Index

Settlement of Massachusetts Bay


Robert Dible and Thomas Dible came to Dorchester, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in the 1630's.

The early European settlement of the United States is complicated. I have tried to disentangle in my own mind the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay area around the 1630's. I have taken this mostly from Wikipedia, so I don't guarantee it completely!

First, a little establishment of context:

1492Christopher Columbus landed on The Bahamas
1497John Cabot landed in North America, possibly Newfoundland
1500Brazil was claimed by Portugal
1519Hernán Cortés landed in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
1526Francisco Pizarro reaching Inca territory
1607Jamestown, Virginia was founded, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas
1609Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch East India Company, entered the Upper New York Bay.
c. 1614Dutch settled at Fort Nassau along the Hudson River.
1620Pilgrim Fathers, sailing on the Mayflower, arrive in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1625New Amsterdam was founded by the Dutch (it later became New York).
John Smith's map of New England 1624, showing Massachusetts Bay areaBased on John Smith's 1614 voyage along the New England coast, this is the first printed map devoted specifically to this region. It is also the first to use the name New England for an area that had up until this time been called North Virginia. Smith, who is more commonly associated with the founding of Virginia, was commissioned to survey the coastline north of New York in preparation for the settlement of another English colony. This map was used to guide the Pilgrims to Plymouth and also led John Winthrop to the Charles River in 1629. Click on map for a larger version.

Archbishop William Laud, a favorite advisor of King Charles I and a dedicated Anglican, sought to suppress the religious practices of Puritans and other nonconforming beliefs in England. The persecution of many Puritans in the 1620s led them to believe religious reform would not be possible while Charles was king, and many decided to seek a new life in the New World.

The Massachusetts Bay Company was set up in England. It was granted a charter by King Charles I on 4 March 1629 (modern date - see discussion of dates), establishing a legal basis for the new English colony at Massachusetts. After Charles dissolved Parliament in 1629, the company's directors met to consider the possibility of moving the company's seat of governance to the colony. This was followed the Cambridge Agreement later that year, in which a group of investors agreed to emigrate and work to buy out others who would not. The Massachusetts Bay Colony became the first English chartered colony whose board of governors did not reside in England. This independence helped the settlers to maintain their Puritan religious practices with very little oversight from the English authorities.

There were settlements in the area at Salem (1626), Charlestown (1628) and Lynn (1629), but the first large wave of migrants came over with John Winthrop, who became the governor of the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. He arrived from England in 1630, sailing on the Arbella. There was a fleet of ships sailing at the same time, including the Mary and John which carried the original settlers of Dorchester. Roger Clap's memoirs give a vivid account of the colony in its early days. The existing settlements became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, accepting new settlers, and other new towns were set up at this time: Watertown, Dorchester, Roxbury and Newtown (which was renamed as Cambridge in 1638). The Wessagusset Colony, which had had problems, became part of the colony as Weymouth (1630).

Here is a later map by John Smith, dated 1635, showing the Massachusetts Bay area. Click on the map for the full map (although at a smaller scale).

Detail of John Smith's map of New England 1635, showing Massachusetts Bay area

Puritans continued to arrive from England in what is now called the Great Migration. 1635 seems to have been particularly busy. In 1633, Winthrop's Journal describes each ship arriving. For example, he refers to an individual ship arriving with "passengers" (settlers) - this was probably Robert Dible's ship. On June 3 1635, he says "There came in seven other ships, and one to Salem, and four more to the mouth of the bay, with store of passengers and cattle. They all came within six weeks." He sounds rather overwhelmed! One of these was probably Thomas and Frances Dible's ship.

This large influx of people must be caused problems. New towns were set up: Ipswich (1634), Newbury (1635) and Hingham (1635). The settlers also started to look westwards. Many people, especially from Dorchester, decided to move to Windsor, Conn. in 1635 and 1636.

Massachuesett Bay Colony

By the way, the map on the left should be taken with a pinch of salt! Maps of the early colonies tend to divide up the area between the towns. But the records show that the towns started small, and grew. I have tried to give roughly their starting points. But this is all taken from Wikipedia and similar authorities (hm!)

I have taken the towns from a list given by an editor of Winthrop's Journal (page 218). Winthrop said "We also provided one hundred and sixty more [men] after them to prosecute the war [with the Pequod Indians]." The editor added as a footnote "The relative strength of the towns of the colony may be inferred from the apportionment of this body: Boston 26, Salem 18, Ipswich 17, Lynn 16, Waterton 14, Dorchester 13, Charlestown 12, Roxbury 10, Newton 9, Newbury 8, Hingham 6, Weymouth 5, Medford 3, Marblehead 3." At this time, Medford was part of Charleston and Marblehead was part of Salem.

The advent of the English Civil War in the early 1640s brought a halt to major migration, and a significant number of men returned to England to fight in the war.

It may be wondered how all these settlers managed to afford the journey. There is a clue in Winthrop's Journal. On 13 November 1634, he says "The Regard, a ship of Barnstaple, of about two hundred tons, arrived with twenty passengers and about fifty cattle. One thing I think fit to observe, as a witness of God's providence for this plantation. There came in this ship one Mansfield, a poor godly man of Exeter, being very desirous to come to us, but not able to transport his family. There was in the city a rich merchant, one Marshall, who being troubled in his dreams about the said poor man, could not be quiet til he had sent for him, and given him £50, and lent him £100, willing him withal, that, if he wanted, he should send to him for more. This Mansfield grew suddenly rich, and then lost his godliness, and his wealth soon after." I'm not quite sure what the moral is here! But it does suggest that some people wanted to come, but could not afford it, and hints that they sometimes got help from weathier people, presumably in the same congregation.

Robert Dible came to Dorchester in 1633, while his adult children were not able to come until 1635, so perhaps they had problems raising the money. Or perhaps there was not room in the original ship. Thomas Dible is described on the passenger list as a husbandman, or farm worker. He would not be a land owner. Maybe the chance of becoming so in New England was an extra incentive for the Dibles, apart from the religious reasons. He got some land within a few months of arriving.

Roger Clap's memoirs show how tough it was in the colony at first. People traded with the Indians, or got food sent from their families in England.