Tag: Massachusetts Bay Colony

Massachusetts Bound: The Winthrop Fleet

The English Puritan population grew steadily throughout the early 1600s. They disagreed strongly with the Church of England, and struggled for many years to bring reform in the practices of the state church. They were strongly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church and felt that many of the religious rituals practiced by the Church of England too closely mirrored those of the Catholics.

Depiction of John Winthrop landing at Salem in...
Depiction of John Winthrop landing at Salem in 1630. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

King James I struggled furiously to suppress the growing movement among the Puritans and to quell the ongoing rebellion against the established Church. Despite his best attempts, the Puritans soon were in the majority among the Members of Parliament.

The situation became even more volatile in 1624, when King Charles I ascended the throne and married a Roman Catholic. Charles viewed the Puritans as a direct threat to his rule and was determined to suppress them once and for all. After temporarily dissolving Parliament in 1626, and again in 1627, he finally abolished Parliament once and for all in March of 1629.

Charles declared Personal Rule, naming himself the sole authority over England, Scotland and Ireland. This period between 1629 and 1640 soon became known as the Eleven Years’ Tyrrany, as Charles ran roughshod over the population, exacting exorbitant fines and taxes to fund his government.

Knowing full-well Charles’s sentiment toward their beliefs, the Puritans began to view their future in England with a growing sense of dread. Many turned their eyes to New England as a potential haven.

A wealthy group of Puritan leaders began discussing plans for a settlement in the New World. This group of Puritans became major shareholders in a commercial company, first called the New England Company, and later the Massachusetts Bay Company.  Through this venture the investors were able to acquire a land grant for the territory between the Merrimack and Charles Rivers.

Almost immediately a small fleet of ships set off for New England under the direction of John Endecott. The ships carried 300 colonists who were charged with preparing the way for a larger Puritan migration.

The remaining Puritan leaders began planning and preparing for the successful colonization of New England. The leaders plotted out a careful course of action, and throughout the following winter, they began selecting a large group of Puritan families who would make the voyage to the New World. They hand-picked all manner of skilled laborers from a wide variety of trades to ensure a successful and self-sustaining colony.

John Winthrop, a wealthy Puritan lawyer, was elected to be the Governor of the fleet and eventually of the new colony. Winthrop was seen as the best candidate because of his extreme dedication to the cause of a safe haven for the Puritan faith. He worked tirelessly with other company officials to procure a transport fleet and the multitude of supplies needed for a successful migration. He was also a key recruiter for the skilled tradesmen and pastors that the colony would require.

Finally, the ships were procured and all was ready for the Great Migration. On April 8th, 1630, the first four ships of the Winthrop Fleet set sail from Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. John Winthrop sailed aboard the Arabella, the flagship (or “Admiral”) of the fleet. He was accompanied by his two young sons, Samuel and Stephen.

In all, seven hundred men, women, and children made the voyage on the eleven ships of the Winthrop Fleet. Winthrop made note in his journal of the ships that were under his command:

–          The Arabella, as we mentioned, was the “Admiral” of the fleet.

–          The Talbot was named “Vice Admiral” and carried John Winthrop’s son Henry.

–          The Ambrose, the “Rear Admiral” of the fleet.

–          The Jewel, designated “Captain”

–          The Mayflower (not to be confused with the Pilgrims’ ship)

–          The Whale

–          The Success

–          The Charles

–          The William and Francis

–          The Hopewell

–          The Trial

The voyage was a success, and was fairly uneventful aside from occasional adverse weather or wind delays. Many were sea sick, and the children were often cold and bored; however, due to the careful planning and preparation of the fleet, all arrived safely in Salem, Massachusetts that June.

The new colonists were warmly welcomed to Salem by John Endecott; however, John Winthrop and his deputy Thomas Dudley quickly discovered that Salem was inadequate for the needs of the new arrivals. They set off immediately to survey the area, first settling at Charlestown, but quickly moving the group of colonists to the Shawmut Peninsula. There they founded what has become the modern city of Boston.

The early months were a dire struggle for the colonists. As many as 200 settlers – including young Henry Winthrop – succumbed to disease and other factors.

The colonists refused to sit idle, however. According to one account of the day, “there was not an idle person to be found in the whole plantation.” Houses were built and businesses were opened. Winthrop himself built his house in Boston where he worked a fairly large plot of land.

Owing to the great success of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, many more flocked to New England. Throughout the 1630s, approximately 20,000 people had migrated to New England. This “Great Migration” carried on until the advent of the English Civil War in the early 1640s.

The Great Migration

In the 17th century, the religious climate in England was in serious decline. Puritan clergy had adopted strict Calvinism, and were severely opposed to any rituals or religious practices that in any way mirrored the Roman Catholic Church. The growing reforms in the Church of England resulted in alienation of the Puritans.

The political climate was in an extremely volatile state as well, with constant, vicious struggles between Parliament and King Charles I. Parliament – which was predominantly Puritan – consistently opposed the King, challenging his decisions and his authority.

Because the religious and political climate in England was so volatile, a huge number of Puritans migrated to the New World in search of political and religious freedom. To fully understand their reasoning, however, we must look back at the root of the struggle between Charles and the Puritans.

Deutsch: John Winthrop (*12. Januar 1588; † 26...
John Winthrop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1603, King James I ascended the throne of England. As Queen Elizabeth had died leaving no heir, her throne fell to the son of Mary Stuart, the Catholic Queen of Scotland. had been executed some years previous at Elizabeth’s command; however her son remained, and was the only viable successor to the throne.

When James I was crowned as king of England and Scotland, he came to believe that he was appointed to the throne by God, and as such, was above the laws of man and answerable only to God. He stood staunchly behind the Church of England, and passed laws requiring all English subjects to attend services, pay taxes, and unquestioningly accept the beliefs put forth by the Church of England. Those who deviated risked harsh punishment.

The Calvinists, however, were a strong force in England as well, and preached purification of anything that mirrored the beliefs or practices of the Catholic Church. They shunned the Church of England as they felt that it was too similar to the Roman Catholic Church. Their doctrine of “purification” led to the adoption of the name “Puritans”.

The Puritans endlessly petitioned King James, pressing him to change his laws pertaining to the church. King James refused, leading to an intense strain between the two factions. As the situation grew ever more precarious, some Puritans took refuge in Holland, while others went further still, founding the Plymouth Colony in the New World.

While King James I did eventually make attempts to reconcile with the Puritan clergy, the situation took a drastic downturn when Charles I ascended the throne in 1625. Charles also believed that he possessed the Divine Right of Kings, and used it to his own gains and to pardon his own corruption. The predominantly Puritan Parliament consistently opposed Charles, creating an intense struggle between the two.

Finally, King Charles got rid of Parliament altogether in a quick power grab, and for the next eleven years, he ruled as an Authoritarian. During this time, he viciously persecuted the Puritans, who he saw as a direct threat to his authority.

Soon the situation was so precarious that the Puritans had no choice but to look for freedom elsewhere. John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer, began to discuss the idea of a Puritan colony in New England, following the example of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. For two years, Winthrop discussed his ideas and plans within his social circle.

In March, 1629, King Charles granted the land for the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England” – a company that was owned almost entirely by Puritan stockholders. It’s highly possible that Charles was unaware that the group was formed of Puritans, and he likely assumed that the venture was purely commercial. Whatever the case, the land was granted.

Winthrop set sail for New England in 1630. Eleven ships, known collectively as the Winthrop Fleet, carried 700 colonists toward the New World. Their goal: to become a “City upon a Hill” – an example to the countries of Europe as a fully reformed Christian commonwealth.

Thus, the Great Migration began, as over the next 13 years, approximately 21,000 Puritans fled England in search of religious freedom. Some struck out toward colonies in the West Indies; however most headed for New England in America.


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