Puritans Leave for Massachusetts
On This Day...
...in 1630, the last well-wishers stepped
off the ship Arbella and returned to shore. More
than a week after the vessel first set out, the
winds were finally favorable. The ship weighed
anchor and sailed for New England. Governor John
Winthrop and approximately 300 English Puritans
were on board. They were leaving their homes in
England to settle in a fledgling colony
Massachusetts Bay on the other side of the
Atlantic. There they would work "to do more
service to the Lord." Governor Winthrop
shepherded the Puritans through 12 years of
enormous hardship. Under his leadership,
Massachusetts Bay became the most populous
English colony and Boston the largest city in North America.
John Winthrop and the Puritans who followed him
across the Atlantic in 1630 were not the first
English colonists in Massachusetts. In 1626 a
small group of Englishmen had abandoned a
short-lived settlement on Cape Ann and moved
south to an area they called Naumkeag, after the
Native American people who had farmed there.
Two years later, they renamed Naumkeag "Salem,"
which means peaceful in Hebrew. They chose John
Endecott governor of the new settlement, which
was formed to provide a place where those who did
not conform to Church of England doctrine could
worship in peace. (Unlike the Pilgrims in
Colony, who chose to separate from the Church of
England, the Puritans wished to remain within its fold.)
The following year, a charter from Charles I made
it official that, as far as the King of England
was concerned, "the Governor and Company of
Massachusetts Bay in New England" had rights to a
large area of land stretching from three miles
south of the Charles River to three miles north of the Merrimack.
Under this charter, the Massachusetts Bay Colony
enjoyed a remarkable degree of independence; the
governor was to be "chosen out of the freemen of
the saide Company," rather than appointed in
England under the watchful eye of the king.
Hoping to secure these advantages, Puritans in
England bought control of the company and
selected 41-year-old John Winthrop to replace Endecott as governor.
The son of a well-respected lawyer, John Winthrop
had attended Trinity College Cambridge for two
years. He at one time seriously considered
becoming a minister but established a lucrative
law practice instead. He remained deeply
religious, and like other English Puritans,
desired to reform the Church of England. When he
concluded that reform was not possible, he chose
to make the long journey to the New World.
By early 1630, a fleet of 12 ships was ready to
take roughly 1,000 people to New England. The
largest vessel, the 350-ton Arabella, carried
passengers, many heads of cattle, and provisions.
Bad weather delayed the ship's departure several
times; after several false starts, on April 10,
1630 the Arabella sailed into the open waters of the Atlantic.
It is not known exactly where or when John
Winthrop delivered his famous "Model of Christian
Charity" speech, but the intended audience was
clearly his fellow emigrants. "It is by mutual
consent [that we] seek out a place of
cohabitation and consortship under a due form of
government both civil and ecclesiastical. In such
cases as this, the care of the public must
oversway all private respects. . . . "he told
them. We go "to improve our lives, to do more
service to the Lord. . . . We have entered a
covenant with [God] for this work." He continued:
"For we must consider that we shall be as a city
upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."
Winthrop's ship reached Salem on June 12th; two
days later, the passengers stepped ashore as the
ship's captain fired a five-gun salute. The rest
of the fleet arrived in the next few weeks. It
was the beginning of what became known as the
Great Migration (16301642), during which
thousands of English families immigrated to Massachusetts.
After only a few weeks in Salem, Winthrop and his
followers moved to the north side of the Charles
River to what they called Charles Town. However,
because of the scarcity of fresh water there, in
September they crossed the river again, this time
establishing a new town, which they named
Life in early Boston was brutal. In a September
letter to his wife, Winthrop wrote of "much
mortality, sickness, and trouble." Before the
first year was out, 200 of the settlers had died.
Yet Winthop never gave up hope, "putting his hand
to any ordinary labor," and trusting in God. He
served as governor of the struggling colony for
more than a decade and was active in government
until his death in 1649, almost exactly 19 years
to the day after his ship sailed out of English waters.
The Massachusetts Bay Charter remained in place
until Charles II revoked it in 1684. In 1691, a
new charter folded Plymouth Colony into a royal
colony the Province of Massachusetts with a
governor appointed by the Crown.
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