1630

Governor Winthrop at Salem

Governor Winthrop at Salem

In June and July of 1630, the Winthrop fleet arrived at Salem carrying one thousand pilgrims aboard eleven vessels. Its leader, John Winthrop, carried the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company which established Massachusetts as a private business venture chartered by the Crown.

This charter obliged the colony to produce profits to reward their investors. However, it increasingly became clear that Massachusetts' leaders were more interested in creating a theocratic society than profits. Winthrop and most of the Governors who followed him were required to legally and politically defend their status under this charter. The Crown revoked it in 1686, which ended the colony's self-determination by imposing Royal Governors, rather than allowing the colony to select its own leadership.

Pictured here, Governor Winthrop is met by John Endecott who came to Salem with a contingent of colony members to prepare for that larger group's arrival. Under Winthrop's leadership, the Massachusetts Bay Colony set off to establish themselves away from other settlements. After initially assessing Charlestown, the settlers found better sources of water on the Shawmut Peninsula, which was occupied by the reclusive Reverend William Blackstone. As fate would have it, Winthrop and Blackstone knew each other in England, and quickly made arrangements for the colony to take over the peninsula, which they named "Boston".

1697

The Repentance of Samuel Sewall

The Repentance of Samuel Sewall

As a judge involved in the witchcraft trials in Salem, Samuel Sewall became convinced these convictions were horrible mistakes, which wrongly led the colony to take the lives of nineteen persons.

Judge Sewall drafted a proclamation with which the legislature declared a day of fasting and repentance across Massachusetts. On that first "Fast Day" on January 14th, 1697, Judge Sewall publicly accepted the "blame and shame" for his actions. At the Old South Church he provided pastor Samuel Willard a letter of confession, which Willard read letter aloud, as Sewall stood before the congregation. Each year Sewall fasted to remember his transgression, and "Fast Day" was declared annually by the legislature over the next two centuries.

Sewall served (1692-1728) as judge of the superior court of the colony, being chief justice during the last 10 years. He authored the abolitionist text, "The Selling of Joseph", and left behind his famous diary that became an important artifact of this time.

Repentance for the witch trials continued in Massachusetts. In 1706 Anne Putnam, one of the accusers of the executed women, made a stirring public confession herself. Just five years later, in 1711 the Massachusetts legislature voted to financially compensate the affected families for "damages sustained by sundry persons prosecuted for witchcraft in the year 1692."

1788

John Hancock Proposes the Bill of Rights

John Hancock Proposes the Bill of Rights

Governor John Hancock had convened 364 delegates representing every part of the Commonwealth to consider ratification of the newly proposed United States Constitution. He began their deliberations by simply pointing out the "truly respectable" character of those who had authored the draft, but without endorsing or promoting its ratification.

After several weeks of debate, the majority of delegates appeared to be disposed against the Constitution. Hancock, who was in poor health, had stayed away from the proceedings. At this point he took his place as President of the Convention and delivered a speech recommending several changes and additions to the Constitution. Among these were provisions to reserve powers not delegated the Congress to the states, that Congress not give trade advantages to individual companies, and limitations to the Supreme Court's jurisdiction.

Governor Hancock's proposal was followed immediately by an endorsement by Samuel Adams, who had earlier been disposed against the Constitution. This change swayed the delegation, and moved the Constitution toward ratification. On February 6th, 1788 the delegates ratified the Constitution 187-168 votes. The result was announced publicly the next day, and was met with jubilation, parades, and a gala celebration. The Articles of Confederation was ended and the states of America were newly united.

1779

Drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution

Drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution

The Massachusetts Constitution is the oldest continuously-used constitution of any state or nation in the world. It was drafted by John Adams, James Bowdoin, Samuel Adams, three greatly respected leaders in post-colonial Massachusetts.

  • John Adams was the leading expert on constitutional law during the revolution, and was the document's primary author. He was an intellectual leader of the revolution, serving in diplomatic roles in Holland and France before election as Vice President, and the Second United State President.
  • James Bowdoin was the President of Massachusetts' Constitutional Convention, and was respected for his wartime leadership, fiscal discipline and broad knowledge of literature and culture.
  • Samuel Adams was the famous promoter of the revolution, whose writing and speeches inspired a popular desire for freedom. Though he let his cousin John Adams do most of the writing, Samuel Adams support was critical to both the Massachusetts, and later, the United States Constitution.

The Massachusetts Constitution was adopted in 1780, during the Revolutionary War. It became a model for the United States Constitution and for several other state constitutions. It begins with a preamble and a declaration of rights, followed by articles which frame the workings of the Commonwealth's government.

The Massachusetts Constitution notably allows private citizens to file legislation, called "the right of free petition," which citizens still enjoy. Massachusetts relied on the rights guaranteed in its Constitution to declare slavery unlawful in 1783, some eighty years before the Civil War.

Read the Massachusetts Constitution

1689

The Arrest of Governor Andros

The Arrest of Governor Andros

Sir Edmund Andros earned the ire of colonial subjects by asserting the will of England, and his own will, with a despotic arrogance. He curtailed his subjects' rights to assemble, to govern themselves locally or even to leave the colony.

However, his efforts to exert dominion over colonial religion most grieved colonial subjects. Andros took control of the Old South Church to provide a worship place for loyalist Anglicans. Further, he stripped the colonial clergy of their power to legally consecrate marriages.

There was such a pent-up hatred of Andros, that when news of the accession of William and Mary reached Boston, colonials rebelled and imprisoned him and his officials. They were held on Castle Island before being sent back to England as prisoners to answer for their actions.