William Shirley
Painting: by Thomas Hudson, c. 1750

Royal Governor of Massachusetts: 1741-1749, 1753-1756

William Shirley was born in London where he trained as a lawyer. He moved his family to Boston in 1731, where he practiced law and held various royal posts including serving as the Surveyor of the King's Woods. In this role he traveled through the northern territories of Massachusetts and came to understand the concerns of common people in outlying settlements. The constant fear there was of massacre by the French led by native tribes.

Shirley served as Advocate General before being appointed as Royal Governor in 1741. Though Shirley and the Legislature had disagreements, they were put aside as England and France went to war in 1744. Governor Shirley enthusiastically supported England, and he orchestrated the attack of the French stronghold in Louisberg, Nova Scotia in June of 1745.

Shirley began construction of his mansion in (1747-1751), which still stands today in Roxbury. In 1749, he took leave to return to England to participate in boundary negotiations with the French, which would determine the division between New England and New France. Upon his return, Governor Shirley was promoted by King George II to Commander of England's North American forces, which he held while governing Massachusetts. In 1755, he led an unsuccessful attack on a French position in what today is upstate New York. For this he was relieved of duty in 1756 and returned to England to answer charges of treason and incompetence.

Shirley made a successful defense of himself and in 1758 was named Governor of the Bahamas. He enjoyed this posting for a decade before surrendering it to his son. He then returned to Massachusetts to live in Shirley Place in Roxbury, and he was eventually buried at King's Chapel in Boston.