Massachusetts Bay Company, English chartered company that established the Massachusetts Bay colony in New England. Organized (1628) as the New England Company, it took over the Dorchester Company, which had established a short-lived fishing colony on Cape Ann in 1623. The group obtained (1628) from the Council for New England a grant of land between the Charles and Merrimack rivers, extending westward to “the South Sea.” One of the men who negotiated for this patent, John Endecott, became leader of the colony at Naumkeag (later Salem), founded (1626) by Roger Conant and others from the Cape Ann settlement. In 1629 the New England Company obtained a royal charter as the “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.” Almost immediately the emphasis changed from trade to religion, as the Puritan stockholders conceived of the colony as a religious and political refuge for their sect. A group led by John Winthrop (1588–1649) signed the so-called Cambridge Agreement (1629), by which they engaged to emigrate to New England provided that they could buy out the stock of the company and thus gain complete control of the company's government and charter. Since the royal charter did not specify where the stockholders should meet, this arrangement was made, and the Massachusetts Bay Company became the only one of the English chartered colonization companies not subject to the control of a board of governors in England. The colonists sailed for New England in 1630. They reached Salem, soon moved to Charlestown, but decided to make their chief settlement at the mouth of the Charles River, a commanding position on Massachusetts Bay. There Boston was established. Attempts were made by the Council for New England, under the leadership of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, to annul the colony's land claims, but the efforts were unsuccessful. The company and the colony were synonymous until 1684, when the charter was withdrawn, and the company ceased to exist. In 1691 a new charter made Massachusetts a royal colony and extended its jurisdiction over Plymouth and Maine.
See N. B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (5 vol., 1853–54, repr. 1968), G. L. Beer, The Origins of the British Colonial System, 1578–1660 (1908, repr. 1959); J. T. Adams, The Founding of New England (1921, repr. 1963), C. M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, Vol. I (1934, repr. 1964); T. Hutchinson, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (ed. by L. S. Mayo, 3 vol., 1936, repr. 1970); T. J. Wertenbaker, The Puritan Oligarchy (1947, repr. 1970); R. E. Wall, Massachusetts Bay: The Crucial Decade, 1640–1650 (1972).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History