The old officers resigned, and their places were filled with persons of whom most or all were expecting to emigrate.
Continuing The Great Puritan Migration to New England,
our selection from History of New England by John G. Palfrey published in 1890. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Great Puritan Migration to New England.
Meanwhile, a movement of the utmost importance, probably meditated long before, was hastened by external pressure. The state of public affairs in England in the spring and summer of this year had brought numbers to the decision which had been heretofore approached with sorrowful reluctance, and several persons of character and condition resolved to emigrate at once to the New World. It was necessary to their purpose to secure self-government as far as it could be exercised by British subjects.
Possibly events might permit and require it to be vindicated even beyond that line. At any rate, to be ruled in America by a commercial corporation in England, was a condition in no sort accordant with their aim. At a general court of the company, Cradock, the Governor, “read certain propositions conceived by himself, viz., that for the advancement of the plantation, the inducing and encouraging persons of worth and quality to transplant themselves and families thither, and for other weighty reasons therein contained (it is expedient) to transfer the government of the plantation to those that shall inhabit there, and not to continue the same in subordination to the company here, as now it is.”
The corporation entertained the proposal, and, in view of “the many great and considerable consequences thereupon depending,” reserved it for deliberation. Two days before its next meeting, twelve gentlemen, assembled at Cambridge, pledged themselves to each other to embark for New England with their families for a permanent residence, provided an arrangement should be made for the charter and the administration under it to be transferred to that country. Legal advice was obtained in favor of the authority to make the transfer; and on full consideration it was determined, “by the general consent of the company, that the government patent should be settled in New England.” The old officers resigned, and their places were filled with persons of whom most or all were expecting to emigrate. John Winthrop was chosen governor, with John Humphrey for deputy-governor, and eighteen others for assistants. Humphrey’s departure was delayed, and on the eve of embarkation his place was supplied by Thomas Dudley.
Winthrop, then forty-two years old, was descended from a family of good condition, long seated at Groton, in Suffolk, where he had a property of six or seven hundred pounds a year, the equivalent of at least two thousand pounds at the present day. His father was a lawyer and magistrate. Commanding uncommon respect and confidence from an early age, he had moved in the circles where the highest matters of English policy were discussed, by men who had been associates of Whitgift, Bacon, Essex, and Cecil. Humphrey was “a gentleman of special parts, of learning and activity, and a godly man”; in the home of his father-in-law, Thomas, third earl of Lincoln, the head in that day of the now ducal house of Newcastle, he had been the familiar companion of the patriotic nobles.
Of the assistants, Isaac Johnson, esteemed the richest of the emigrants, was another son-in-law of Lord Lincoln, and a land-holder in three counties. Sir Richard Saltonstall of Halifax, in Yorkshire, was rich enough to be a bountiful contributor to the company’s operations. Thomas Dudley, with a company of volunteers which he had raised, had served, thirty years before, under Henry IV of France; since which time he had managed the estates of the Earl of Lincoln. He was old enough to have lent a shrill voice to the huzzas at the defeat of the armada, and his military services had indoctrinated him in the lore of civil and religious freedom. Theophilus Eaton, an eminent London merchant, was used to courts and had been minister of Charles I in Denmark. Simon Bradstreet, the son of a Non-conformist minister in Lincolnshire, and a grandson of “a Suffolk gentleman of a fine estate,” had studied at Emanuel College, Cambridge. William Vassall was an opulent West-India proprietor. “The principal planters of Massachusetts,” says the prejudiced Chalmers, “were English country gentlemen of no inconsiderable fortunes; of enlarged understandings, improved by liberal education; of extensive ambition, concealed under the appearance of religious humility.”
But it is not alone from what we know of the position, character, and objects of those few members of the Massachusetts Company who were proposing to emigrate at the early period now under our notice, that we are to estimate the power and the purposes of that important corporation. It had been rapidly brought into the form which it now bore, by the political exigencies of the age. Its members had no less in hand than a wide religious and political reform — whether to be carried out in New England, or in Old England, or in both, it was for circumstances, as they should unfold themselves, to determine. The leading emigrants to Massachusetts were of that brotherhood of men who, by force of social consideration as well as of the intelligence and resolute patriotism, moulded the public opinion and action of England in the first half of the seventeenth century. While the larger part stayed at home to found, as it proved, the short-lived English republic, and to introduce elements into the English Constitution which had to wait another half-century for their secure reception, another part devoted themselves at once to the erection of free institutions in this distant wilderness.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history