Province of Massachusetts Bay

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Province map

The Province of Massachusetts Bay (not to be confused with its immediate predecessor, Massachusetts Bay Colony ) existed from 1691 to 1776. It was a British crown colony in North America and was one of the first thirteen states in the United States . The province was with a charter on October 7, 1691 by the jointly ruling Wilhelm III. and Maria II. and included the areas of the former Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony , the Province of Maine , Martha's Vineyard , Nantucket , Nova Scotia and New Brunswick . The capital was Boston . Today's Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the direct successor of the province, but only includes a sub-area; Maine has become a state of its own, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are now part of Canada .

The name Massachusetts comes to the Massachusett - Indians back and means something like "the big hill", which refers to the Great Blue Hill refers.


Political precursors

Settlement of the Massachusetts Bay coast began in 1620 with the establishment of the Plymouth Colony . More colonies were founded in that decade, but it was not until the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded in 1628 and the first large group of Puritans arrived in 1630 that a critical mass was reached, on the basis of which more English settlements were founded and the existing ones expanded could. In the following ten years, up to 1640, there was a great wave of Puritans who emigrated to this area, which led to the establishment of several more colonies in New England , which, however, had varying degrees of success. In the 1680s a total of five stable colonies had formed with Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut , Rhode Island and New Hampshire . Massachusetts Bay was the most populous and the only one economically significant, as it had a large merchant fleet .

The colonies fought temporarily against the local Indians , whose population had been decimated - probably by diseases brought in by European traders and fishermen - before the first permanent settlers arrived. In the 1630s, the Pequot were nearly wiped out in the Pequot War that was named after them , and the King Philip's War resulted in the expulsion, pacification or killing of most of the Indians in southern New England some 40 years later. The last-named war was also very financially stressful for the colonies and led to an interruption of expansion activities for several years.

Both Massachusetts and Plymouth were initially largely politically independent from England , but this changed after the Stuart Restoration , which brought Charles II to the English throne in 1660 . Close supervision over the colonies and control over their economic activities were important to him. The navigation files, which were passed in the same decade, met with widespread rejection, especially in Massachusetts, as the merchants there saw themselves hindered in their actions. Many colonies - led by Massachusetts - refused to implement the laws and in turn hampered the activities of the British Crown in their sphere of influence. The religious-conservative Puritans who ruled Massachusetts also refused to join the Church of England and were at the same time intolerant of other religious groups such as Baptists and Quakers , who banned them and executed them if they returned or refused to ban them. These and other incidents eventually led to the withdrawal of the first Massachusetts Charter in 1684.

In 1686 the new English King James II founded the Dominion of New England , which linked all British territories from Delaware Bay to Penobscot Bay as a single political entity. The governor of the Dominion, Edmund Andros , was generally extremely unpopular in the colonies, but was formally hated, especially in Massachusetts, for, among other things, he enforced navigation files, canceled property, left a meeting place for the Puritans of the Church of England and restricted community meetings. After the king was deposed in the course of the Glorious Revolution (1688), the political leaders in Massachusetts conspired against Andros and in April 1689 threw him into prison together with other English officials during an uprising . This led to the collapse of the Dominion, whereupon the colonies immediately restored their old administrative structures.

The Plymouth Colony had never had a royal charter, so it was always unsteady. Massachusetts, on the other hand, fell into a previously unknown anarchy as a result of the uprising , because although the colonial administration was reinstated, it was no longer officially recognized. Some opponents of the old Puritan rule therefore refused to pay taxes and also showed their resistance in other forms. Therefore, the colonial leaders sent envoys to London, where Increase Mather, as their representative, the new, jointly ruling kings William III. and presented a petition to Mary II calling for the restoration of the old charter. King Wilhelm III. however, refused to do so because he feared that it might mean a return to the old religious rule. Instead, the Board of Trade decided by uniting the two colonies to solve two problems at once. On October 7, 1691, a corresponding charter was passed establishing the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in which William Phips was appointed its governor.

Provincial Charter

The new charter differed from the previous one in several ways. One of the main changes related to the new electoral requirements, which were set from religious to financial criteria against the opposition of Increase Mather. While historians to this day disagree on the secondary effects this measure had, they agree that it significantly increased the number of people eligible to vote. The new rules required that, in order to be eligible for voting rights, possession of movable property valued at £ 40 (now approximately £ 7,510) or land that earned at least £ 2 (now approximately £ 380) in rental income per year, were required. According to current knowledge, this included three quarters of the adult male population.

The second major change was that the higher positions in the colonial administration - such as the governor, his deputy and judge - were immediately "appointed" by the British crown and could no longer be elected. The Massachusetts General Court , however, remained elected as the legislature and was responsible for appointing the governor's advisors. This was granted a veto right both against laws passed by the General Court and against the appointment of individual advisers.

The rules thus differed in decisive points from the charters of the other provinces. Thus the General Court now had the authority to incorporate , and the governor's advisory board was determined locally and not by the crown or the governor himself. The new charter therefore weakened the position of the governor, which was of considerable importance in later history.

The province's expansion was also expanded well beyond the area that previously included the colonies of Massachusetts and Plymouth. In addition to the old areas (present-day Massachusetts , western Maine and parts of all neighboring present-day states), the province received lands in Acadia or Nova Scotia (to which present-day Nova Scotia as well as New Brunswick and eastern Maine belonged at that time) and in the Dukes County of the Province of New York , which consisted of Nantucket , Martha's Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands .

Late 17th / early 18th century

The first years of the new province were largely determined by the witch trials of Salem and King William's War (1689–97). After the revolt against Andros, the colonial defense was withdrawn from the border areas, which were subsequently repeatedly attacked and robbed by French and Indian troops from colonial New France and Acadia . With the Queen Anne's War , another war broke out in 1702, which would last until 1713. Joseph Dudley , governor of the province at the time, organized the colonial defense and managed to reduce looting compared to the previous war. Dudley also sent troops to Acadia in 1704 and 1707, which was a popular refuge for French privateers at the time, and requested reinforcements from London to take more decisive action against New France. In 1709 the province assembled troops for a campaign against Canada, which was canceled before it began. In 1710, however, the campaign was carried out and ended with the conquest of the Acadian capital Port Royal .

Due to the wars, the colony had started to issue paper currency . This steadily lost value, which ultimately led to a financial crisis . There were calls for the founding of a bank whose issued notes should be secured by property. However, this was rejected by both Governor Dudley and his successor Samuel Shute . Instead, Dudley, Shute and later governors tried unsuccessfully to convince the General Court to fix salaries for incumbents appointed by the British Crown. Governors and colonists argued over both issues for many years until the conflict over salaries reached its climax during William Burnet's brief tenure . He let the provincial assembly meet continuously for six months and moved the meeting twice, but was also ultimately unsuccessful in ending the conflict.

In the early 1720s, the Abenaki of northern New England began raiding border towns again. On the one hand, they were instigated by French intriguers, on the other hand, they were worried about the progressive conquest of the British in their territory. This ended with a decision by incumbent Governor William Dummer , which resulted in the Dummers War . After the war ended, many Abenaki withdrew to Canada.

In the 1730s, Massachusetts-born Governor Jonathan Belcher challenged the legislature's power to decide how funds were used and vetoed any law that did not give him the freedom to use funds as he pleased. As a result, the provincial treasury was regularly empty. However, the Board of Trade had allowed Belcher to receive an annual grant instead of a fixed salary. Under his administration, the financial crisis began to flare up again, resulting in a renewal of the demand for a secure bank. However, Belcher refused, which is why his opponents instigated an intrigue in London to lift him from office. When this succeeded, the bank was installed, but closed again after only a short existence by the British Parliament . As a result, a large number of important colonists - including the father of Samuel Adams - turned against the crown and parliament.

The following two decades were again dominated by wars. In 1741, the King George's War broke out, in which Governor William Shirley gathered troops across New England to use in a campaign against the French fortress of Louisbourg , which was successfully concluded with the siege of Louisbourg in 1745. After the end of the war in 1748, however, Louisbourg was returned to France to the amazement of the New England population.

Shirley was comparatively popular because he cleverly stayed out of the affairs of his predecessors. With the beginning of the Seven Years' War in North America he was challenged again militarily, as he held the highest colonial military office after the death of General Edward Braddock in 1755. However, he was overwhelmed with this task and was recalled in 1757. His successor Thomas Pownall provided colonial support for the war troops until the end of the conflict in 1760.

Second half of the 18th century

Proclamation by Thomas Hutchinson, December 28, 1771

In the 1760s and early 1770s, colonists became frustrated with London politics and the governors it sent to enforce its decisions. The last two civilian governors, Francis Bernard and Thomas Hutchinson, were very unpopular for matters of minor and major importance, particularly the attempts by the British Parliament to raise taxes in the colonies without political representation .

Massachusetts-born Hutchinson authorized the stationing of British troops in Boston, which ultimately led to the Boston massacre on March 5, 1770 . At that time, Samuel Adams , Paul Revere , John Hancock and many others were active in the opposition. After the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, Hutchinson was replaced by General Thomas Gage in May 1774 . At first it was welcomed benevolently, but its reputation dwindled rapidly with the implementation of the so-called Intolerable Acts . These included the Massachusetts Government Act , which suspended the legislature, and the Boston Port Act , which suspended the Port of Boston until reparations were paid for the tea thrown into the sea. The closure of the port caused considerable damage to the province's economy and sparked a surge of sympathy from other colonies.

Royal rule over the Province of Massachusetts Bay existed de facto until early October 1774, when members of the Massachusetts General Court, contrary to the provisions of the Massachusetts Government Act , met and established the Massachusetts Provincial Congress as a provisional local government. Although the official governor, Gage, continued to play an important role in Boston, particularly a military one, the provincial congress ruled the rest of the province. With the battles at Lexington and Concord and the siege of Boston , the fighting began that broke out the American Revolutionary War in April 1775 .

On March 17, 1776, the British evacuated the city of Boston, ending the siege and placing the city under rebel control. On May 1, 1776, the Provincial Congress passed a resolution declaring the province's independence from the British Crown; on July 4, 1776, the United States ' Declaration of Independence followed , in which the independence of all Thirteen Colonies was declared. In October 1779, agreement was reached on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts , which was accepted by the delegates nine months later in June 1780 and entered into force "on the last Wednesday of next October". In October 1780, the first governor was elected along with representatives to the Massachusetts General Court .


Provincial policy

Thomas Hutchinson, who first wrote in full the history of colonial Massachusetts, said that provincial politics were dominated by three major interest groups, while in most of the other colonies there were only two. The expansionists , represented in Massachusetts by John Hancock's uncle Thomas Hancock and James Otis, Sr. , firmly believed in the growth of the colony and firm resistance to French and Native American raids. This group became the driving force behind the patriot movement just before the War of Independence. The non-expansionists , which included Hutchinson and the Boston Oliver family, were rather cautious and preferred to rely on a close relationship with the motherland. During the War of Independence, this group was referred to as loyalists . The third force in Massachusetts politics was the populists , made possible by the structure of the provincial legislature, since rural communities had more votes than other provinces. Early leaders in this group included Elisha Cooke, Sr. and his son Elisha Cooke, Jr. , later joined by Samuel Adams .

Although religion did not play an essential role within these interest groups, the non-expansionists tended towards the Anglican Church while the expansionists were mainly congregationalists . Finally, the populists were either conservative Puritans or shared the views of the Great Awakening . During the existence of the province, these groups forged and broke alliances with one another and chose their political partners according to the current situation of the circumstances.

The populist faction had the problem that, due to its rural structure, with an existing alliance with one of the other interest groups, it had to support the third party instead of the partner in certain cases. For example, when there were problems at the borders, she always sided with the expansionists. She kept by them regularly even with the recurring money problems of the province, since inflation gave them the opportunity to repay their debts with written-off currency. These links grew stronger in the 1760s as the conflict with the British Parliament increased.

The non-expansionists were essentially made up of wealthy Boston merchants. They had allies in the rich, agricultural communities in the more developed east of the province as well as in the large port cities. This alliance often challenged the populists for power in the legislature. They preferred stricter regulation by the motherland and opposed the inflationary issue of colonial currency.

The expansionists consisted mainly of two incompatible groups. One consisted of merchants represented by the Hancocks and Otises who did not make public their views on the growth of the colony and who held comparatively liberal religious positions. The other included wealthy Connecticut River valley landowners whose needs for defense and growth were directly linked to the development of the properties. Although both groups agreed on a strategy for defense and further expansion, they differed on monetary policy; the members, who came from the western provincial areas, agreed with the non-expansionists in this regard and thus for a standards-oriented currency.

Local policy

The province expanded considerably, especially in the 18th century; so there were a total of 83 parishes in 1695, in 1765 there were already 186. Most of the parishes were in 1695 within a day's trip around Boston, which, however, after the King Philip's War with the establishment of a large number of townships in Worcester County and changed in the Berkshire Mountains .

The character of local politics changed with the increasing growth and wealth of the province. The larger communities divided more and more and displaced the unity of the early colonial times. For example, Dedham was split into six separate towns and Newburyport split from Newbury in 1764 . The community meetings also became more and more important. As the cities grew, residents increasingly wanted to take care of their political affairs themselves, and the selectmen , who had hitherto been very powerful, lost some of their influence to community assemblies and paid city employees such as tax assessors, constables and treasurers .


During its existence, the boundaries of the province changed several times to a greater and lesser extent. The soil had only a thin layer of mother earth and was essentially rocky. Nova Scotia, to which New Brunswick also belonged at the time, was occupied by English troops at the same time as the Charter was issued, but split off in 1697 with the Peace of Rijswijk , under which Acadia was returned to France. After the British siege of Port Royal during the Queen Anne's War , Nova Scotia became an independent province in 1710. Maine only became independent after the declaration of independence and was given state status in 1820.

The borders to the neighboring provinces also shifted. The predecessors Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony had clearly defined borders with New Hampshire , Rhode Island and Connecticut , which were changed at the time of the province. The New Hampshire border, in particular, was widely discussed, as the colonial charter definition provided that it should run 3  mi (4.8  km ) north of the Merrimack River . This determination was based on the erroneous assumption that the course of the river essentially continues in a westerly direction. The matter was not settled until 1741 by King George II , who established the border between the two states that is still valid today.

Research in the 1690s suggested that the original Connecticut and Rhode Island boundaries had been incorrectly surveyed. In the early 18th century, new land surveys were carried out, which determined that the border with Connecticut was significantly further south than it should be according to the Charter. In 1713, Massachusetts split off a part called Equivalent Lands to compensate Connecticut for this mistake. Connecticut auctioned the land it gained and used the proceeds to found Yale College .

The border with Rhode Island also had to be adjusted. In 1746, land on the east coast of Narragansett Bay (today's cities of Barrington , Bristol , Tiverton and Little Compton ) was ceded to Rhode Island. The current border lines between Massachusetts and its southern neighbors were not fixed until the 19th century. There was already agreement about the western border with New York in 1773, but it was not measured until 1788.

The province also claimed what is now known as Western New York . With the Hartford Treaty , Massachusetts had to give up this area; In return, it received the rights to sell to property developers.

See also


  • Marc Egnal: A Mighty Empire: the Origins of the American Revolution . Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY 1988, ISBN 978-0-8014-1932-4 .
  • Albert Bushnell Hart: Commonwealth History of Massachusetts, colony, province and state . The States History Company, New York, OCLC 1543273 (5 volumes, 1927-30).
  • Benjamin Labaree: Colonial Massachusetts: a History . KTO Press, Millwood NY 1979, ISBN 978-0-527-18714-9 .
  • David Lovejoy: The Glorious Revolution in America . Wesleyan University Press, Middletown CT 1987, ISBN 978-0-8195-6177-0 .
  • John Palfrey: History of New England . History of New England During the Stuart Dynasty. Little, Brown, Boston 1864, OCLC 1658888 ( online in Google Book Search).
  • Stephen Saunders Webb: Lord Churchill's Coup . The Anglo-American Empire and the Glorious Revolution Reconsidered. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse NY 1998, ISBN 978-0-8156-0558-4 .
  • Gordon S. Wood: The American Revolution: A History . Modern Library, New York 2002, ISBN 978-0-8129-7041-8 .

Web links

  • James Truslow Adams: Revolutionary New England, 1691–1776 . 1923,

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Labaree, pp. 23-26.
  2. cf. Labaree, pp. 27-30.
  3. cf. Hart, pp. 129-131.
  4. cf. Labaree, pp. 96-105.
  5. cf. Labaree, p. 111.
  6. cf. Labaree, pp. 111-113.
  7. cf. Lovejoy, pp. 159, 196-212.
  8. cf. Lovejoy, pp. 184-186, 188-190, 193.
  9. cf. Lovejoy, pp. 224-226.
  10. cf. Webb, pp. 183-184.
  11. cf. Palfrey, p. 596.
  12. cf. Labaree, p. 127.
  13. cf. Labaree, pp. 127, 132.
  14. cf. Wood, p. 38.
  15. cf. Labaree, p. 278.
  16. cf. Labaree, pp. 170, 278-282.
  17. cf. Labaree, pp. 283-288.
  18. cf. Labaree, pp. 296-300.
  19. cf. Egnal, pp. 20-21.
  20. cf. Egnal, pp. 24-28.
  21. cf. Egnal, p. 29.
  22. cf. Egnal, p. 24.
  23. cf. Egnal, pp. 27-28.
  24. cf. Egnal, pp. 25-27.
  25. cf. Labaree, p. 128.
  26. cf. Labaree, p. 129.
  27. cf. Labaree, pp. 129-130.