Massachusetts takes its name from the Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, who lived in the Great Blue Hill region, south of Boston. The Indian term is roughly translated as “at or about the Great Hill”.
There are, however, a number of interpretations of the exact meaning of the word. The Jesuit missionary Father Rasles thought that it came from the word Messatossec, “Great-Hills-Mouth”: “mess” (mass) meaning “great”; “atsco” (as chu or wad chu) meaning “hill”; and sec (sac or saco) meaning “mouth”.
The Reverend John Cotton used another variation: “mos” and “wetuset”, meaning “Indian arrowhead”, descriptive of the Native Americans’ hill home. Another explanation is that the word comes from “massa” meaning “great” and “wachusett”, “mountain-place”. (Secretary of the Commonwealth)
Massachusetts Bay Colony
While it is well known that the Massachusetts Bay Company, under the leadership of John Winthrop, ultimately settled Massachusetts Bay in 1630, it is less well understood that the Massachusetts Bay Company’s claim on New England was preceded by those of two other joint stock companies.
The first of these belonged to an association of “Adventurers” known as the Dorchester Company, organized by the Anglican minister John White. Although it succeeded in launching a settlement on Cape Ann in 1623, the Dorchester Company went out of existence in 1626.
In 1627, the Council for New England issued a land grant to a new group of investors, including a few from the Dorchester Company, to establish a for-profit enterprise, “The New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts Bay” (better known as the New England Company), led by John Endecott.
Endecott would ultimately found the town of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1628. Endecott’s shares and those of fifty-six other New England Company investors would ultimately be absorbed into those of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629. (Genealogical-com)
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a colony located near modern-day Boston and Salem Massachusetts. It was the first English chartered colony whose board of governors does not reside in England, thus paving the way for permanent settlement. (Native Philanthropy)
The Puritans used the royal charter establishing the Massachusetts Bay Company to create a government in which “freemen” – white males who owned property and paid taxes and thus could take on the responsibility of governing – elected a governor and a single legislative body called the Great and General Court, made up of assistants and deputies.
In April of 1630, the Puritans, led by one of the company’s stockholders, John Winthrop, left their homes in Boston, England and gathered at a dock in Southampton to set sail for the New World.
The fleet of 11 ships, now known as the Winthrop fleet, set sail and finally reached the shores of Massachusetts on June 12 and landed at Salem.
The Puritans established a theocratic government with the franchise limited to church members. Bending the charter to their own purposes, the Puritans transformed the company into a religious commonwealth.
Their ambition had been to establish an ideal Christian community — a “city on a hill,” as Winthrop called it — with the eyes of England and the entire world on it. Winthrop was reelected governor, and a theocracy was in fact established.
In May 1631 the Puritan leaders agreed to recognize only church members as freemen (those entitled to vote and hold office). The company’s officers became the colony’s magistrates. The ministers of the church defined orthodoxy, and the colony’s magistrates enforced it. Dissenters were suppressed or banished.
Conflicts arose over the arbitrariness of the assistants, and in 1641 the legislature created the Body of Liberties. This document was a statement of principles for governance that protected individual liberties and was the basis for the guarantees later expressed in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
Early challenges to the charter were averted by the outbreak of the English Civil War in the 1640s; for about 50 years, with little interference from England, the Massachusetts Bay Colony developed into a Puritan commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony flourished with literacy, schools, town meetings, longer lives, clean drinking water, a cool climate, and a variety of crops. Though the Puritan faith eventually waned, the Massachusetts Bay Colony thrived and was a strong start for the New World.
In 1684, however, the government of Charles II revoked the company’s charter. The colony was merged briefly into the extensive but short-lived (1686–88) Dominion of New England, which included New Hampshire and New Jersey and the colonies lying between them. (Oscar Zeichner)
On September 6, 1620 (Old Style; September 16, New Style), the Mayflower departed from Plymouth, England, and headed for America.
After 65 days at sea, the Mayflower dropped anchor near present-day Provincetown on November 11 (OS; November, 21, 1620, NS), and 41 male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement to enact “just and equal laws for the general good of the colony.”
The colonists who traveled to the New World on the Mayflower were a small group of Separatists who had fled to Holland from England to practice their religion without official interference. Economic hardship and a desire to establish an identity free of Dutch influence prompted them to seek out America. Most of the Separatists had been living in exile in Holland for ten years before sailing for America, and the rest of the passengers were drawn from the greater London area.
The area around Plymouth and Cape Cod, settled by the Pilgrims, was known as Plymouth colony, or the Old Colony. By the mid-1640s its population numbered about 3,000 people.
The Pilgrims were never granted a royal charter; their government was based on the Mayflower Compact. The compact was hardly democratic, since it called for rule by the elite, but it established an elective system and a basis for limited consent of the governed as the source of authority. The Old Colony was rapidly overshadowed by its Puritan neighbor to the north, the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Massachusetts Becomes a Royal Province in 1691
After losing its charter in 1684, Massachusetts continued to oppose the will of the Crown. The Puritan government often operated as an independent state, to the point of minting its own money and even conducting its own foreign affairs.
In 1686, the British king canceled the Massachusetts charter that made it an independent colony.
When James II fled in 1688, the Puritans failed in their attempt to revive the Massachusetts Bay Company, and Massachusetts, in 1691, became a Royal Province under a Governor appointed by the Crown.
To let more control over trade with the colonies, the King combined British colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth and Maine and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard into a single territory governed from England in 1691. The religious laws instituted by the Massachusetts Bay Company were largely repealed.
In this new Massachusetts, the franchise was given only to those who owned property or paid taxes. Continued lack of interference from Great Britain allowed the colonists to gain a tradition of self-reliance and self-government. (Maine remained a part of Massachusetts until 1820, when it was established as a separate state.)
The Massachusetts Charter of 1691 was a charter that formally established the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The charter provided for the Governor’s appointment by the Crown rather than local election, and at the same time broadened the Governor’s powers.
Two legislative houses were permitted, however, and the requirement that every voter must be a church member was abolished.
The new restrictions incidental to the status of a Royal Province, applied in Massachusetts and elsewhere, provoked the series of controversies that culminated in the Revolutionary War. During the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century, Massachusetts grew in population and in maritime trade.
These were the years of the so-called Second Hundred Years’ War between France and England. In these wars, 1688-1760, Massachusetts played an important part. Its crowning feat was the capture in 1745 of the fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island (NS), a fortress so strong it was known as the Gibraltar of America. At the same time, Massachusetts’ maritime trade, especially with Caribbean ports, rose to the point that Boston was known as “The Mart (or market town) of the West Indies”. (Mass Facts, Secretary of the Commonwealth)
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