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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Learning Objective III:

Discuss the early settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and demonstrate your understanding of how this colony was a prime example of salutary neglect



While the Colony of New Plymouth was struggling along in the 1620s, a dozen fishing and trading posts were founded along the New England coast from southern Maine to Massachusetts Bay, and in some cases without permission. One of these trading posts established in 1626 was developed at present day Salem and was taken over by a group of leading Congregationalists in 1628.

After obtaining a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company from King Charles I in 1629, when Anglo-Catholic pressure began to be severely felt, the Congregationalists voted to transfer charter, government, and members to New England. The colony got off to a fast start with a well-equipped expedition in 1630, with 11 ships carrying 900 to 1,000 men and women who founded Boston and seven other towns nearby.

The transfer of the Massachusetts Bay charter and the results of the transfer represent an important element in the development of American institutions. With both the charter and company in America, the colony became practically independent of England. The "freemen," as stockholders were then called, became voters and elected the governor, deputy-governor and assistants who made up the upper branch of the legislative assembly. Thus, neither the King nor Parliament had any say in the Massachusetts government. The franchise or right to vote was restricted to church members, which prevented non-Congregationalists from participating in the government.

In 1635, the English government tried to revoke the Massachusetts Bay Company charter, but the colony refused to return it. After numerous delays and pleas from Massachusetts, plus internal political and religious problems within England, England finally was in a position to revoke the charter in June of 1684 after allowing almost 50 years of self-government to develop. "Salutary neglect" again became the unofficial policy of the English government which allowed for truly American institutions, such as "geographical representation" versus "virtual representation ," to be developed within the American environment out of the European model.

Between 1686-1689 England attempted to end "salutary neglect" with the creation of the Dominion of New England . The Dominion was a vast new colony which included all of New England plus New York and New Jersey .

Dominion of New England


The Dominion was to serve several purposes.

  •  Most important , the Dominion was designed to promote urgently needed efficiency in the administration of the English Navigation Acts. The Navigation Acts sought to stitch the colonies more tightly to the mother country and to cut off American trade with countries not ruled by the English Crown.
  • The Dominion was also an attempt to lighten the cost of Administration and generally tighten the overall control of the colonies.
  • Finally the Dominion was aimed at bolstering colonial defense in the event of war with the Native Americans and the French in Canada.

Sir Edmund Andros

Governor of the Dominion of New England 1686-1689

The headquarters for the Dominion was in Boston and Sir Edmund Andros was made the governor of the new colony. Andros, who had been a professional soldier, had shown earlier as governor of New York that he could be a skilled colonial administrator.

At the demand of King James II all colonial legislatures were dissolved , and Andros and the local councils appointed by the King assumed all of the judicial and legislative power . Andros charged quite rents and laid heavy restrictions on the press and schools. The results of Andros' actions forced the liberty-loving colonists, accustomed to unusual privileges during long decades of neglect, to the edge of revolt.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 disposed of James and created an opportunity for the colonists to rid themselves of the Dominion. When word reached Massachusetts that William and Mary had been offered the crown in England, the Congregationalists wasted little time in jailing Andros and his council in what resulted in a bloodless revolution by over 1,000 armed colonists.

The justification for the overthrow was that the Dominion was part of James' tyrannical policies and was no longer a legal or valid institution. Massachusetts, though rid of Andros, did not gain as much from the upheaval as she had hoped. In 1691 the colony was ·made a royal colony, with a new charter and a new royal governor. Worst of all, the privilege of voting, once a monopoly of church members, was to be enjoyed by all qualified male property owners.

The rise and fall of the Dominion marks a turning point in American history. Success would have led to the unification of the colonies under two separate governors; if successful, the rest of the colonies would have been combined into a Southern Dominion and the reduction of colonial self-government would have taken place. Also, if successful, there would have been no colonies to become states after the American Revolutionary War and, possibly, no American Revolution .

Supplementary Material