The Founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Illustration of John Winthrop Landing in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled in 1630 by a group of Puritans from England under the leadership of Governor John Winthrop. The grant empowering the group to create a colony in Massachusetts was granted by King Charles 1 to the Massachusetts Bay Company. While the company was intended to transfer the wealth of the New World to stockholders in England, the settlers themselves transferred the charter to Massachusetts. By so doing, they turned a commercial venture into a political one.

John Winthrop and the "Winthrop Fleet"

The Mayflower had carried the first English Separatists, the Pilgrims, to America in 1620. Forty-one English colonists on the ship signed the Mayflower Compact, on November 11, 1620. This was the first written governmental framework in the New World.

In 1629, a fleet of 12 ships known as the Winthrop Fleet left England and headed for Massachusetts. It reached Salem, Massachusetts on June 12th. Winthrop himself sailed aboard the Arbella. It was while he was still aboard the Arbella that Winthrop gave a famous speech in which he said:

"[F]or 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.

Settling Boston

Though Winthrop's Fleet landed at Salem, they did not stay: the tiny settlement simply couldn't support hundreds of additional settlers. Within a short time, Winthrop and his group had moved, at the invitation of Winthrop's college friend William Blackstone, to a new location on a nearby peninsula. In 1630, they renamed their settlement Boston after the town they had left in England.

In 1632, Boston was made the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By 1640, hundreds more English Puritans had joined Winthrop and Blackstone in their new colony. By 1750, more than 15,000 colonists lived in Massachusetts.

The American Revolution

Massachusetts played a key part in the American Revolution. In December 1773, Boston was the site of the famous Boston Tea Party in reaction to the Tea Act that had been passed by the British. Parliament reacted by passing acts to control the colony including a naval blockade of the harbor. On April 19, 1775, Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts were the sites of the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War. After this, the colonists laid siege to Boston which the British troops held. The siege eventually ended when the British evacuated in March 1776. The war continued for seven more years with many Massachusetts volunteers fighting for the Continental Army.