A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part III, Chapter 23." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 23
THE FOUNDING OF MASSACHUSETTS

FOR ten years after the coming of the Pilgrim Fathers charters were constantly granted to "adventurers" of one kind or another for the founding of colonies in New England. And, driven by the tyranny of King James and of his son Charles I, small companies of Puritans began to follow the example of the Pilgrim Fathers and go out to New England, there to seek freedom to worship God. For King James, although brought up as a Presbyterian himself, was bitter against the Puritans. "I shall make them conform themselves," he had said, "or I will harry them out of the land."

King James and the Puritans

And as he could not make them conform he "harried" them so that many were glad to leave the land to escape tyranny. King James has been called the British Solomon, but he did some amazingly foolish things. This narrow-minded persecution of the Puritans was one. Yet by it he helped to form a great nation. So perhaps he was not so foolish after all.

 

As has been said many companies were formed, many land charters granted for Northern Virginia, or New England, as it was now called. At length a company of Puritans under the name of the Massachusetts Bay Company got a charter from Charles I, granting them a large tract of land from three miles south of the Charles River to three miles north of the Merrimac, and as far west as the Pacific. Of course no one in those days realised what a huge tract that would be. For no man yet guessed how great a continent America was, or by what thousands of miles the Pacific was separated from the Atlantic. This charter was not unlike that given to Virginia. But there was one important difference. Nowhere in the charter did it say that the seat of government must be in England.

The Massachusetts Bay Company, 1629;

So when Charles dismissed his Parliament, vowing that if the members would not do as he wished he would rule without them, a great many Puritans decided to leave the country. They decided also to take their charter with them and remove the Company of Massachusetts Bay, bag and baggage, to New England.

they decide to take their charter to New England

Charles did nothing to stop them. Perhaps at the time he was pleased to see so many powerful Puritans leave the country, for without them he was all the freer to go his own way. So in the spring of 1630 more than a thousand set sail, taking with them their cattle and household goods.

 

Many of these were cultured gentlemen who were thus giving up money, ease and position in order to gain freedom of religion. They were not poor labourers or artisans, not even for the most part traders and merchants. They chose as Governor for the first year a Suffolk gentleman named John Winthrop. A new Governor was chosen every year, but John Winthrop held the post many times, twice being elected three years in succession. Although we may think that he was narrow in some things, he was a man of calm judgement and even temper, and was in many ways a good Governor. From the day he set forth from England to the end of his life he kept a diary, and it is from this diary that we learn nearly all we know of the early days of the colony.

John Winthrop, 1588-1649

It was in June of 1630 that Winthrop and his company landed at Salem, and although there were already little settlements at Salem and elsewhere this may be taken as the real founding of Massachusetts. Almost at once Winthrop decided that Salem would not be a good centre for the colony, and he moved southward to the Charles River, where he finally settled on a little hilly peninsula. There a township was founded and given the name of Boston, after the town of Boston in Lincolnshire, from which many of the settlers had come.

Boston founded

Although these settlers had more money and more knowledge of trading, the colony did not altogether escape the miseries which every other colony had so far suffered. And, less stout-hearted than the founders of Plymouth, some fled back again to England. But they were only a few, and for the most part the new settlers remained and prospered.

 

These newcomers were not Separatists like the Pilgrim Fathers but Puritans. When they left England they had no intention of separating themselves from the Church of England. They had only desired a simpler service. But when they landed in America they did in fact separate from the Church of England. England was so far away; the great ocean was between them and all the laws of Church and King. It seemed easy to cast them off, and they did.

 

So bishops were done away with, great parts of the Common Prayer Book were rejected, and the service as a whole made much more simple. And as they wished to keep their colony free of people who did not think as they did the founders of Massachusetts made a law that only Church members might have a vote.

 

With the Plymouth Pilgrims, however, Separatists though they were, these Puritans were on friendly terms. The Governors of the two colonies visited each other to discuss matters of religion and trade, and each treated the other with great respect and ceremony.

The Puritans friendly with the Pilgrim Fathers

We read how when Governor Winthrop went to visit Governor Bradford the chief people of Plymouth came forth to meet him without the town, and led him to the Governor's house. There he and his companions were entertained in goodly fashion, feasting every day and holding pious disputations. Then when he departed again, the Governor of Plymouth with the pastor and elders accompanied him half a mile out of the town in the dark.

 

But although the Puritans of Massachusetts were friendly enough with dissenters beyond their borders they soon showed that within their borders there was to be no other Church than that which they had set up.

 

Two brothers for instance who wanted to have the Prayer Book used in full were calmly told that New England was no place for them, and they were shipped home again. Later a minister named Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts, for he preached that there ought to be no connection between Church and State; that a man was responsible to God alone for his opinions; and that no man had a right to take from or give to another a vote because of the Church to which he belonged.

Roger Williams, 1600(?)-1683

It seemed to him a deadly sin to have had anything whatever to do with the Church of England, a sin for which every one ought to do public penance. He also said that the land of America belonged to the natives, and not to the King of England. Therefore the King of England could not possibly give it to the settlers, and they ought to bargain for it with the natives. Otherwise they could have no right to it.

 

This idea seemed perfectly preposterous to those old settlers, for, said they, "he chargeth King James to have told a solemn, public lie, because in his patent he blessed God that he was the first Christian prince that had discovered this land." They might think little enough of their King in their hearts, but it was not for a mere nobody to start such a ridiculous theory as this.

 

We, looking back, can see that Williams was a good and pious man, a man before his time, right in many of his ideas, though not very wise perhaps in his way of pressing them upon others who did not understand them. But to his fellow colonists he seemed nothing but a firebrand and a dangerous heretic. So they bade him be gone out of their borders. He went southward to what is now Rhode Island, made friends with the Indians there, bought from them some land, and founded the town of Providence.

is cast out of the colony, 1636

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom