E/MS Unit II

Lesson A: The First English Settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Key Questions

  1. How did the first settlers decide where to establish towns?
  2. How were additional towns established?

Primary Sources

Document E/MS II-1: Home Away from Home: Excerpts from John Winthrop’s Journal

Document E/MS II-1: Home Away from Home: Excerpts from John Winthrop’s Journal

John Winthrop was the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. He kept a journal from 1630 until he died in 1649. It is among the best written records we have of the early years of the colony.

Saturday, June 12, 1630 About 4 in the morning we were near our port [of Salem]….As we stood towards the harbor, we passed through the narrow strait between Bakers Island and Kettle Isle and came to an anchor a little within the islands.

Thursday, June 17, 1630 We went to Mattachusettes[1] to find out a place for our sitting down [settling]. We went up Misticke River about 6 miles.

November 10, 1630 [A settler] of Watertown had his wigwam burnt.[2]

December 6, 1630 The governor and most of the assistants and other met at Rockesburie, and there agreed to build a town fortified upon the next between this and Boston…

December 21, 1630 We met again at Watertown and there, upon view of a place a mile beneath the town, all agreed it a fit place for a fortified town[3], and we took time to consider further about it.

January 1631 A house at Dorchester was burned down.

February 7, 1632 The governor…and others went over Mystic River at Medford, and going about 2 or 3 miles they came to a very great pond with they called Spott Ponde. They went all about it upon the ice.

March 1633 The governor’s son, John Winthrop (Jr.) went with 12 more to begin a plantation at Agawam, after called Ipswich….

May 6, 1635 A General Court was held at Newtown…. At this General Court some of the chief of Ipswich desired leave to remove to Quascacunquen[4] to begin a town there, which was granted them and it was named Nueberrye. Also, Watertown and Roxbury had leave to remove whither they pleased so [long] as they continued under this governor. The occasion of their desire to remove was for that all towns in the Bay began to be much straitened by their o’er nearness one to another, and their cattle being so much increased…

Quoted in The Journal of John Winthrop 1630–1649, (abridged), ed. by Richard S. Dunn, Richard S. and Laetitia Yeandle (The Belknap Press, 1996).

[1] the area we now know as Boston harbor

[2] In the first year, many of the the colonists’ temporary shelters burned very easily, especially when brush fires were set to clear nearby land.

[3] This would be Newtowne, later Cambridge.

[4] The Abenaki name for what we now know as Newbury meant “the long ridge.”


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