The Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1629
~ Links from the Present to the Past ~

In 1979, to mark the three hundred fiftieth year anniversary of the 1629 Massachusetts Bay Charter, a commemorative pamphlet was published by then Secretary of the Commonwealth Kevin H. White, and made available during public display of the original charter in the Archives Museum in the West Wing of the State House. The booklet reads:

"Charles I, King of England, in 1629 granted the charter to the 'Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in Newe England.' 1

"The charter was engrossed with a goose quill pen on four sheets of sheepskin. On the first sheet appears the portrait of the King, the Lion of England with a banner bearing the Cross of St. George, the Unicorn of Scotland with a banner bearing the Cross of St. Andrew, the Lily of France, the Tudor Rose and Crown, and smaller roses and shamrocks.

"The four sheets were tied together with cords which were embedded in a large circle of brown wax bearing the Great Seal of Charles I; the design of which has been worn away during the past three centuries."

The pamphlet includes four separate images depicting the sheets of inscribed sheepskin. The Charter's verbiage has been carefully transcribed and offered on the links footnoted below. 2


1 Signed by Charles, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland on March 4, 1628/9 --- the Massachusetts Bay Charter was considered by some an act of Divine Providence to enable the formation of a Puritan commonwealth in the New World, the New Jerusalem. However, it would be take human in(ter)vention and a course of actions --- legal and not --- to ultimately attain this end ... or what can be more accurately termed the beginning.

Much as business corporations are organized today, the Massachusetts Bay Company was a joint-stock corporation, with stockholders (or freemen) choosing the president and board of directors (called Governor and Assistants) to manage the company's affairs. Therefore the corporation was subject to "takeover" should it become insolvent, and when the company went bankrupt in 1629, a group of Puritans headed by John Winthrop purchased the stock from its owners, along with the patent and charter.

On the 26th of August in 1629 at Cambridge, England, Winthrop and company signed a compact which, along with the Charter, is the basis of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The document read:

It is fully and faithfully agreed amongst us, ... that ... we will be ready in our persons ... to embarke for the said plantation by the first of March next, ... to the end to passe the seas (under God's protection) to inhabite and continue in New England. Provided always, that before the last of September next the whole government together with the patent for the said plantation be first by an order of court legally transferred and established to remain with us and others which shall inhabite upon the said plantation.

Before leaving for the New World, a high government official was bribed to hand over the Charter to Winthrop. This was a crucial act since, under English law, whoever held possession of a charter with the Crown's seal would be endowed with all powers over said charter, and therefore could interpret (and interpolate) laws in its regard. Previously, the King of England was the sole holder of all charters, thus the Crown retained total control and jurisdiction. However, by arriving in the Bay Colony with the charter signed, sealed and delivered --- Winthrop could dictate the rules of the Massachusetts Bay Colony plantation --- and did so, forthwith. But first the company must make the harrowing trip across the Atlantic.

The compact cites the company was "to embark for the said Plantation by the first of March next, at such port or ports of this land as shall be agreed upon by the Company, to the end to pass the Seas (under God's protection) to inhabit and continue in New England: Provided always, that before the last of September next, the whole Government, together with the patent for the said Plantation, be first, by an order of Court, legally transferred and established to remain with us and others which shall inhabit upon the said Plantation ..." With minor adjustments to the itinerary, Winthrop and company held to the timelines set forth in the Cambridge Agreement.

Nearly a month behind schedule when embarking from Southampton England on March 29, 1630 --- a departure further delayed by weather for yet another week --- the company's 11-ship flotilla left for the New World and arrived in the New World two months later. The flagship Arbella made landfall in Salem's port of Beverly harbor on June 12th with the adventurers carrying the Massachusetts Bay Charter in hand. The government was formed and the first meeting of the General Court of Assistants would be held in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on August 23rd --- a month plus a week ahead of the timelines cited in the Cambridge Agreement (and just three days shy of said agreement's first year milestone).

Certain knowledge can be gained from links within at:
City upon a Hill
The Waterside

More insight about the Winthrop company's 1630 expedition at this link without.

Review excerpts from Withrop's diary and other material at the (link without) with glimpse more insight about this period in Massachusetts colonial history at this link without.

2 A link to Yale's Avalon Project transcribes the Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1629 verbatim et spellatim in Old to Middle English (OE/ME). Note that in this transcription, the word "motion" is transcribed as "mocon" as it appears in the original 1629 document. Given the archaic orthography throughout made review difficult, spelling has been slightly modified in a standardized version of the landmark document. A link within this site provides an online copy of the standard modified version --- also pointing out the passage and clause that inspired the Waterside movement (and its bywords, Motion of Comity). The entire transcript, rendered in modern English, can be reviewed at this link without.

Further note that the charter of 1629 had been cancelled by a judgment of the high court of chancery of England June 18, 1684, with the second Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1691 issued thereafter. A comparison of the two is interesting for the scholar and layperson alike.


Back to Top

Site Design by Bright iDear   Copyright © 2002-2014 All Rights Reserved
Website:  Email: