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Early Massachusetts Settlement

Puiritans Going to Church

From: A Brief History of the United States

Copyright 1871, 1879, 1880, 1885

A. S. Barnes & Company, New York and Chicago

Text passages and other images are from :

A Pictorial History of America; Embracing Both the Northern and Southern Portions of The New World


by S. G. Goodrich; Hartford: Published by House & Brown, 1848

Note: To the best of my knowledge, the following material has not been republished since 1848, and as such, resides in the public domain. Interested readers are welcome to download the file, in it's entirety, for personal use only. Transcribed and submitted by Ellen Pack


In the year 1602, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold made a voyage to New England, apparently on his own account, and perhaps with a view to the Newfoundland fishery. He sailed from Dartmouth, in a small vessel, with a crew of thirty-two men. He first made the land about Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The voyagers found the soil exceedingly fertile, so that wheat, barley and oats, being sown in the middle of May, grew nine inches in a fortnight. On reaching the main land, "they stood awhile, ravished with the beauty and delicacy of the scene," which presented large and fine meadows, adorned with clear and noble streams. They caught in a few hours more codfish than they knew how to dispose of; and the coast appeared so rocky and broken as to afford every promise of good harbors. Gosnold published such alluring accounts of this territory, which still bore the name of North Virginia, that the attention of the English, which had been turned somewhat from the subject of western adventure by the ill success of the southern colony, was roused anew. This discovery presented to their eyes a new country, and gave them a much larger idea of that vast dominion, which, under the above name, stood nominally attached to the British empire.

In 1606, Thomas Arundel, Lord Wardour, an accomplished and spirited nobleman fitted out a vessel, under Captain Weymouth, to make further discoveries. Weymouth, following the same route as Gosnold, brought home a most favorable report, but the narrative of his voyage is not sufficiently distinct to enable us to determine the precise localities to which his delineation's refer. He describes a noble river, a mile broad for forty miles upward into the country, and adds that "Orenoque, so famous in the world's ears," was not comparable to it. From the size of this river, one might judge it to be the Hudson; but from his mention of a bay with the isles, channels and inlets about it, we incline to think it was the Penobscot. The soil is represented as most rich, "verged with a green border of grass," and which, when cleared of the thick woods that covered it, might be formed into the most beautiful meadow. Weymouth might have found opportunity for trade, but he would not "hazard so hopeful a business," and regarded nothing but "a public good and promulgating God's holy Church."

The first colony sent to New England was dispatched by Sir John Popham, chief justice, and Sir Fernando Gorges, governor of Plymouth, and "divers others worshipful knights and merchants of the west." These great personages, however, produced nothing more than a little bark of fifty-five tons, on board of which they shipped twenty-nine Englishmen and two savages, who had been brought from that country. But these adventurers never reached the New England shores. On the coast of Hispaniola they were caught in a thick and tempestuous fog, on the clearing up of which they found themselves in the midst of a fleet of Spanish vessels, who made them prisoners and carried them to Spain. Notwithstanding the miscarriage of this enterprise, Captain Popham, son to the chief justice, and Captain Gilbert, set sail, in 1607, on a new adventure, with a hundred men, well equipped. They settled on the river Sagadahock, and built a fort, which they called St. George. The first years of a colony, however, always constitute a period of hardships, and the new settlers suffered additionally by part of their stores being accidentally burned. Next summer a vessel arrived with supplies, but brought tidings of the death of their great patron, the chief justice, and likewise of the brother of Captain Gilbert, who determined immediately to go home and take possession of his estate. The whole colony, discouraged and sick of the enterprise, set sail together.

The next adventurer in New England, it appears, was Captain John Smith, who acted so eminent a part in Virginia, and whom Purchas describes as "a man who hath many irons in the fire." He went about the principal [sic] seaports in the west of England, visiting all the gentlemen who were likely to favor his scheme; and complains that his negotiation cost him more toil and torment than any he endured on the coasts of the New World. The merchants of London were best able to furnish the funds, but the western sailors were the best fishers, and the voyage from London to Plymouth was almost as hard as from Plymouth to New England. At length he equipped two vessels, whose destination was threefold: first, the whale fishery; next, a mine of gold; and, in default of both, to make a saving voyage any other way. All three failed. The whale-fishery proved a "costly conclusion;" for, though they saw and chased a great number of whales, they could not kill any. The gold was found a mere device of the projector; and when they came to the banks of Newfoundland, they found they had lost the prime season for fishing, and returned to England with only a sorry cargo.

During this voyage, however, Smith surveyed and made a map of the coast of New England, which he presented to the king, Charles I., who always took a great interest in maritime affairs, and amused himself in changing the uncouth Indian names of places into others derived from England. Notwithstanding this sunshine of royal favor, Smith had difficulty next year in equipping a small bark with sixteen colonists, whom he would have wished to be several thousands, and who seemed, indeed, to be incapable of providing for their own security on this barbarous shore; but he trusted in the friendship of Dohoday, "one of the greatest lords of the savages." This vessel was captured by the French, and Smith effected, with difficulty, his return to England, he copiously sets forth all his advantages. The shore, he admits, is in many places "rocky and affrightable," but in penetrating into the interior it greatly improved, and might yield plentifully, though not quite the same perfection as in Virginia, the best grains, fruits and vegetables.

Meantime, the first voyage of Smith had been followed by a tragical event.  One Hunt, who had been left in charge of one of the ships inveigled twenty or thirty of the natives on board and carried them to Malaga, where he sold them to the Spaniards. The consequence was that Captain Hobson, who came after him, without knowing anything of the affair, was attacked by the Indians; several of his crew were killed, and himself wounded. The natives were subsequently pacified for a time, but in a few years those hostile acts were repeated.

Those mishaps, with other discouraging circumstances arising out of the loose and indiscriminate manner in which the patentees of the colony made grants of land to individuals, threw such a damp on the undertaking, that England, an hundred and twenty years after her discovery of North America, possessed nothing on the shores of this great continent except a few scattered huts built by the fishermen who resorted hither in summer. But the time was now come, when causes unforeseen, and events undesigned by their authors, were to lead the way to a mighty tide of emigration, and render New England the most flourishing and prosperous of all the colonies in the western world.

New England was the destined asylum of oppressed piety and virtue, and its colonization, denied to the pretensions of greatness and the efforts of power, was reserved for men whom the great and the powerful despised for their insignificance, and persecuted for their integrity. The recent growth of the Virginian colony, and the repeated attempts to form a settlement in New England, naturally attracted to this quarter the eyes of men who felt little reluctance to forsake a country, where, for conscience sake, they had already incurred the loss of temporal ease and enjoyment;- whom persecution had fortified to the endurance of hardship, and piety had taught to despise it. It was at this juncture, accordingly, that the project of colonizing New England was undertaken by the Puritans, ... who on the 6th of September, 1620 took their final departure from England in the Mayflower, a vessel of one hundred and eighty tons. The whole number who embarked amounted to one hundred and one souls.

On December 11, 1620, O.S., the Puritans landing on the continent. This is the day, now the 22d, N.S., celebrated ever afterward in the history of New England for the landing of the Pilgrims. The rock on which they first planted their feet, known as "Forefather's Rock," is now visited with devotion by their grateful descendants. The town which they built here, was named Plymouth, in memory of the last English port from which they sailed. The settlement was immediately begun by building house. This territory having been found without the limits of their patent, as their original destination was the country about Hudson river, they formed a voluntary government before landing, upon purely democratic principles. John Carver was chosen governor. Their building went on slowly; cold weather, snow and rain, hindered their labors and subjected them to great sufferings. By a fortunate chance they had saved for seed the corn first discovered; otherwise, their agriculture for the first season would hardly have kept them from staving. Sickness diminished their numbers, and a fire consumed their storehouse. By March, 1621, only fifty-five remained of their whole number, yet they were not discouraged.

None of the native had yet been seen at Plymouth. But, on the 16th of March, and Indian walked into the town and saluted them, in broken English, with the exclamation, "Welcome, Englishmen!" This was Samoset, a sagamore of the Monhegan, in Main, where he had learnt some English by intercourse with fishing vessels and traders. He informed the Plymouth settlers that they place where they had established themselves was called by the Indians, Patuxet, and that an extraordinary pestilence had depopulated the whole neighborhood about fours years previous, leaving neither man, woman or child remaining. The settlers had found ancient cornfields and other marks of cultivation here, which confirmed this account. There were in consequence no owners of the land first occupied by the New England pilgrims. They treated Samnoset with hospitality, and he made them subsequent visits, bringing with him Squanto, a native who had been kidnapped by Captain Hunt, in 1614, and carried to England. The settlers now learned that Massasoit, the greatest sachem in the country, was near, with a train of sixty men. His visit was friendly, and a treaty was made between him and the English, for mutual assistance and defense, which was observed inviolate for half a century. The settlers, by their moderate, discreet and upright conduct toward their neighbors, secured their firm friendship and alliance; and within a year, nine sachems of the country declared their allegiance. Massasoit, with several others, signed a writing, acknowledging the king of England as their sovereign.

The first demonstration of a hostile spirit came from Canonicus, sachem of the Narragansetts, who sent the English a bundle of arrows wrapped in the skin of a rattlesnake. The token was readily understood, and promptly answered by sending back the skin stuffed with powder and shot. The savage chieftain discovered that the strangers were not to be frightened away, and changing his mind, eagerly sought their friendship. Meantime the English had explored Boston harbor and the shores of Massachusetts Bay. A settlement was made at Weymouth, in 1622, by Mr. Weston, of London, who, without any connection with the Plymouth company, obtained a patent for a tract of land in Massachusetts Bay. His colony of fifty or sixty persons, by their imprudent and disorderly behavior, came to nothing at the end of a year. They would have starved or been cut off by the Indians, but for the aid of the Plymouth men, who averted a plot for their destruction, which had been revealed by the faithful Massasoit. The settlers at Plymouth first threw all their property into a common stock, but this scheme was found impracticable after a short trial. The property was therefore equally divided, and the colonists became freeholders of the soil.  The progress of population was slow, and at the end of ten years the settlement contained only three hundred souls. Salem was settled in 1628, by Endicott, one of the original planters. An establishment had been made in 1624 at Cape Ann, but shortly afterwards abandoned.

The government of Plymouth, or, as it was afterwards called, the Old Colony, was a voluntary association, not deriving its powers from the king of England. A new government soon arose in its neighborhood. Humphrey, Edicott and Whetcomb, and three other gentlemen of Dorchester, in England, obtained a charter for a colony in Massachusetts Bay, which afterwards absorbed the Plymouth colony and became the head of the New England settlements.  This charter was signed by King Charles I., in March, 1629. Winthrop, Dudley, Johnson, Pynchon, Saltonstall, Bellingham and others, celebrated in the colonial annals, were parties to the undertaking. An association at Boston in Lincolnshire, lent them their support, and they received encouragement from the great body of the Puritans throughout England. Their ships sailed in May of the same year, and at the end of June arrived at Salem, which at that time consisted of ten or a dozen wretched hovels. The first attempts of the new emigrants were unpromising; winter brought disease and suffering, and before spring, eighty, almost half their number, had died. However during the following season, the colony received a strong reinforcement; no less than one thousand and five hundred persons arrived at Salem. Many of them were of high endowments, large fortunes and good education; scholars well versed in all the learning of the times; clergymen who ranked among the most eloquent and pious in England. A search was now made for a more desirable locality to build a town, and the peninsula of Shawmut, or Tri-mountain, was found to be a place of "sweet and pleasant springs, and good land, affording rich corn-fields and fruitful gardens." The safe and capacious harbor, sheltered from the ocean by clusters of well wooded islands, offered additional advantage, and in September, 1630, the foundation of Boston was laid. The town received its name from the Rev. John Cotton and other "boston men," who had shown great zeal for the colony.

The new emigrants encountered much the same obstacles that afflicted the Plymouth settlers. Disease and hardship thinned their ranks, yet they bore all with equal firmness, and their conduct toward the natives was equally prudent and upright. The Boston settlers soon became formidable in the eyes of the savages, who were at hostility with each other. The sagamore of the Mohegans came from the banks of the Connecticut, soliciting the English to settle in his neighborhood. He praised the fertility of the country, and sought their alliance as a bulwark against the inroads of his enemies, the Pequods. Next came the Nipmucks, begging for assistance against the tyranny of the Mohawks. Then came Miantonimo, the great warrior of the Narragansets; the son of the aged Canonicas; and then a Pequod sachem, with a great store of wampumpeag and bundles of sticks, in promise of so many beaver and other skins. Charleston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Cambridge, Ipswich and Newbury, were founded about this time, or within a few years. The first General Court was held at Boston, in October, 1630. The government underwent some changes, but was established on a representative system, with a governor elected annually. For a long time, however, the elective franchise was confined to the members of the church.

The first theological dissension that arose in the colony, was promoted by Roger Williams, who had emigrated to New England in 1630, and officiated for some time as pastor of New Plymouth; but not finding there an audience of congenial sprits, he obtained leave to resign his functions at that place, and had recently been appointed minister of Salem.

The colony of Massachusetts advance in the attainment of stability and prosperity, and to extend its settlements; and in 1634, and important and beneficial change took place in its municipal constitution. The mortality that had prevailed among the Indians, had vacated a great many stations formerly occupied by their tribes; and as most of these were advantageously situated, the colonist took possession of them with an eagerness that dispersed their settlements widely over the face of the country. This necessarily led to the introduction of representative government, and , accordingly, as the period of convoking the general court, the freemen, instead of personally attending it, which was the literal prescription of the provincial charter, elected representative in their several districts, whom they authorized to appear in their name and act in their behalf. The representatives were admitted, and henceforward, considered themselves, in conjunction with the governor and council of assistants, as the supreme legislative body of the province.

The abstract wisdom of this innovation could not admit of doubt; and, in defense of its legitimacy, it was forcibly urged that the colonists were only making an improved and necessary access to the enjoyment of an advantage already bestowed on them, and preventing their assemblies from becoming either too numerous to transact business, or inadequate to represent the general interest and administer the general will. The number of freemen had greatly increased since the charter was granted; many resided at a distance from the places where the general courts or assemblies of the freemen were held; personal attendance had become inconvenient; and, in such circumstances, little if any blame can attach to the colonists for making with their own hands the improvement that was necessary to preserved their existing rights, instead of applying to the government of England, which was steadily pursuing the plan of subverting the organs of liberty in the mother country, and had already begun to exhibit an altered countenance toward the colonial community. In consequence of this important measure, the colony advanced beyond the state of a mercantile society or corporation, and acquired by its own act the condition of a commonwealth endowed with political liberty. The representatives of the people having established themselves in their office, asserted its inherent rights, by enacting that no legal ordinance should be framed within the province, no tax imposed, and no public officer appointed in future, except by the provincial legislature.

The increasing violence and injustice of the royal government in England cooperated so forcibly with the tidings that were circulated of the prosperity of Massachusetts, and the simple frame of ecclesiastical policy that had been established in the colony, presented a prospect so desirable, and, by the comparison which it invited, exposed the gorgeous hierarchy and recent superstitious innovations in the ceremonies of the English church to so much additional odium, - that the flow of emigration seemed rather to enlarge than subside, and crowds of new settlers continued to flock to New England. Among the passengers in a fleet of twenty vessels that arrived in the year 1635, were two persons who afterwards made a distinguished figure in a more conspicuous scene. One of these was Hugh Peters, the celebrated chaplain and counselor of Oliver Cromwell, and the other was Vane, whose father, Sir Henry Vane, the elder, enjoyed the dignity of a privy counselor at the English court.  Peters, who united an active and enterprising genius with the warmest devotion to the interests of religion and liberty, became minister of Salem, where he not only discharged his sacred functions with zeal and advantage, but roused the planters to new courses of useful industry, and encouraged them by is own successful example. His labors were blessed with a produced not less honorable than enduring. The spirit which he fostered has continued to prevail with unabated vigor; and nearly two centuries after his death, the piety, good morals, and industry, by which Salem has always been characterized, have been ascribed, with just and grateful commemoration, to the effects of Peters' residence there. He remained in New England till the year 1641, when, at the request of the colonists, he went to transact some business for them in the mother country, from which he was fated never to return. But his race remained in the land which had been thus highly indebted to his virtue; and the name of Winthrop, one of the most honored in New England, was again acquired and transmitted by this daughter.

Vane, afterward Sir Henry Vane, the younger, had been for some time restrained from indulging his wish to proceed to New England, by the prohibition of his father, who was at length induced to waive his objections by the interference of the king. A young man of patrician family, animated with such ardent devotion to the cause of pure religion and liberty, that, relinquishing all his prospects in Britain, he chose to settle in an infant colony, which as yet afforded but little more than a bare subsistence to hits inhabitants, was received in New England with the fondest regard and admiration. He was then little more than twenty-four years of age. ...The man who could so command himself, was formed to acquire a powerful ascendancy over the minds of others. He was admitted a freeman of Massachusetts; and extending his claims to respect, by the address and ability which he displayed in conducting business, he was elected governor, in the year subsequent to his arrival, by unanimous choice, and with the high-test expectations of a happy and advantageous administration. Those hopes, however, were disappointed. Vane, not finding in the political affairs of the colonists, a field wide enough for the excursion of his active spirit, embarked its energy in their theological discussions; and , unfortunately connecting himself with a party who had conceived singularly just and profound views of Christine doctrine, but associated them with some dangerous errs, and discredited them by a wild extravagance of behavior, he very soon witnessed the abridgment of his usefulness and the decline of his popularity, and returned to England.

The incessant flow of emigration to Massachusetts, causing the inhabitants of some of the towns to feel themselves straitened for room, suggested the formation of additional establishments. A project of founding a new settlement the banks of the river Connecticut, was not embraced by Hooker, one of the ministers of Boston, and a hundred of the members of his congregation. After enduring extreme hardship, and encountering the usual difficulties that attended the foundation of civilized society in this quarter of America, with the usual display of fortitude and resolution, they at length succeeded in establishing a plantation, which gradually enlarged into the flourishing State of Connecticut.


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Transcribed and submitted by Ellen Pack, Former Hampden Co, MA Coordinator