Essex Men Who Built the United States: Part Two - Massachusetts Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Essex Men Who Built the United States: Part Two - Massachusetts

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Essex Men Who Built the United States
Introduction | Virginia | Massachusetts | Connecticut
Rhode Island | Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey
Georgia | The United States

Under Edwin Sandys, the Virginia Company granted a charter for a group of religious exiles to start an isolated settlement in the far north of the Virginia Colony. This settlement, north of the Hudson River, was to become Massachusetts.

Christopher Jones (1570 - 1622)

It should surprise nobody that Christopher Jones's ship-owning father was also called Christopher. The son was born in Harwich, Essex and it was always likely that he would follow his father into being a merchant sailor. He was married twice, first to 17-year-old Sarah Twitt, daughter of a wealthy innkeeper and ship-owner, when he was 23. In the year she died, a decade later, Jones married a 20-year-old widow, Josian Gray, daughter of a sea captain.

A prominent member of the local community, by 1609 Jones was also the commander of a ship. The Mayflower, of which Jones owned a fourth, was a large merchant ship and different sources put her at between 120 and 180 tons. Her regular journey involved trading cloth for wine with France.

In 1611, Jones moved from his house in King's Head Street in Harwich to Rotherhithe, near London, from where he continued to ply his trade. In 1620, he was chartered to take a congregation of exiles and certain merchants to Virginia. He moved his family back to Harwich and set off for America. The Mayflower left Plymouth, Devon on 6 September, 1620 and reached Cape Cod just over two months later. On 16 December, the ship anchored at Plymouth, New England and the crew helped to establish the colony before leaving for England again in April.

Captain Jones made one further trip to France before he died in 1622. He was buried in Rotherhithe.

The Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrim Fathers acted as an advance party charged with setting up the colony in New England and making it ready for the rest of their congregation. The group of 23 men, 13 women and 17 children left the Netherlands for Southampton in July of 1620 on the Speedwell. One of the party was John Crackstone and his son John who were originally from Colchester.

The party joined up with a set of 'merchant adventurers' and some hired hands on board the Mayflower. The merchants included: Christopher Martin of Billericay, his wife Marie and their servants Solomon Prower and John Langemore; Peter Browne of Great Burstead, a village near Billericay; and Richard Gardiner of Harwich. John Alden, a Harwich cooper, who was related to Captain Jones, was one of five men hired to accompany the group.

The Speedwell only got as far as Dartmouth before needing repairs. Upon reaching Plymouth, it was decided that the ship was not seaworthy, so most people were loaded onto the Mayflower, which then set off for the New World.

Most of the Essex migrants did not make it past their first year in America. Only John Crackstone junior, Peter Browne, Richard Gardiner and John Alden survived.

John Winthrop the Elder (1588 - 1649)

John Winthrop was the son of the lord of the manor of Gronton in Suffolk, Adam Winthrop. His cousins included members of the highly respected Essex family of Mildmay who owned land around Springfield and Little Baddow near Chelmsford.

While at university in Cambridge, he met William Forth whose father John Forth owned Great Stambridge Hall on the banks of the River Roche just east of Rochford. It was here, where Winthrop spent some of his holidays, that he met his first wife, Mary Forth. Having left Cambridge without a degree in 1605, he married in April of that year. The couple's first son, John1, who would later play a big part in the story of the Connecticut colony, was born in 1606. The couple had four more children and, when John Forth died, Winthrop inherited his lands. Winthrop decided to follow his father's profession and became a lawyer, being admitted to Gray's Inn in 1613.

Mary died in July 1615 and Winthrop hooked up with Thomasine Clopton of Suffolk in December of that year. When Thomasine died one year later, the event sent Winthrop into a bout of depression. In April 1618, he married Margaret Tyndal of Great Maplestead in the north of Essex. In 1626, he became attorney of the Court of Wards and Liveries and was admitted to the Inner Temple two years later. The death of his mother led to another bout of depression, after which he lost his post. It was at this point that the prospect of emigration started to appeal to John Winthrop.

At a meeting of the Massachusetts Company in 1630, he was elected as governor. Winthrop said that it was his calling to establish a 'bible commonwealth' in America free of the corruption of the Church of England. He left on the Arbella in March with three of his sons. His wife, who was pregnant, and his son John stayed behind. The ships were delayed at the Isle of Wight, where Winthrop started a journal that would later become a vital source for historians trying to piece together early colonial history. During the voyage, he also wrote and delivered his famous sermon, 'A Model of Christian Charity', in which he laid out his vision for the colony.

Landing in June, Winthrop originally settled in Charlestown, but fresh water shortages forced a move to a site on the south bank of the Charles River that would later become Boston. In 1631, Winthrop was elected governor again. He then changed the rules of the colony soon after election. The new charter, which almost nobody got to see, said that all adult males could become freemen of the colony and would be eligible to vote for the governor, his deputy and the General Court2. Winthrop restricted the status of freeman to members of the church. The rest of Winthrop's family and household arrived in November 1631, though his infant daughter had not survived the voyage.

Winthrop was re-elected once again in 1632. In the following year, the freemen demanded to see the charter, and after seeing that the council was the only legislative body, they objected to putting more power in the hands of the governor, booting out Winthrop in 1634 and replacing him with his deputy governor, Thomas Dudley.

In 1637, Winthrop was instrumental in banishing Anne Hutchinson, the leader of a sect in the Boston church (see below). In 1638, the Commission for Foreign Plantations demanded the return of the colony's charter. Winthrop sent a letter to the Privy Council in which he laid out his reasons for refusing: in their response, the Privy Council acknowledged these reasons, but still demanded the return of the charter. Fortunately for Winthrop, the English Civil War took their minds off colonial matters for a while. Winthrop also encountered distractions: in 1639, news reached him that the agent he had left in charge of his affairs in England had mismanaged his money. This led to him having major financial problems later in his life. Winthrop decided to retire from public office, which appeased many of the freemen who worried that he had the job for life.

In 1642, however, Winthrop returned to office. He was elected president of the governing board of the New England Confederation, an alliance of the military including Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Plymouth, arranged so as to protect themselves from Indian attacks.

In 1645, Winthrop delivered a speech in which he talked about how the nature of the office of governor was that of the people's elected representative. This led to an increase in his popularity which saw him re-elected every year until his death. Winthrop also acted as a magistrate and was elected deputy governor in 1636 and 1644.

A committed Puritan, Winthrop was described as a discreet and sober man and as ruling with much mildness and justice, as well as being honest and tactful. He provided much of the political and moral leadership of the colony in its early years. He was buried in King's Chapel graveyard in Boston.

Henry Vane (1613 - 1662)

The story of Henry Vane is one of a high flyer whose power and influence proved to be his downfall. He was the son of Sir Henry Vane, Secretary of State. His maternal grandfather was Thomas D'Arcy of Tolleshunt D'Arcy near the Blackwater Estuary. He was born in Debden in north-west Essex. He attended Westminster School and Oxford University, which he left without attaining a degree. He decided that his future lay abroad and wandered off to Massachusetts on the Abigail in 1635. He arrived in Boston in October 1635 and soon became a member of the church.

The freemen were so taken with Vane that they elected him, at the age of barely 23, as their governor. The young newcomer had also become part of the group led by Anne Hutchinson. She believed that people should receive all their guidance directly from God and that ministers along with most of the establishment should be abolished. Vane's support for her brought him into direct conflict with many of the colony's elders. He lost the race for governor to Winthrop in the following year and the group lost its power. Vane returned to England in August 1637 and embarked on his parliamentary career.

Vane was knighted in 1640, the same year he entered the House of Commons. He became one of the leading figures in the House in 1643 and associated himself with Oliver Cromwell. He was prominent in the Long Parliament, and after its dissolution he retired to write The Retired Man's Meditations, which was published in 1655. It attacked Cromwell's style of government and led to the recall of the Long Parliament in 1659.

When the monarchy was restored a year later, all those involved with the rebellion against the king and the subsequent governments were pardoned, with the exception of 50 people. Vane was one of these people: he was charged with high treason and was executed on Tower Hill on 14 June, 1662.

Nathaniel Ward (1578 - 1652)

Born in Haverhill on the Essex-Suffolk border, Ward is an unusual figure in this story on two counts. Firstly, he wasn't named after his father. Secondly, he managed to go to university and come out with a degree!

Ward practised law for a decade before taking holy orders in 1618. He became rector of Stondon Massey church near Brentwood in 1628, although he was suspended in 1633 on account of his non-conformist views. A year later, he took most of his family to Massachusetts where he became the first pastor of Ipswich, a post he held for two years before resigning on health grounds.

Ward was asked by the General Court to draw up a legal code, in part to curb John Winthrop's power. He produced the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, which was adopted by the General Court in 1641. The work advocated democracy over theocracy. Ward was rewarded with 600 acres of land that he named Haverhill after his birthplace. Ward was also on a committee that subsequently revised these laws, producing the 1648 Book of the Massachusetts General Laws and Libertyes: based on Ward's earlier work, this was incorporated into the legal structure of many of the other colonies.

In the meantime, Ward had returned to England where he championed religious tolerance and attacked the army's control of parliament. He spent the last four years of his life as rector of Shenfield, near Brentwood.

William (1590 - 1662) and John (1626 - 1703) Pynchon

Without the Pynchons, what is possibly the most famous small town in America would not exist. William Pynchon owned land and houses in two villages near Chelmsford: Writtle and Springfield. A well-educated man and devoted Puritan, he agreed to settle in Massachusetts and was named in the Massachusetts Bay Company charter. He was tasked with acquiring ordnance for the colony and sailed aboard the Arbella in the spring of 1630.

Pynchon brought with him much of his wealth and set himself up as a fur trader in Roxbury, a town that he founded. His business prospered and he became treasurer of the colony in 1632. In 1636, he took a party to the junction of the Connecticut and Agawam rivers and it was here that he founded Springfield.

Over the ensuing decades, other Springfields popped up all over the United States. Precisely because of there being so many of them, Matt Groening used the name for the hometown of the Simpsons. It is a running gag in the show that it is never revealed which state Springfield is actually in.

Although Massachusetts tried to govern the towns along the Connecticut River, these decided to form their own colony of Connecticut. While Pynchon went along with this at first, he fell out with Connecticut's rulers and supported Massachusetts's claim on Springfield. In Springfield, what William Pynchon wanted, he got: he owned most of the land, paid most of the tax, was appointed magistrate and ruled the town with a cabinet made up of his son, his two sons-in-law and the local minister.

When one of Pynchon's theological tracts attacking the orthodox view of atonement was published, he was driven from the colony. He returned to England in 1652 where he lived near Windsor and dedicated his life to studying theology. His estates in New England and Essex provided for a comfortable existence for the remaining ten years of his life.

His son John remained in Springfield where he expanded his father's business interests across New England and even as far as Barbados. He held a number of public offices and was also a captain of the local militia. John Pynchon established peace treaties with the Mohawk tribe and forged strong relationships with the natives based on his excellent understanding of their language and culture.

Hugh Peters (1598 - 1660)

Although Peters was actually born in Cornwall, after leaving Cambridge he came to preach in Essex. He was the schoolmaster for Laindon, which today is part of Basildon. In 1624 he married Elizabeth Read, the widow of Edmund Read of Wickford. In 1635 Peters's step-daughter Elizabeth3 married John Winthrop the Younger. 369 years later, two of their descendants, George W Bush and John Kerry, fought against each other in the 2004 presidential election campaign.

Peters was forced to move to the Netherlands because of his non-conformist views. As the authorities threatened to make English churches in the Netherlands conform to Anglican doctrine, he chose to leave for New England with the Winthrops. He became the minister of Salem in December 1636.

He returned to England as one of three agents appointed by the colony to drum up new settlers. Peters preached during the trial of King Charles, and these sermons were said to have justified the court's sentence. While he was prominent during Oliver Cromwell's reign, he faded away from public life after that, aside from declaring the overthrow of Richard Cromwell 'very sinful and ruining'. As in the case of Henry Vane, the new government after the Restoration decided to exclude Peters from the Act of Indemnity and after being found guilty of High Treason, he was executed at Charing Cross.

Nathaniel Rogers (1598 - 1655)

Nathaniel Rogers was born in Haverhill on the border of Essex and Suffolk. He was a Cambridge graduate and became a priest in 1619. He had close links to many of the Essex puritans and in 1636 he emigrated to Massachusetts with his wife Margaret. He took over from Nathaniel Ward as co-pastor of Ipswich in 1638. Rogers had a son, John, who became president of Harvard University, and a daughter from his time in England. From his time in Ipswich he had another four sons. At the turn of the 20th Century, Nathaniel Rogers had more descendants than the head of any other early migrant family.

John Eliot (1604 - 1690)

The British migrants believed it was their duty to convert the native community to Christianity. John Eliot was perhaps the most celebrated of the New England missionaries. He was the son of Bennet Eliot, a yeoman of Nazeing, south-west of modern-day Harlow and, after he received a BA from Cambridge, he entered the priesthood. In 1629 he became an assistant at Thomas Hooker's school in Little Baddow near Chelmsford. Influenced by Hooker, Eliot's views became more non-conformist, and the pair drew in a congregation that became known as the Little Baddow Independents.

Eliot sailed to America in August 1631 on board the Lyon, after some friends asked him to come along and be their minister. After being a substitute for the local Boston pastor, he moved to join his Essex friends at Roxbury. The marriage between Eliot and his newly-arrived fiancée in October 1632 was the first to be recorded in the town. In November, Eliot became the teacher and pastor for Roxbury.

Eliot started to try and convert the natives of the area in 1646, and three years later was helping out with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England. The society funded Eliot's attempts to translate the Bible for the American Indians in the early 1660s. Much of Eliot's work was undone after the King Philip's War of 1675 - 1676. After the massacres that the colonists inflicted on the natives, many of the local tribes no longer had faith in the good intentions of the Puritans.

Eliot died aged 86 and was buried at his church in Roxbury. He was regarded as a saintly man without personal ambition and fanaticism who lived only to serve others.

1Is anybody surprised by the choice of name?2This was the parliament that was made up of the governor, deputy and 18 assistants.3It's not only the sons' names that are somewhat lacking in originality.

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