoked the Massachusetts charter in October 1684, due to violations of his orders.

In 1686, Oxford was established as the first non-Puritan town in Massachusetts.

The Dominion of New England was established in 1686. The New England Colonies were joined together under the administration of Governor Joseph Dudley, who was succeeded by Edmund Andros. The Dominion collapsed in 1689 and most of the colonies returned to government under their previous charters.

Massachusetts and Plymouth were combined when a new charter is issued in 1691.

Boston Revolt of 1689, Arrest of Andros, Illustration
This illustration depicts the arrest of Governor Andros in Boston during the Great Boston Revolt of 1689. Image Source: from Archive.org.

Colonial Charters of Massachusetts

1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay Company

Date Granted — King Charles I granted a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company on March 4, 1629.

Recipients of the Charter — The charter was granted to Sir Henry Rosewell, Sir John Younge, Thomas Southcott, John Humfrey, John Endecott, and Simon Whetcombe, and their “Associates.” The associates identified in the charter were: Sir Richard Saltonstall, Isaack Johnson, Samuel Aldersey, John Ven, Mathew Cradock, George Harwood, Increase Nowell, Richard Perry, Richard Bellingham, Nathaniell Wright, Samuel Vassall, Theophilus Eaton, Thomas Goffe, Thomas Adams, John Browne, Samuell Browne, Thomas Hutchins, William Vassall, William Pinchion, and George Foxcrofte.

First Government — The charter established “one Body corporate and politique in Fact and Name, by the Name of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in Newe-England” and set up the first government, which included a Governor, Deputy Governor, and 18 Assistants. All members of the government were required to be from the company. The charter also provided for a “General Court” of the freemen in the company to “make laws and ordinances for the affairs of the Company, and for the government… and people…”

  • Governor — Mathewe Cradocke was named the first Governor of the Company in the charter but was replaced by John Winthrop.
  • Deputy Governor — Thomas Goffe was appointed Deputy Governor.
  • Assistants — 18 men — Sir Richard Saltonstall, Isaack Johnson, Samuell Aldersey, John Ven, John Humfrey, John Endecott, Simon Whetcombe, Increase Nowell, Richard Pery, Nathaniell Wright, Samuell Vassall, Theophilus Eaton, Thomas Adams, Thomas Hutchins, John Browne, George Foxcrofte, William Vassall, and William Pinchion — were named Assistants for the Company.

Type of Charter and Colony — Because the charter was granted to a company, it was a Corporate Charter, which made Massachusetts a Charter Colony. Under the charter, Massachusetts was given the freedom to govern itself, as long as its laws were based on English law at the time.

1691 Charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay

Date Granted — King William III and Queen Mary II granted the charter on October 7, 1691.

Purpose of the Charter — The purpose of the 1691 charter was to establish the “Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.”

Government — The charter revised the structure of the government into “one Governor One Lieutenant or Deputy Governor and One Secretary of Our said Province or Territory to be from time to time appointed and Commissionated by Us Our Heirs and Successors and Eight and Twenty Assistants or Councilors to be advising and assisting to the Governor.” The Governor’s Council served as the upper house of the Massachusetts legislature, and there was also a lower house of the legislature, also known as the General Court or General Legislature.

  • Governor — Sir William Phips was appointed to the position but was not named in the charter.
  • Lieutenant Governor — William was appointed to the position but was not named in the charter
  • Councilors — 28 men —  Simon Broadstreet, John Richards, Nathaniel Saltenstall, Wait Winthrop, John Phillipps, James Russell, Samuell Sewall, Samuel Appleton, Barthilomew Gedney, John Hawthorn, Elisha Hutchinson, Robert Pike, Jonathan Curwin, John Jolliffe, Adam Winthrop, Richard Middlecot, John Foster, Peter Serjeant, Joseph Lynd, Samuell Hayman, Stephen Mason, Thomas Hinckley, William Bradford, John Walley, Barnabas Lothrop, Job Alcott, Samuell Daniell, and Silvanus Davis are named in the charter.

Type of Charter and Colony — The 1691 charter converted Massachusetts from a Charter Colony to a Royal Colony. Under the charter, the governor of the colony was an extension of the English monarch and the colony was under the monarch’s control.

William and Mary, Coronation
King William III and Queen Mary II. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Facts About Nature in Massachusetts Bay Colony

Geography — Massachusetts Colony was located in New England. The east coast of the colony ran along the Atlantic Ocean. After Plymouth was incorporated, a portion of the southern coast ran along Long Island Sound. Massachusetts was bordered by New Hampshire (North), Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island Colony, Connecticut Colony (South), New Netherland, later New York (West).

Terrain — The terrain of the Massachusetts Colony varied. The coastal region was dotted with bays, estuaries, and salt marshes, which provided habitats for fish and wildlife. The interior of the colony was covered by dense forests, which provided timber for shipbuilding and other industries. The rolling hills of the region were well-suited for agriculture, and the fertile coastal plains provided ideal growing conditions for crops, such as corn, wheat, and vegetables. Rivers that flowed through the colony, such as the Charles, Merrimack, and Mystic, provided a way to move goods and products throughout the colony and power for industries, especially mills.

Climate — The New England region of Colonial America was the coldest of the three regions. Winters were cold and harsh, but the cold weather kept some diseases from spreading as much as they did in other colonies. The winters were broken up by long, hot summers.

Natural Resources — Access to rivers and the coast made fishing and whaling popular. The thick forests provided wood that was used for lumber to build ships.

Facts About the Society in Massachusetts Bay Colony

Religion — The first English people to settle in Massachusetts were the Puritan Separatists at Plymouth, who broke away from the Church of England. They were followed by Congregationalist Puritans, who strictly adhered to the Church of England. Both groups agreed the Church of England required “purification” of some type. As a result, Puritans dominated the colony and it was expected that everyone would attend church and follow strict religious practices. Dissenters like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were often persecuted and banished. The colony was known for its religious intolerance, and it was not until the late 1600s that religious tolerance began to be embraced. The 1691 charter granted religious freedom in the colony, which led to an increase in people of other denominations, including Quakers and Baptists.

Education — The Puritan leaders placed a high value on education because it was necessary to be able to read the Bible. The Boston Latin Grammar School, the first American school to offer secondary education, was founded in Boston in 1635. Harvard College was founded the following year. In 1647, a law known as the “Old Deluder Satan Act” was passed that required all towns with 50 families or more to offer public education. America’s first public library was established in 1653 in Boston.

Industry — Along the coast of Massachusetts, fishing and shipbuilding were the most important sectors of industry. Related fields, such as ropemaking, were also vital. Although farming was difficult, the colonists further inland were able to grow corn, pumpkins, rye, squash, and beans, primarily off the coast. Corn and rye were used to distill rum, which made the trade for molasses necessary. The first tannery in America was established at Lynn in 1629. The first printing press in America was set up by Stephen Daye in 1638 at a shop in Cambridge. The first ironworks in America was established at Saugus in 1650.

Economy — A significant portion of the economy, specifically rum distillation, was dependent on the Triangular Trade. Starting around 1644, merchants in Massachusetts sent ships to Africa, where they would acquire Africans and then transport them to the West Indies. There, they traded the Africans for molasses. The molasses was used in Massachusetts to make rum, which was used to trade for more Africans and for goods and products from England, and, later, Great Britain.

Fishing and shipbuilding were also vital to the economy, especially for people living along the coast. 

Not only was fishing a major source of food for people, but it was also a key export. Massachusetts was known for its cod fisheries, and the colony’s ships sailed to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to catch cod and other fish. The fish were then salted and dried for preservation and export to Europe and other markets.

Fishing was dependent on ships, and the colony’s shipbuilders built a wide range of fishing boats and merchant ships. The industry was closely tied to the fishing and trade industries, as the ships were used to transport fish and other goods to market. The industry also helped to spur the growth of other industries, such as lumber and metalworking, as shipbuilders required large quantities of wood and metal to construct their vessels.

Port of Boston, Colonial America, Illustration
This illustration depicts Boston in the 18th century. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Slavery — It is believed the slave trade started in Massachusetts around 1637, following the Pequot War. Many of the Pequots were punished by the colony and sold into slavery in the West Indies. In 1641, the Massachusetts General Court passed “The Body of Liberties,” which banned “bond slaverie, villinage or Captivitie amongst us unles it be lawfull Captives taken in just warres, and such strangers as willingly selle themselves or are sold to us.” However, the slave trade was a significant part of the economy and there were families in Massachusetts who enslaved people, typically as servants. By the 18th century, it is estimated there were as many as 5,000 enslaved people in the colony.

Important People in Massachusetts Bay Colony

John Winthrop — He was one of the most important Puritan leaders of the time. After arriving in New England, he became governor of the colony and helped establish Puritan principles as the foundation of the colony’s religious and social institutions. Prior to leaving England, Winthrop delivered his famous speech, “A Model of Christian Charity,” which included the famous phrase, “as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” He was one of the first ships that sailed for New England, known as the “Winthrop Fleet,” which started the Great Puritan Migration to New England.

John Endecott — Prior to the arrival of the Winthrop Fleet, Endecott represented the New England Company as the colonial governor. He arrived in New England on June 20, 1628, and helped establish Naumkeag. After Winthrop arrived, Endecott remained in Naumkeag, which was renamed Salem. He led Massachusetts forces during the Pequot War and also served as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and on the Governor’s Council.

Roger Williams — He was a minister and politician who founded the settlement of Providence, which became the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — or Rhode Island. He arrived in Massachusetts in 1631 and created controversy with some of his opinions. In October 1635, he was accused of sedition and heresy by the Massachusetts General Court. He fled the colony, took refuge with the Narragansett, and bought land from them, where he established his settlement.

Anne Hutchinson — She led a movement that challenged the authority of the Puritan leaders and offered controversial religious beliefs. Her teachings led to the “Antinomian Controversy.” She was arrested, tried, and banished from Massachusetts. Hutchinson and her followers went to Rhode Island, where Roger Williams offered religious freedom, and established the settlement of Portsmouth.

Increase Mather — He was an important Puritan minister in the colony and served as the President of Harvard College. During the Salem Witch Trials, he questioned the validity of “spectral evidence” that was used by the court to convict many people of the crime of witchcraft.

Edmund Andros — He spent time serving as the governor of New York, New Jersey, and the Dominion of New England. His policies were unpopular and he was overthrown in the Great Boston Revolt of 1689.

Edmund Andros, Portrait
Edmund Andros. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Cotton Mather — He was the son of Increase Mather and followed in his father’s footsteps as a Puritan minister. Mather was involved in the Salem Witch Trials and accused Ann Glover of bewitching children in Salem. He also conducted research on using plants to be used for inoculation against smallpox.

James Otis — He was a successful lawyer from Boston, Massachusetts. Otis played a key role in helping shape the ideology of the American Revolution with his opposition to Writs of Assistance, the Sugar Act, taxation without representation, and the Stamp Act. He also saw all people as equal, with the same rights, regardless of skin color. He should be considered a Founding Father for his early arguments for rights and liberty, but his career was cut short by mental issues.

Important Events in Massachusetts Bay Colony

Winthrop Fleet (1630) — The Winthrop Fleet was a group of 16 ships that arrived in New England in the summer of 1630. 11 of the ships in the fleet were funded by the Massachusetts Bay Company and carried somewhere between 700 and 1,000 Puritan immigrants. Winthrop himself sailed on the Arbella, which was the fleet’s flagship.

Pequot War (1635–1638) — It was the first conflict between the English colonists in New England and the Native American Indian tribes in the region. After some English fur traders were killed, Massachusetts responded by attacking the Pequot — in Connecticut territory. Soon after, the Pequot launched attacks on Connecticut settlements at Fort Saybrook and Wethersfield. On May 1, 1673, Connecticut declared war on the Pequot and their allies. Later that month, hundreds of Pequot people were killed at the Massacre at Mystic. Over the next few months, soldiers from Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay, along with warriors from various tribes, including the Narragansett, virtually eliminated the Pequot. After the fighting ended, a treaty was signed that gave Connecticut control of the Connecticut River Valley and sold the surviving Pequot Indians into slavery.

Burning of Fort Mystic, Pequot War
This illustration depicts the burning of Fort Mystic during the Pequot War. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

King Philip’s War (1675–1676) — After three Wampanoag men were executed by Plymouth Colony in 1675, English settlements in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine were attacked. The New England Confederation responded by calling out militia forces and attacking Narragansett settlements in Rhode Island. The Wampanoag and Narragansett launched a counter-attack on the New England colonies and burned Providence. The New England Confederation forces retaliated and overwhelmed King Philip’s forces. King Philip was killed at his stronghold, Mount Hope, on August 12, 1676. The New England Confederation and its Indian allies won the war but at a great cost to both sides. The Wampanoag and Narragansett were almost exterminated. English villages and towns suffered severe damage and roughly a tenth of the men who fought in the war died.

King William’s War (1688–1699) — It was the First Intercolonial War between England and France in North America and took place while the War of Grand Alliance was being fought in Europe. While England and France were vying for control in Europe, the British Colonies and New France, and the Indian Tribes were trying to gain control of the fur trade in North America — and so were the Native Tribes. The fighting in New England was often sporadic but brutal in nature. The English and French both used their Indian allies to conduct raids on settlements. At one point, Massachusetts and New York both sent military expeditions into French territory, including one that invaded Canada for the purpose of taking Quebec. The War of Grand Alliance ended in 1697, but hostilities between the English and Indians continued until 1701.

Salem Witch Trials (1692–1693) — In 1692, the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria took place in and around the town of Salem, Massachusetts. During January and February, a group of young girls in Salem Village, a small town about five miles outside of Salem Town, started to experience pain, sickness, and other symptoms. When the local doctor was unable to diagnose them, he suggested it was the work of witches. From that point on, the girls started to blame their symptoms on the “specters” of people living in Salem Village and surrounding towns. When Governor William Phips arrived with the new charter, he organized a special court — the Cout of Oyer and Terminer — to hear the trials of the men and women who were accused of witchcraft. Despite the objections of Increase Mather, Cotton Matter, and others, the court allowed “spectral evidence” to be admitted as testimony. From June to September 1692, 19 men and women were arrested and indicted on accusations of witchcraft. Under the Witchcraft Law of 1604 and the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, the crime of witchcraft was punishable by death. All 19 were sentenced to death by the judges of the Court of Oyer and Terminer. As accusations spread throughout New England, Phips Phips dissolved the special court. Starting in January 1693, the remaining trials were taken before the Superior Court of Judicature. From then on, most of the accused were found not guilty. For the few that were found guilty, Phips issued pardons. The last Salem Witch Trial was held in May 1693 and brought an end to the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria.

Examination of a Witch, Salem Witch Trials, Matteson
This painting depicts the examination of a witch. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713) — Queen Anne’s War was the Second Intercolonial War between England and France in North America and took place while the War of Spanish Succession was being fought in Europe. English and French colonial forces, along with their Native Allies, continued to conduct raids on settlements on the northern frontier of the American colonies. In 1704, the French and their Indian allies carried out a brutal attack on Deerfield, Massachusetts. The fighting spread to the south, where English forces from Carolina attacked Spanish forces in northwest Florida. While the war continued, England and Scotland agreed to the Act of Union, which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The war came to an end in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. In the agreement, the British gained Hudson’s Bay, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia (Acadia). France kept control of the Cape Breton Islands and the islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. However, the French also agreed to recognize the British relationship with the Iroquois.

King George’s War (1744–1748) — King George’s War was the Third Intercolonial War between England and France in North America and took place while the War of Austrian Succession was being fought in Europe. During the war, British forces under the command of Massachusetts Governor William Shirley were able to capture Fort Louisbourg — a French stronghold — at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The fighting ended on October 18, 1748, when the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed by Britain, France, and the Dutch Republic. In the agreement, all territories were restored, including Fort Louisbourg being returned to New France.

French and Indian War (1754–1763) — The most significant of the intercolonial wars between the American Colonies and New France was the French and Indian War. It was the Fourth Intercolonial War and overlapped with the portion of the Seven Years’ War in Europe. The fighting in North America actually started two years before it did in Europe when George Washington led a surprise attack on a French expedition in Pennsylvania at the Battle of Jumonville Glen. In 1759, the British defeated the French outside of Quebec at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and gained control of French territory in Canada, essentially ending the conflict in North America. 

Paxton Case and Writs of Assistance (1761) — Two years later, while the Seven Years’ War continued, Great Britain tried to assert its authority over affairs in Massachusetts by issuing Writs of Assistance. Boston lawyer James Otis argued against the writs, and although he lost the case, he delivered an inspiring speech. John Adams was in the courtroom and recorded in his notes that Otis used the phrase “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” This phrase was modified into “no taxation without representation.” In his later years, Adams recalled the speech and wrote, “Otis was a flame of fire…American Independence was then and there born.”

Frequently Asked Questions About Massachusetts Bay Colony

Why was the Massachusetts Charter of 1629 different from other colonial charters?

The 1629 Massachusetts Charter was unique because it did not include a clause that required the company to remain in England. At that time, charters typically required the grantees to hold meetings in a specific location and occasionally required the officers to reside in a specific location.

Why was the absence of the location requirements in the 1629 Massachusetts charter important?

The absence of the clause was important because it allowed all members of the Massachusetts Bay Company to leave England and go to the New World. After a series of events, including King Charles I dissolving Parliament on March 2, 1629, the leaders of the company decided it was in their best interests to abandon England. The dissolution of Parliament started the “Eleven Year Tyranny” of King Charles I.

What was the 1641 Body of Liberties?

The Massachusetts Body of Liberties was adopted in 1641. It was the first legal code established by European colonists in New England and was composed of a list of liberties, instead of restrictions, and was intended for use as guidance for the General Court.

Interesting Facts About Massachusetts Bay Colony

William Blackstone was the First Settler in Boston — and Rhode Island

William Blackstone — sometimes spelled Blaxton — left England in 1623 as part of the Gorges Expedition that failed to create a permanent settlement at Wessagusset. Afterward, most of the colonists returned to England, however, Blackstone stayed and settled what is present-day Beacon Hill in Boston, making him the first settler in Boston. When the Puritans arrived, Blackstone welcomed them but eventually disagreed with their religious views. He moved roughly 35 miles south of Boston and settled on the bend of a river — present-day Blackstone River in Rhode Island. He called his settlement Study Hill. Roger Williams arrived two years later and settled a few miles away from Blackstone. Although they disagreed on religious issues, they became friends. They also agreed on the idea of Religious Freedom, which played an important part in the development of Rhode Island.

Boston Common was William Blackston’s Farm

In 1634, Blackstone sold his farm to Boston. The town used it as a common area, and it became known as “Boston Common.”

Quakers Were Not Welcome in Massachusetts

Quakers were the followers of the religious teachings of George Fox. Like the Puritans, they made their way to the New World to escape religious persecution. However, when they arrived in Massachusetts the Puritans found their beliefs to be blasphemous. Quakers faced harsh punishments, including imprisonment, whippings, and having their ears cut off. In June 1658, three Quakers, including Mary Dyer, were hanged on Boston Common. From then until 1661, Massachusetts passed laws that were intended to keep Quakers out of the colony. The harsh treatment of Quakers contributed to the revocation of the colony’s original charter.

The “Old Deluder Satan Act” of 1647 was the Foundation for Massachusetts Public Schools

There was no separation of church and state in Massachusetts. The Puritans controlled everything, including public education. They firmly believed reading was an essential part of education and attempts to keep children from learning to read were the work of “ye old deluder, Satan.” The law made communities responsible for providing education and authorized them to use public funds for the operation of schools. Towns with more than 50 families that failed to provide public education were subject to fines of “five pounds per annum.”

The First Witch was Accused in 1648

In the spring of 1648, Margaret Jones of Charlestown became the first person in Massachusetts to be accused of witchcraft. She was tried by the General Court, which included John Winthrop, Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley, and the following members of the Governor’s Council — John Endecott, Richard Bellingham, William Hibbins, Richard Saltonstall, Increase Nowell, Simon Bradstreet, John Wintrhop Jr., and William Pynchon. The court found her guilty of the charges and she was hanged on June 15, 1648.

Significance of Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Massachusetts Bay Colony is important to the history of the United States because of the role the colony played in the establishment, growth, and protection of New England. The colony’s self-rule allowed it to develop an independent approach to its affairs that often put it at odds with English and British officials.

Editor’s Note

This article is part of a series of entries about the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The article provides an overview of the early history and settlement, from the time the Winthrop Fleet arrived until the end of the French and Indian War. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive look at the Colony and other important topics, such as Native American Indian Tribes, European Exploration, Indian Wars, or Slavery.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Massachusetts Bay Colony
  • Date 1629—1763
  • Author
  • Keywords Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth, Boston, Salem, Winthrop Fleet, Great Puritan Migration, Pequot War, King Philip’s War, King William’s War, Salem Witch Trials, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, French and Indian War, Paxton Case and Writs of Assistance
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 28, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 10, 2024

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