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.
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: 1607–08
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. 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.
|Governor||Took office||Left office|
|George Popham||1607||February 1608|
|Raleigh Gilbert||February 1608||September 1608|
|Source: Grizzard and Smith, p. 189|
Plymouth Colony: 1620–86, 1689–92
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. 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. The colonists acquired a land grant from the Plymouth Council for New England in 1621, 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. 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.
The colony held annual elections for its offices. 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. The leadership was dominated by William Bradford, who served more than 30 terms as governor. The colony was incorporated into the Dominion of New England in 1686, 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.
|Governor||Took office||Left office||Deputy governor|
|John Carver||November 11, 1620||died April 15, 1621||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|
|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: 1622–23
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. The colony was dissolved in late March 1623, and the surviving colonists either joined the Plymouth Colony or returned to England.
|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: 1623–24
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. Gorges established a small colony on the site of the recently failed Wessagusset Colony; his effort was abandoned after one year for financial reasons. Some of his settlers remained in the area without formal governance, moving to occupy the Shawmut Peninsula (site of Boston, Massachusetts) among other places.
|Governor-General||Took office||Left office|
|Robert Gorges||September 1623||1624|
|Source: Adams and Nash, pp. 29–31|
Massachusetts Bay Colony: 1629–86, 1689–92
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. The company dispatched John Endecott and a small company of settlers to Massachusetts Bay not long after acquiring the grant. 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. In August 1629, the shareholders reorganized the company so that the charter could be removed to the colony, merging corporate and colonial administration. John Winthrop was elected governor in October, but did not formally take charge of the colony until he arrived in 1630. 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 four one-year terms. All these men also served in positions of importance when they were not serving as governor.
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. King James II then established the Dominion of New England, an appointed regime which was strongly against the will of the American colonists. 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. The colony reverted to its previous rule on a provisional basis, because it then lacked any sort of legal charter. 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. This new governmental structure took effect in 1692, with the arrival of the new royal governor Sir William Phips.
|Governor||Took office||Left office||Deputy governor|
|Matthew Cradock||1628||October 20, 1629||Thomas Goffe|
|John Endecott||April 30, 1629||June 12, 1630||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|
|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||Thomas Danforth|
|Dominion of New England||May 25, 1686||April 18, 1689||Not applicable|
|Simon Bradstreet||April 18, 1689||May 14, 1692||Thomas Danforth|
|Sources unless otherwise cited: Capen, pp. 53–54; Hart, p. 1:607|
Dominion of New England: 1686–89
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. All of the New England colonies eventually came under its authority, as well as the provinces of New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey. 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. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed James, Massachusetts political operatives arrested Andros and shipped him back to England. 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. 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.
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.
|Governor||Took office||Left office||Lieutenant Governor|
|Joseph Dudley (as President of the Council of New England)||May 25, 1686||December 20, 1686||William Stoughton (as Deputy President)|
|Sir Edmund Andros||December 20, 1686||April 18, 1689||Francis Nicholson (appointed April 1688)|
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. The government did not formally begin operating until royally appointed governor Sir William Phips arrived in 1692. 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. 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, 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.
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. This occurred three times:
- Acting governor William Stoughton died in 1701, and the council governed until the arrival of Joseph Dudley.
- 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.
- Acting governor Spencer Phips died in 1757, and the council governed until the arrival of Thomas Pownall.
|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)
|December 4, 1694||May 26, 1699|
|Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont||May 26, 1699||July 17, 1700|
|July 22, 1700||died July 7, 1701|
|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)
(October 4, 1711 –
February 4, 1715)
|February 4, 1715||March 21, 1715||Vacant|
|Joseph Dudley||March 21, 1715||November 9, 1715||William Tailer|
(March 21, 1715 –
October 5, 1716)
|November 9, 1715||October 5, 1716|
|Samuel Shute||October 5, 1716||left colony January 1, 1723||William Dummer|
(October 5, 1716 –
June 11, 1730)
|January 2, 1723||July 19, 1728|
|William Burnet||July 19, 1728||died September 7, 1729|
|September 10, 1729||June 11, 1730|
|June 11, 1730||August 10, 1730||William Tailer|
(June 11, 1730 – died March 1, 1732)
|Jonathan Belcher||August 10, 1730||August 14, 1741|
(August 8, 1732 –
died April 4, 1757)
|William Shirley||August 14, 1741||September 11, 1749|
|September 15, 1749||August 7, 1753|
|William Shirley||August 7, 1753||September 25, 1756|
|September 25, 1756||died April 4, 1757|
|April 5, 1757||August 3, 1757||Vacant|
|Thomas Pownall||August 3, 1757||June 3, 1760||Thomas Hutchinson|
(June 1, 1758 –
March 14, 1771)
|June 3, 1760||August 2, 1760|
|Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet||August 2, 1760||August 1, 1769|
(acting, August 2, 1769 –
March 14, 1771)
|August 2, 1769||May 17, 1774|
(March 14, 1771 –
died March 3, 1774)
|General The Hon. Thomas Gage||May 17, 1774||October 11, 1775|
(August 8, 1774 – March 17, 1776)
|Source unless otherwise cited: Massachusetts Royal Commissions, pp. xxxiii–xxxv|
- Grizzard and Smith, p. 189
- Vaughan, p. 64
- Hart, p. 1:67
- Hart, p. 1:69
- Hart, p. 1:72
- Hart, p. 1:78
- Hart, p. 1:83
- Hart, p. 1:607
- Hart, pp. 1:569–572
- Barnes, pp. 267–269
- Capen, p. 54
- Moore, p. 46
- Moore, p. 79
- 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.
- Adams and Nash, pp. 25–29
- Adams and Nash, pp. 29–30
- Adams and Nash, pp. 30–31
- Levermore, p. 603
- Adams and Nash, pp. 31–34
- Hart, pp. 1:96–99
- Moore, pp. 240, 348
- Moore, pp. 348–349
- Hart, pp. 1:99–101
- Moore, pp. 242,350
- Hart, pp. 1:112, 1:607
- Barnes, pp. 6–32
- Hart, p. 1:566
- Barnes, pp. 46–69
- Hart, pp. 1:600–601
- Hart, p. 1:602
- Moore, p. 244
- Capen (p. 54) incorrectly lists Dudley as deputy; it was in fact Endecott. Davis, p. 163
- Moore, p. 393
- Moore, p. 385
- Moore, p. 226
- Barnes, pp. 29–30
- Barnes, pp. 32–39
- Barnes, pp. 128–130, 187–201
- Barnes, pp. 234–250
- Hart, pp. 1:602–603
- Barnes, pp. 247–249
- Barnes, pp. 45–49
- Barnes, p. 54
- Barnes, p. 69
- Barnes, p. 55
- Barnes, p. 72
- Hart, pp. 2:514–523, 2:591
- Hart, p. 2:562
- French, p. 130
- French, p. 355
- Peters, pp. 16–18
- Kimball, pp. 77, 193
- Massachusetts Royal Commissions, p. xxxiv
- Kimball, pp. 193–197
- This is the de facto end of Gage's tenure, when he departed Boston for the last time. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, p. 17:87
- This is the de facto end of Oliver's tenure, when he departed Boston for the last time. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, p. 17:96
- Adams, Charles; Nash, Gilbert (1905). Wessagusset and Weymouth. Weymouth, MA: Weymouth Historical Society. OCLC 1066255.
- Barnes, Viola Florence (1960) . The Dominion of New England: A Study in British Colonial Policy. New York: Frederick Ungar. ISBN 978-0-8044-1065-6. OCLC 395292.
- Capen, Nahum (ed) (1851). The Massachusetts State Record, Volume 5. Boston: James French. OCLC 1770853.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Davis, William Thomas (1895). Bench and Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Volume 1. Boston, MA: The Boston History Company. OCLC 15711603.
- French, Allen (1911). The Siege of Boston. New York: McMillan. OCLC 3927532.
- Gifford, Stephen Nye; Marden, George Augustus; McLaughlin, Edward A.; Clapp, E. Herbert; Robinson, William Stevens; Sleeper, George T.; Coolidge, Henry D.; Kimball, James W.; Stowe, William; Taylor, Charles Henry (1880). A Manual for the Use of the General Court. Boston. OCLC 1251790.
- Grizzard, Frank; Smith, D. Boyd (2007). Jamestown Colony: a Political, Social, and Cultural History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC–CLIO. ISBN 978-1-85109-642-8. OCLC 123965653.
- Hart, Albert Bushnell (ed) (1927). Commonwealth History of Massachusetts. New York: The States History Company. OCLC 1543273.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) A multi-volume history of Massachusetts, structured as a series of essays on many topics.
- Kimball, Everett (1911). The Public Life of Joseph Dudley. New York: Longmans, Green. OCLC 1876620.
- Levermore, Charles (ed) (1912). Forerunners and Competitors of the Pilgrims and Puritan, Volume 2. Brooklyn, NY: New England Society of Brooklyn. OCLC 1728802.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Massachusetts Royal Commissions, 1681–1774. Boston, MA: Colonial Society of Massachusetts. 1913. OCLC 1564125.
- Moore, Jacob Bailey (1851). Lives of the Governors of New Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. Boston: C. D. Strong. OCLC 11362972.
- Peters, Ronald M (1978). The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: a Social Compact. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-0-87023-143-8. OCLC 3516166.
- Vaughan, Alden (2007). Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500–1776. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86594-4. OCLC 243513137.
- Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Volume 17. Boston, MA: Colonial Society of Massachusetts. 1915. OCLC 1564125.