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New England In The Earliest Days
Before Plymouth Colony there was Sagadahoc, the short-lived settlement for which Sir Ferdinando Gorges had high hopes
August 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 5
Winthrop’s journal reveals him as becoming more intensely religious as family troubles accumulated and as the country moved from the balance of the Elizabethan Age to that sharpening of conflict, that scission and unbalance that foreboded the lamentable, the destructive, Civil War. All this group were very much under the influence of Puritan theologians—William Perkins of Christ’s, Ezekiel Culverwel, and the rest of them.
A group of such men, friends and relations, gentlemen, of ability and education—nearly all Cambridge men—came together. There were Isaac Johnson, John Humfrey, and Thomas Dudley, who, like Gorges, had fought under Henry of Navarre and was latterly a parishioner of the Puritan divine John Cotton at Boston. There were Increase Nowell and William Pynchon and Saltonstall. At Cambridge in 1629 they met and signed a compact to go to New England and found a commonwealth. They next decided to take their patent with them, for they meant to be in control themselves. This was the fundamental difference between them and the Pilgrims. These were not simple people content to obey; these were governing Puritans who were leaving the country because they could not have their own way. When they got to Massachusetts, from the beginning they made it clear that they meant to have it. People who wanted the Book of Common Prayer were soon given to understand that they had better leave—and indeed the Pilgrims had sent Church of England people away from New Plymouth.
Governor Endecott, that stern and unattractive Devonshireman, had gone before in 1628 to prepare the ground. In 1630 no less than fourteen ships left England with over a thousand colonists, and—since they had such strong backing and resources—no want of supplies. This was in marked contrast with everything that had gone before, in New England no less than Virginia. This was something exceptional. And there was another thing that was exceptional, too. In the interval they had managed to turn their patent from the New England Council into a royal charter, which confirmed to them not only territorial rights, but rights of government. “The charter created something that had not existed before, the right of these men as a corporate body to rule and administer the territory under their authority and to exercise complete sway over any colonies or plantations that might be set up on its soil.”
How had they managed it? Nobody knows. One thing is clear: they managed it when nobody was looking. For another, these Puritans were not lawyers, like John Winthrop, for nothing. For a third, there is no doubt at all that the Puritan magnates, the Earl of Warwick and Lord Saye and SeIe, were deliberately helping them out with their plans. They got their original patent from Warwick as president of the New England Council when Gorges was away at the war. There is no evidence of any conflict between Warwick and Gorges over the matter. And surreptitious as the whole thing was, it may have been simply that people thought the New England Council was moribund and were quick to take advantage of it. But the New England Council was not moribund, though it was some time before Gorges learned, or appreciated the significance of, what had happened. With the end of the war he married again, so that he could retire from his command at Plymouth, and was both free and in a position to take up his colonial projects where he had left them.
Before and during the wars Gorges had been associated with an interesting man, Captain John Mason, born in 1586, who had served six years as governor of Newfoundland, 1615-21. In 1622 they took out a joint grant of all the land that subsequently became Maine and New Hampshire. Here Mason settled David Thomson in the first settlement on the Piscataqua, where he lived by the fur trade and fishing. In 1629 Mason took a grant of the southern half of the territory to himself, becoming thus the founder of New Hampshire. In that year, with Canada conquered and Champlain a prisoner in London, Gorges and Mason set up the Laconia Company, hoping to tap the Canadian fur trade through the Lake Champlain route to New England. The return of Canada to the French knocked this project on the head and left Gorges and Mason with a dead loss.
Gorges had, however, secured in Mason a valuable and energetic recruit to the New England Council, of which he became vice-president in 1632, and which—to the surprise of the Massachusetts Puritans—now burst into renewed activity. A number of individual grants of land were made, Gorges being now careful to make them outside the territory of Massachusetts Bay. Meanwhile people were pouring into the Massachusetts territory “in heaps”—by no means all of them Puritans; indeed, it is likely that a majority of them were not. But all power was held by the governing Puritan minority—they were a governing class and they knew well how to govern. The board there arrogated all power to themselves, and they proceeded to show their mettle by driving out of the colony those of whom they disapproved.