Chronicles of America 

Colony of Massachusetts Bay

While the Pilgrims were thus establishing themselves as the first occupants of the soil of New England, other men of various sorts and motives were trying their fortunes within its borders and were testing the opportunities which it offered for fishing and trade with the Indians. They came as individuals and companies, men of wandering disposition, romantic characters many of them, resembling the rovers and adventurers in the Caribbean or representing some of the many activities prevalent in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Thomas Weston, former ally of the Pilgrims, settled with a motley crew of rude fellows at Wessagusset (Quincy) and there established a trading post in 1622. Of this settlement, which came to an untimely end after causing the Pilgrims a great deal of trouble, only a blockhouse and stockade remained. Another irregular trader, Captain Wollaston, with some thirty or forty people, chiefly servants, established himself in 1625 two miles north of Wessagusset, calling the place Mount Wollaston. With him came that wit, versifier, and prince of roysterers, Thomas Morton, who, after Wollaston had moved on to Virginia, became "lord of misrule." Dubbing his seat Merrymount, drinking, carousing, and corrupting the Indians, affronting the decorous Separatists at Plymouth, Morton later became a serious menace to the peace of Massachusetts Bay. The Pilgrims felt that the coming of such adventurers and scoffers, who were none too scrupulous in their dealings with either white man or Indian and were given to practices which the Puritans heartily abhorred, was a calamity showing that even in the wilds of America they could not escape the world from which they were anxious to withdraw.
The settlements formed by these squatters and stragglers were quite unauthorized by the New England Council, which owned the title to the soil. As this Council had accomplished very little under its patent, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, its most active member, persisted in his efforts to found a colony, brought about a general distribution of the territory among its members, and obtained for himself and his son Robert, the section around and immediately north of Massachusetts Bay. An expedition was at once launched. In September, 1623, Robert Gorges with six gentlemen and a well-equipped and well-organized body of settlers reached Plymouth, — the forerunners, it was hoped, of a large number to come. This company of settlers was composed of families, the heads of which were mechanics and farmers, and with them were two clergymen, Morrell and Blackstone, the whole constituting the greatest enterprise set on foot in America by the Council. Robert Gorges, bearing a commission constituting him Governor-General over all New England, made his settlement at Weston's old place at Wessagusset. Here he built houses and stored his goods and began the founding of Weymouth, the second permanent habitation in New England and the first on Massachusetts Bay. Unfortunately, famine, that arch-enemy of all the early settlers, fell upon his company, his father's resources in England proved inadequate, and he and others were obliged to return. Of those that remained a few stayed at Wessagusset; one of the clergymen,William Blackstone, with his wife went to Shawmut (Boston); Samuel Maverick and his wife, to Winnissimmet (Chelsea); and the Walfords, to Mishawum (Charlestown). Probably all these people were Anglicans; some later became freemen of the Massachusetts colony; others who refused to conform returned to England; but Blackstone remained in his little cottage on the south slope of Beacon Hill, unwilling to join any of the churches, because, as he said, he came from England to escape the "Lord Bishops," and he did not propose in America to be under the "Lord Brethren."

The colony of Massachusetts Bay began as a fishing venture with profit as its object. It so happened that the Pilgrims wished to secure a right to fish off Cape Ann, and through one of their number they applied to Lord Sheffield, a member of the Council who had shared in the distribution of 1623. Sheffield caused a patent to be drawn, which the Plymouth people conveyed to a Dorchester company desiring to establish a fishing colony in New England. The chief promoter of the Dorchester venture was the Reverend John White, a conforming Puritan clergyman, in whose congregation was one John Endecott. The company thus organized remained in England but sent some fourteen settlers to Cape Ann in the winter of 1623-1624. Fishing and planting, however, did not go well together, the venture failed, and the settlers removed southward to Naumkeag (Salem). Though many of the English company desired to abandon the undertaking, there were others, among whom were a few Puritans or Nonconformists, who favored its continuance. These men consulted with others of like mind in London, and through the help of the Earl of Warwick, a nobleman friendly to the Puritan cause, a patent was issued by the Council to Endecott and five associates, for land extending from above the Merrimac to below the Charles. This patent, it will be noticed, included the territory already granted to Gorges and his son Robert, and was obtained apparently with the consent of Gorges, who thought that his own and his son's rights would be safely protected. Under this patent, the partners sent over Endecott as governor with sixty others to begin a colony at Salem, where the "old planters" from Cape Ann had already established themselves. Salem was thus a plantation from September, 1628, to the summer of 1630, on land granted to the associates in England; and the relations of these two were much the same as those of Jamestown with the London Company.

Endecott and his associates soon made it evident, however, that they were planning larger things for themselves and had no intention, if they could help it, of recognizing the claims of Gorges and his son. They wanted complete control of their territory in New England, and to this end they applied to the Crown for a confirmation of their land-patent and for a charter of incorporation as a company with full powers of government. As this application was a deliberate defiance of Gorges and the New England Council, it has always been a matter of surprise that the associates were able to gain the support of the Crown in this effort to oust Gorges and his son from lands that were legally theirs. No satisfactory explanation has ever been advanced, but it is worthy of note that at this juncture Gorges was in France in the service of the King, whereas on the side of the associates and their friends was the Earl of Warwick, himself deeply interested in colonizing projects and one of the most powerful men in England. The charter was obtained March 4, 1629— how, we do not know. It created a corporation of twenty-six members, Anglicans and Nonconformists, known as the Massachusetts Bay Company.

But if the original purpose of this company was to engage in a business enterprise for the sake of profit, it soon underwent a noteworthy transformation. In 1629, control passed into the hands of those members of the company in whom a religious motive was uppermost. How far the charter was planned at first as a Puritan contrivance to be used in case of need will never be known. It is equally uncertain whether the particular form of charter, with the place of the company's residence omitted, was selected to facilitate a possible removal of the company from England to America; but it is likely that removal was early in the minds of the Puritan members of the company. At this time a great many people felt as did the Reverend John White, who expressed the hope that God's people should turn with eyes of longing to the free and open spaces of the New World, whither they might flee to be at peace. But, when the charter was granted, the Puritans were not in control of the company, which remained in England for a year after it was incorporated, superintending the management of its colony just as other trading companies had done.






In the collection at Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth. Massachusetts.


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