List of colonial governors of Massachusetts

The territory of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the fifty United States, was settled in the 17th century by several different English colonies. The territories claimed or administered by these colonies encompassed a much larger area than that of the modern state, and at times included areas that are now within the jurisdiction of other New England states or of the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Some colonial land claims extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Map depicting lines of charters and grants for Massachusetts-related colonies and provinces

The first permanent settlement was the Plymouth Colony (1620), and the second major settlement was the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Salem in 1629. Settlements that failed or were merged into other colonies included the failed Popham Colony (1607) on the coast of Maine, and the Wessagusset Colony (1622–23) in Weymouth, Massachusetts, whose remnants were folded into the Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies coexisted until 1686, each electing its own governor annually. Governance of both colonies was dominated by a relatively small group of magistrates, some of whom governed for many years. The Dominion of New England was established in 1686 which covered the territory of those colonies, as well as that of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In 1688, it was further extended to include New York and East and West Jersey. The Dominion was extremely unpopular in the colonies, and it was disbanded when its royally appointed governor Sir Edmund Andros was arrested and sent back to England in the wake of the 1688 Glorious Revolution.

After Andros' arrest, each of the colonies reverted to its previous form of governance. King William III, however, reorganized the territory of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies into the Province of Massachusetts Bay and appointed Sir William Phips as its royal governor in 1692. The Province of Massachusetts Bay was governed by appointed civilian governors until 1774, when Thomas Hutchinson was replaced by Lieutenant General Thomas Gage amid rising tensions between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Parliament. Gage was the province's last royal governor. He was effectively powerless beyond Boston, and was recalled after the June 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. By then, the province was already being run de facto by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress; following the adoption of a state constitution in 1779, the newly formed Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected John Hancock as its first governor.

Popham Colony: 1607–1608

The Popham Colony was founded on the coast of Phippsburg, Maine in 1607 as a colonization attempt by the Virginia Company of Plymouth. The colony lasted about one year before being abandoned. One of its principal backers was Sir John Popham; his nephew George Popham was the colony's governor for most of its brief existence.[1] George Popham died in the colony in 1608 and was replaced by Raleigh Gilbert. He and the remaining colonists abandoned it after word arrived that John Popham and Gilbert's older brother Sir John Gilbert had died.[2]

Governor Took office Left office
George Popham 1607 February 1608
Raleigh Gilbert February 1608 September 1608
Source: Grizzard and Smith, p. 189

Plymouth Colony: 1620–1686, 1689–1692

The Plymouth Colony originated as a land grant issued by the London Virginia Company to a group of English separatist Puritans who had fled to Holland to avoid religious persecution. Their migration to the New World in 1620 aboard the Mayflower was funded by the Merchant Adventurers, who sent additional settlers to engage in profit-making activities in the colony.[3] The settlers had intended to establish a colony near the mouth of the Hudson River, within the bounds of the London Virginia Company's territory, but weather conditions on their arrival led them to establish it instead on the shores of Cape Cod Bay at Plymouth, Massachusetts.[4] The colonists acquired a land grant from the Plymouth Council for New England in 1621,[5] but its early governance took place under the terms of the Mayflower Compact, a document which the colonists drafted and signed aboard the Mayflower before they landed.[4] In 1630, the colony acquired a formal charter with authority to govern from the Plymouth Council, but it was unsuccessful in attempts to acquire a royal charter that would guarantee its territory against other claimants.[6]

The colony held annual elections for its offices.[7] Between 1620 and 1680, it was ruled by a governor who appointed a temporary replacement if he left the colony. In 1681, they began also electing a deputy governor who would serve in the governor's absence.[8] The leadership was dominated by William Bradford, who served more than 30 terms as governor.[5] The colony was incorporated into the Dominion of New England in 1686,[9] but the dominion was dissolved in 1689 and all the New England colonies temporarily reverted to their previous governmental structures. Plymouth finally received a royal charter in 1691, but it was not the one which they had sought for 70 years. Instead of protecting the colony's autonomy, the charter incorporated Plymouth into the Province of Massachusetts Bay, which took effect in 1692 with the arrival of royal governor Sir William Phips.[10][11]

Josiah Winslow
Governor Took office Left office Deputy governor
John Carver November 11, 1620 died April 15, 1621[12] The colony had no deputy governors until 1681; the governor named a pro tem governor when he was absent.
William Bradford May 1621 January 1, 1633
Edward Winslow January 1, 1633 March 27, 1634
Thomas Prence March 27, 1634 March 3, 1635
William Bradford March 3, 1635 March 1, 1636
Edward Winslow March 1, 1636 March 7, 1637
William Bradford March 7, 1637 June 5, 1638
Thomas Prence June 5, 1638 June 3, 1639
William Bradford June 3, 1639 June 5, 1644
Edward Winslow June 5, 1644 June 4, 1645
William Bradford June 4, 1645 died May 9, 1657[13]
Thomas Prence June 3, 1657 June 3, 1673
Josiah Winslow June 3, 1673 December 18, 1680
Thomas Hinckley December 18, 1680 1686 James Cudworth (1681–82)
William Bradford the Younger (1682–86)
Dominion of New England 1686 1689 Not applicable
Thomas Hinckley 1689 1692 William Bradford the Younger (1689–92)
Source unless otherwise cited: Gifford et al., p. 205; Capen, p. 53

Wessagusset Colony: 1622–1623

The Wessagusset Colony (sometimes called the Weston Colony or Weymouth Colony) was a short-lived trading colony located in Weymouth, Massachusetts. It was settled in August 1622 by approximately 55 colonists who were ill-prepared for colonial life and lacking adequate provisions.[14] The colony was dissolved in late March 1623, and the surviving colonists either joined the Plymouth Colony or returned to England.[15]

Governor Took office Left office
Richard Greene April 1622 died c. October 1622
John Sanders c. October 1622 March 1623
Source: Adams and Nash, pp. 11, 14, 27

Governor-General of New England: 1623–1624

In 1623, Robert Gorges was commissioned as Governor-General of New England by King Charles I to oversee Plymouth, Wessagusset, and future New England colonies.[16] Gorges established a small colony on the site of the recently failed Wessagusset Colony; his effort was abandoned after one year for financial reasons.[17][18] Some of his settlers remained in the area without formal governance, moving to occupy the Shawmut Peninsula (site of Boston, Massachusetts) among other places.[19]

Governor-General Took office Left office
Robert Gorges September 1623 1624
Source: Adams and Nash, pp. 29–31

Massachusetts Bay Colony: 1629–1686, 1689–1692

The Massachusetts Bay Company was established in 1628 and was funded in part by investors in the failed Dorchester Company. In that year, the company elected Matthew Cradock as its governor and received a grant from the Plymouth Council for New England for land roughly between the Charles and Merrimack Rivers.[20] The company dispatched John Endecott and a small company of settlers to Massachusetts Bay not long after acquiring the grant.[21] In 1629, the company received a royal charter as a means to guarantee its grant against other claims, and elected Endecott as the first colonial governor, while Cradock continued to govern the company in London.[22] In August 1629, the shareholders reorganized the company so that the charter could be removed to the colony, merging corporate and colonial administration.[23] John Winthrop was elected governor in October, but did not formally take charge of the colony until he arrived in 1630.[24] Colonial officials (governor, deputy governor, and the council of assistants) were elected annually from then on by the freemen of the colony. The governorship was dominated by a small group of early settlers who sought to ensure that the vision of a Puritan settlement was maintained; Richard Bellingham, John Leverett, and Simon Bradstreet all served extended terms, in addition to Winthrop and Endecott, and Thomas Dudley served 4 1-year terms. All these men also served in positions of importance when they were not serving as governor.[25]

The colony's governance and religious attitudes came under greater scrutiny following the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, which led to the revocation of its charter in 1684.[26][27] King James II then established the Dominion of New England, an appointed regime which was strongly against the will of the American colonists.[28] It took effect in 1686 and lasted until 1689, when the Glorious Revolution toppled James, and colonists in Massachusetts immediately arrested the Dominion's governor Sir Edmund Andros.[29] The colony reverted to its previous rule on a provisional basis, because it then lacked any sort of legal charter.[30] In 1691, King William III merged the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay along with the territory of Maine, the islands south of Cape Cod (including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands), and Nova Scotia (which included New Brunswick) to form the Province of Massachusetts Bay.[10] This new governmental structure took effect in 1692, with the arrival of the new royal governor Sir William Phips.[11]

Governor Took office Left office Deputy governor
Matthew Cradock 1628 October 20, 1629 Thomas Goffe

John Endecott
April 30, 1629 June 12, 1630[31] None

John Winthrop
October 20, 1629 May 14, 1634 John Humphrey (1629–30)
Thomas Dudley (1630–34)
Thomas Dudley May 14, 1634 May 6, 1635 Roger Ludlow
John Haynes May 6, 1635 May 25, 1636 Richard Bellingham

Sir Henry Vane the Younger
May 25, 1636 May 17, 1637 John Winthrop

John Winthrop
May 17, 1637 May 13, 1640 Thomas Dudley
Thomas Dudley May 13, 1640 June 2, 1641 Richard Bellingham
Richard Bellingham June 2, 1641 May 18, 1642 John Endecott

John Winthrop
May 18, 1642 May 29, 1644 John Endecott

John Endecott
May 29, 1644 May 14, 1645 John Winthrop
Thomas Dudley May 14, 1645 May 6, 1646 John Winthrop

John Winthrop
May 6, 1646 May 2, 1649 Thomas Dudley

John Endecott
May 2, 1649 May 22, 1650 Thomas Dudley
Thomas Dudley May 22, 1650 May 7, 1651 John Endecott[32]

John Endecott
May 7, 1651 May 3, 1654 Thomas Dudley
Richard Bellingham May 3, 1654 May 23, 1655 John Endecott

John Endecott
May 23, 1655 May 3, 1665 Richard Bellingham
Richard Bellingham May 3, 1665 December 12, 1672 Francis Willoughby (1665–71)
John Leverett (1671–72)

John Leverett
December 12, 1672
(acting until May 7, 1673)
May 28, 1679 Samuel Symonds (1673–78)
Simon Bradstreet (1678–79)

Simon Bradstreet
May 28, 1679 May 25, 1686[33] Thomas Danforth
Dominion of New England May 25, 1686[33] April 18, 1689[34] Not applicable

Simon Bradstreet
April 18, 1689[34] May 14, 1692[35] Thomas Danforth
Sources unless otherwise cited: Capen, pp. 53–54; Hart, p. 1:607

Dominion of New England: 1686–1689

The Dominion of New England was established by King James II in order to bring the colonies of New England more firmly under united crown control, and to streamline the costs associated with colonial administration.[36] All of the New England colonies eventually came under its authority, as well as the provinces of New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey.[37] Sir Edmund Andros governed the Dominion for most of its brief existence, but he alienated New Englanders by forcing the Church of England into Puritan Boston and vacating land titles issued under the old charter.[38] After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed James, Massachusetts political operatives arrested Andros and shipped him back to England.[39][40] All of the affected colonies reverted to their previous forms of rule, although Massachusetts did so without constitutional authority because its charter had been revoked.[41] William III and Mary II eventually issued new charters, but in the process they combined the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, and other territories into the Province of Massachusetts Bay.[10]

Plans to establish the dominion had started under King Charles II early in the 1680s. He initially selected Colonel Percy Kirke as the dominion's governor in 1684. Kirke's commission was approved by James, but was then withdrawn after Kirke's controversially harsh actions in putting down Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685. Joseph Dudley, son of Thomas Dudley, was given a commission as "President of the Council of New England" with limited powers as an interim measure before Andros' commission could be finalized.[42]

Governor Took office Left office Lieutenant Governor

Joseph Dudley
(as President of the Council of New England)
May 25, 1686[43] December 20, 1686[44] William Stoughton
(as Deputy President)[45]

Sir Edmund Andros
December 20, 1686[44] April 18, 1689[34] Francis Nicholson
(appointed April 1688)[46]

Province of Massachusetts Bay: 1692–1775

The royal charter for the Province of Massachusetts Bay was issued in 1691. The territory that it encompassed included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the territories of Maine and Nova Scotia (which then included New Brunswick), and the proprietary plantation holdings of Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and other islands off the southern coast of Cape Cod.[10] The government did not formally begin operating until royally appointed governor Sir William Phips arrived in 1692.[11] The province was governed by civilian governors until 1774, when Thomas Hutchinson was replaced by Lieutenant General Thomas Gage amid rising tensions between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Parliament.[47] Gage was the province's last royal governor. He was effectively powerless beyond Boston,[48][49] and was recalled after the June 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill.[50] By then, the province was already being run de facto by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which continued to govern until 1780. The Massachusetts Constitution was adopted in 1779, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected John Hancock as its first governor.[51]

Under the terms of the royal charter, both the governor and lieutenant governor were appointed by the crown. The charter contained a provision that the governor's council would assume the duties of the governor should both governor and lieutenant governor be absent from the colony.[52] This occurred three times:

  1. Acting governor William Stoughton died in 1701, and the council governed until the arrival of Joseph Dudley.[53]
  2. Queen Anne died in 1714 and the commissions that she had issued expired six months later. Her successor King George I issued an order continuing all commissions, but this order did not reach Massachusetts before the six months expired. The council asserted its authority, claiming that the commissions had expired of Joseph Dudley and William Tailer, and the council ruled from February 4 until March 21, 1715 when the king's order arrived.[54]
  3. Acting governor Spencer Phips died in 1757, and the council governed until the arrival of Thomas Pownall.[53]
Governor Took office Left office Lieutenant Governor

Sir William Phips
May 16, 1692 November 17, 1694 William Stoughton
(May 16, 1692 –
died July 7, 1701)

William Stoughton
December 4, 1694 May 26, 1699

Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont
May 26, 1699 July 17, 1700

William Stoughton
July 22, 1700 died July 7, 1701
Governor's Council
July 10, 1701 June 11, 1702 Vacant

Joseph Dudley
June 11, 1702 February 4, 1715 Thomas Povey
(June 11, 1702 –
left colony c. January 28, 1706)
William Tailer
(October 4, 1711 –
February 4, 1715)
Governor's Council
February 4, 1715 March 21, 1715 Vacant

Joseph Dudley
March 21, 1715 November 9, 1715 William Tailer
(March 21, 1715 –
October 5, 1716)
William Tailer
November 9, 1715 October 5, 1716
Samuel Shute October 5, 1716 left colony January 1, 1723 William Dummer
(October 5, 1716 –
June 11, 1730)

William Dummer
January 2, 1723 July 19, 1728

William Burnet
July 19, 1728 died September 7, 1729

William Dummer
September 10, 1729 June 11, 1730
William Tailer
June 11, 1730 August 10, 1730 William Tailer
(June 11, 1730 –
died March 1, 1732)

Jonathan Belcher
August 10, 1730 August 14, 1741
Spencer Phips
(August 8, 1732 –
died April 4, 1757)

William Shirley
August 14, 1741 September 11, 1749
Spencer Phips
September 15, 1749 August 7, 1753

William Shirley
August 7, 1753 September 25, 1756
Spencer Phips
September 25, 1756 died April 4, 1757
Governor's Council
April 5, 1757 August 3, 1757 Vacant

Thomas Pownall
August 3, 1757 June 3, 1760 Thomas Hutchinson
(June 1, 1758 –
March 14, 1771)

Thomas Hutchinson
June 3, 1760 August 2, 1760

Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet
August 2, 1760 August 1, 1769

Thomas Hutchinson
(acting, August 2, 1769 –
March 14, 1771)
August 2, 1769 May 17, 1774
Andrew Oliver
(March 14, 1771 –
died March 3, 1774)

The Hon. Thomas Gage
May 17, 1774 October 11, 1775[lower-alpha 1]
Thomas Oliver
(August 8, 1774 –
March 17, 1776)[lower-alpha 2]
Source unless otherwise cited: Massachusetts Royal Commissions, pp. xxxiii–xxxv

See also


  1. This is the de facto end of Gage's tenure, when he departed Boston for the last time.[55]
  2. This is the de facto end of Oliver's tenure, when he departed Boston for the last time.[56]
  1. Grizzard and Smith, p. 189
  2. Vaughan, p. 64
  3. Hart, p. 1:67
  4. Hart, p. 1:69
  5. Hart, p. 1:72
  6. Hart, p. 1:78
  7. Hart, p. 1:83
  8. Hart, p. 1:607
  9. Hart, pp. 1:569–572
  10. Barnes, pp. 267–269
  11. Capen, p. 54
  12. Moore, p. 46
  13. Moore, p. 79
  14. Thomas, G.E. (March 1975). "Puritans, Indians, and the Concept of Race". New England Quarterly. The New England Quarterly, Inc. 48 (1): 12. doi:10.2307/364910. JSTOR 364910.
  15. Adams and Nash, pp. 25–29
  16. Adams and Nash, pp. 29–30
  17. Adams and Nash, pp. 30–31
  18. Levermore, p. 603
  19. Adams and Nash, pp. 31–34
  20. Hart, pp. 1:96–99
  21. Moore, pp. 240, 348
  22. Moore, pp. 348–349
  23. Hart, pp. 1:99–101
  24. Moore, pp. 242,350
  25. Hart, pp. 1:112, 1:607
  26. Barnes, pp. 6–32
  27. Hart, p. 1:566
  28. Barnes, pp. 46–69
  29. Hart, pp. 1:600–601
  30. Hart, p. 1:602
  31. Moore, p. 244
  32. Capen (p. 54) incorrectly lists Dudley as deputy; it was in fact Endecott. Davis, p. 163
  33. Moore, p. 393
  34. Moore, p. 385
  35. Moore, p. 226
  36. Barnes, pp. 29–30
  37. Barnes, pp. 32–39
  38. Barnes, pp. 128–130, 187–201
  39. Barnes, pp. 234–250
  40. Hart, pp. 1:602–603
  41. Barnes, pp. 247–249
  42. Barnes, pp. 45–49
  43. Barnes, p. 54
  44. Barnes, p. 69
  45. Barnes, p. 55
  46. Barnes, p. 72
  47. Hart, pp. 2:514–523, 2:591
  48. Hart, p. 2:562
  49. French, p. 130
  50. French, p. 355
  51. Peters, pp. 16–18
  52. Kimball, pp. 77, 193
  53. Massachusetts Royal Commissions, p. xxxiv
  54. Kimball, pp. 193–197
  55. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, p. 17:87
  56. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, p. 17:96


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