Sir William Phips
Painting: by Henry J. Sutton, Jr., 1930

Royal Governor of Massachusetts: 1692-1694

William Phips was an unusual choice to be the first Royal Governor of Massachusetts. Rather than being of royal blood, he was born near Kennebec, Maine, the youngest of twenty-six children. He was never formally educated; instead, he learned the ship-carpentry trade from his father.

So, how does such a man earn a knighthood and the first commission as Royal Governor of Massachusetts? Phips came to Boston where he would eventually captain a supply ship and make a fortune leading an expedition to recover treasure from sixteen ships lost near Haiti. As captain he kept sixteen percent of the take, the English Crown received ten percent. Phips was knighted and appointed the first Governor of the Province of Massachusetts.

Phips faced the difficult task of convincing colonists that this new royal governorship would protect the rights they had enjoyed as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He faced a great deal of mistrust, as well as having to contend with the Salem Witch trials. Phips convened the Supreme Judicial Court to adjudicate the remaining witch trial charges. Chief Justice William Stoughton had theological training but no legal background. The trials, which he administered, accepted spiritual evidence, denied counsel to defendants, and placed judges as the prosecution. Charges of witchcraft even spiraled to Phips' own wife. Phips eventually denied enforcement of Chief Justice Stoughton's orders to execute women convicted as witches who had previously been spared due to pregnancy.

Unfortunately, Phips had little political experience. He soon found his administration facing charges of corruption, and he was recalled to London where he died the next year. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice William Stoughton.