HOW GOVERNOR WINTHROP PLAYED
THE PART OF MOSES.
It was on a beautiful September day in 1621,
the loveliest season of the year in
forest-clad New England, that Captain Miles Standish, with Squantum, his
Indian friend, and a picked force of a dozen stalwart matchlock men,
sailed into Boston harbor, bound on an expedition to what we call the
Blue Hills of Milton, but which the Indians called Massachusetts,—the
"great hills of the arrowheads."
They coasted along the island-dotted harbor from
Quincy to Charlestown, and landing at the mouth of the
Mystic, just opposite the foot of Copps Hill, left their
shallop on the shore, and marched inland along the
Mystic as far as the heights of Medford.
They sought the Indian chieftain of that region,—a
woman known as the squaw sachem of the
Massachusetts, hoping to make with her a treaty of
peace and friendship. But the squaw sachem, whose
chief settlement was in what is now the city of Somerville, either did
not know or did not care to know of the visit of the white men, for she
was always "just gone beyond," so her tribesmen reported, and
Captain Standish returned to Plymouth without having met the woman
chief; but he had made a fairly satisfactory
exploration of Boston harbor and its vicinity, and
reported, on his return, that "the country of the Massachusetts is
the paradise of all these parts; for here are many isles all planted
with corn, groves, mulberry trees, and savage gardens."
Thus, too, had Captain John Smith reported of the
fair and pleasant land at the mouths of the Mystic and the Charles.
As he had told Captain Henry Hudson about the river
that bears the name of that fearless sailorman who led the way to the
greatness of New York, even so had he told an English clergyman, the
Rev. William Blackstone (or Blaxton) of the benefits of Boston as a
place of residence, and had prompted that exclusive and somewhat
peculiar parson to live a hermit’s life just over the crest of Beacon
Hill,—the first white inhabitant of Boston.
The stories of Smith and the reports from Blackstone
had stirred in England much desire among the great trading syndicates to
colonize or work up this attractive region, and at last a company was
formed in England, under rich and powerful backing, to bring into the
market the Massachusetts Bay country, as the stretch of water about
Boston harbor was called.
In the summer of 1628 a
company of twelve influential and worthy gentlemen met together at the
famous college town of Cambridge in England, and formed themselves into
an association, which they called the "Governor and Companions of
the Massachusetts Bay Company." They were all leading men of the
growing Puritan party in England, which, just then, was worrying into
that obstinate son of an obstinate father,
Charles Stuart, the son and successor of James, and then styled
Charles I., King of England.
By some means these Puritan gentlemen secured from
King Charles a charter to possess and govern the lands stretching
north and west from Boston harbor, then known as Massachusetts Bay.
Having secured this charter, the new company, meeting
at Cambridge, elected as the president or governor of the company John
Winthrop of Groton in Suffolk.
John Winthrop was one of the noblest of men and of
Englishmen, —sturdy, honorable, pure-spirited, strong-hearted, a
leader and a guide. Men, indeed, have called him the "Washington of
colonization." Could any term better describe his character?
"When his life shall have been adequately written," says John
Fiske, "he will be recognized as one of the very noblest figures in
There was a great feeling of unrest in England. That
mighty struggle between king and commons, known as the "Great
Rebellion," was fast drawing near. The Puritans, worried and
persecuted by the king and his advisers, looked for relief and rest
a land where
they might have the right to believe and act and live according to the
dictates of their own consciences rather than the king’s tyrannical
That land was for them on the shores of Massachu
setts Bay, and to that fair country John Winthrop, as
head of the newly formed company, offered to lead all such dissatisfied
Puritans as desired to make for themselves a new home in a new land.
Already other men, following the example of the
Pilgrims of Plymouth, had gone across the sea for the same purpose.
Settlements had sprung up along the Bay shore, north and south. The
Dorchester Fishing Company had planted little villages at Salem and on
Cape Ann, and even before John Winthrop led the great exodus of 1630,
and became the Moses of the Puritan~ people to
lead them into what they deemed the Promised Land, other adventurous
spirits or enterprising settlers to the number of several hundred had
established homes, scattering themselves along the curving shore of the
great bay from Plymouth and Duxbury to Salem and the Piscataqua. And
this is a part of the agreement entered into by John Winthrop and the
rest of the twelve gentlemen who met at Cambridge
in England on the twenty-eighth day of August, in the year 1629:
"For the better encouragement of ourselves and
others that shall join with us in this action, and to the end that every
man may without scruple dispose of his estate and affairs as may best
fit his preparation for this voyage, it is fully and faithfully agreed
amongst us, and every one of us doth hereby freely and sincerely promise
and bind himself, on the word of a Christian, and in the presence of
God, who is the searcher of all hearts, that we will be ready in our
persons and with such of our several families as are to go with us, and
as we are able conveniently to furnish ourselves
withal, to embark for the said plantation by the 1st
of March next, at such port or ports of this
land as shall be agreed upon by the company, to the end to pass the seas
(under God’s protection) to inhabit and continue in New England."
March came. Winthrop was ready; a dozen ships were
preparing for the voyage; a thousand emigrants were booked for the
venture; and on the 22d of
March, 1630, the advance
fleet of four vessels—one of them the flagship of the governor—set
sail from Southampton.
As did William Bradford of the Plymouth colony, so
did John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony— he kept a diary;
and out of that diary has been taken the story of the founding and early
settlement of the Com- monwealth of Massachusetts.
Governor Winthrop’s ship was the Arbella. It
was named for one of the leading Englishwomen who had cast in their lot
with the colony,—the Lady Arbella Johnson. She was the wife of one of
the head men of the company, and was the daughter of an English
The expedition first made land off Salem harbor,
anchoring just beyond Bakers Island, still one of the Salem landmarks.
Then, while Governor Winthrop and some of his chief associates went up
to visit the weak and struggling little settlement, most of the
passengers went ashore to "stretch their legs" after their
long and tedious voyage of seventy-six days,
and to pick strawberries; for it was the twenty-second day of June, just
the time when the wild strawberries of Cape Ann are ripe and most
From Salem the Arbella sailed down the coast
to Boston harbor. There the emigrants landed and began the settlement of
the real Massachusetts at Charlestown, or "Cherton," as the
clipped English pronunciation called it, where the Mystic and the
Charles pour their mingled waters into the broad and beautiful harbor.
But the scarcity of drinking water at Charlestown
bothered them, and when they learned from Blackstone of Beacon Hill that
there were excellent and numerous springs on the hill-broken peninsula
across the Charles, the colony removed to the other side of the river,
and began a new settlement around one spring of especial excellence, on
the site of what is now the Boston post office. To this settlement they
soon gave the name of Boston, the cathedral town in the fen country of Lincolnshire
in England, near to the boyhood home of Captain John Smith. The English
Boston, too, had been the home of the Lady Arbella Johnson, and there
lived also a noted Puritan minister, the Rev. John Cotton, who later
joined the growing colony at the new Boston in Massachusetts.
For, in spite of a harsh Boston winter, full of
rawness and east wind, of cold and storm and snow, the colony did
grow and prosper, far outstripping the Plymouth settlement.
"We are here in a paradise,"—so Governor
Winthrop wrote to his wife, who had not yet sailed over the sea from
England. "Though we have not beef and mutton, yet (God be praised)
we want them not. Our Indian corn answers for all; yet here is fowl and
fish in great plenty."
But though Captain John Smith and Captain Miles
Standish and Governor John Winthrop, too, had all called Boston a
"paradise," and though that opinion has ever since been held
by all true Bostonians, it proved anything but a paradise at first.
The winter, as I have said, was a bitter one. It was
much worse than that fatal first winter of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The
newcomers, weakened by the long voyage in poorly appointed and
scurvy-tainted ships, were not prepared for such extremes of cold as
they experienced; they were poorly provided to stand the trying climate
of New England, which can never be depended upon, except, as Mark Twain
declares, to give you all possible changes within twenty-four hours.
Clams and mussels, groundnuts and acorns, are not a
strengthening diet. Many died before spring, among them the Lady Arbella
and her husband, Isaac Johnson, one of Governor Winthrop’s right-hand
Food grew so scarce, their limited supplies giving
out, that one day in February, 1631, the
governor had put the last batch of bread into his oven; he had scraped
she last handful of meal in his barrel to give to a starving comrade,
and had appointed a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. It was
likely to be a fast day indeed, when suddenly a sail was seen; a ship
came up the harbor. Despair turned to joy. It was the long-expected,
long-delayed supply ship bringing stores from England.
They kept no fast day then, for, so Winthrop tells us
in his diary, "We held a day of thanksgiving
for this ship’s arrival, by order of the governor and council,
directed to all the plantations."
It was the first regularly appointed
Thanksgiving Day in New England.
That was in February,
"The plantations," as the governor called
the cluster of settlements, or townships, were some eight or more,
—Boston, Watertown, Roxbury, Saugus, Salem, Newtown,
Charlestown, and Dorchester.
In almost every case these townships had not been
settled by people from different sections of old England, but by those
who, following the lead of the ministers of certain congregations at
home, had come to America as offshoots from different Puritan churches
in England, or as the followers of some particular minister. Naturally
such emigrants would club together and select a place for settlement
where they could gather around their own,
favorite preacher or set up their own
congregation of church comrades.
From this sprang the townships of Massachusetts, for
the grants of land obtained from the Massachusetts Bay Company were not
made to any one man, but to the congregation or company to which he
So the towns grew up; for when other places were
settled in the colony, such settlements were made by those who went out
from one of the older towns in the same manner as they had first
emigrated from England,—in companies or congregations. Thus the men of
Dorchester and Cambridge and Watertown went out to found the towns along
the Connecticut, even, as in the next chapter, we shall see a company
from Roxbury going forth to the settlement of Springfield.
Such companies were really partners in land
development. Each man had a voice in what was to be done, and when, once
a year, in the spring, the men of each settlement met together in the
church or the townhouse to arrange for the carrying on of the affairs of
the settlement during the year, every voter had his say. This was called
"town meeting," and to this day the government of
Massachusetts townships is by the voice of all the voters assembled in
But as the towns of Massachusetts Bay grew in number
they needed to talk over and arrange for more than their own village
affairs. They wished to have something to say about the union of the
whole colony. The "Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New
England" meant a governor and several assistants, elected each year
by the freemen of the company. But as the colony grew, and the
"freemen " became
scattered and separated, this voting in a whole assembly was not
easily arranged. So it was agreed to select two
freemen from each township and send them to sit as delegates in the
Great and General Court, as the council of the colony was called, to
talk about taxes, and say what the people wished as to the conduct of
This was the earliest representative body in New
England; it was the beginning of the Massachusetts
legislature. It was really only the general court of the
Massachusetts Bay Company brought from England to America,
and called together at Boston, the capital of the colony. But gradually
this court or body of councilors and lawmakers outgrew the stockholders
in the company and developed into democratic
self-government in Massachusetts,—government by the people for the
people, the same that later grew into the American republic.
For in the great Statehouse on Beacon
Hill in Boston,
of Representatives as the sign of the source from
which sprang the wealth and prosperity of the old Bay State, there meets
still, to talk about taxes and government same Great and General Court,
representing the freemen of the commonwealth to the founding of which
noble John Winthrop led his brave company of Puritan settlers in those
far distant summer days of 1630.
This change in method of which I have spoken, which
brought about the establishment of the Massachusetts legislature, and
gave the right of representation to all the freemen of the Massachusetts
Bay colony, was largely due to the bold and independent stand of the men
Watertown,—in 1630 the
farthest outlying town of the colony.
Watertown adjoins Cambridge. One rides
out to it now by carriage or trolley, over the broad avenue that skirts
the white memorials of Mount Auburn, and leads into the center of the old
town where modern houses and old-time history continually jostle each
other. Most glorious in its ancient history is this bold stand of the
freemen of Watertown in the summer of 1631. For when, in August of
that year, the officers of the Massachusetts Bay Company learned that
there was danger of French invasion, at once, without asking permission of
the colonists, they proceeded to levy a war tax of sixty pounds upon each
settlement, to provide for the general defense.
Then it was that the freemen of Watertown objected.
"It is the law," they said, "that no Englishman shall be
taxed without his consent. We are Englishmen. We have been allowed no
voice or vote in this matter. We will not pay the tax".
Thereupon the officials of the company, in high dudgeon, summoned
the men of Watertown to Boston and solemnly "admonished" them;
but still they protested that there should be no taxation without
representation. The necessity of the tax Was explained; but so just and
wise seemed the protest of the \\Tatertown men, and so
determined, too, that, although the Watertown men, out of regard for the
public safety, did pay their tax, the very next year a change was made in
the constitution of the colony, by which all freemen were to have a voice
in the affairs of the col-
ony, and the General Court voted that the whole body
of freemen should elect the governor and his assist-ants. From this grew
the town representation and the legislature of Massachusetts. Thus the
determined stand of the men of Watertown against privileged classes and
aristocratic government early worked a~ reform in Massachusetts
politics. Out of it came, as John Fiske says, "the beginnings of
American constitutional history ;"
and the protest of the men of Watertown in 1631
grew at last into that protest of the whole
American people—" No taxation without representation "—which
made up the Declaration of Independence, carried forward the War of the
American Revolution, and created the republic of the United States of
The story of Massachusetts had begun. John Smith and
the Pilgrim Fathers had been but the preface to the story. The men of
Watertown were the prophets of the republic.