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Massachusetts at the end of the 17th century


Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard

After taking the English throne in 1685, James II decided to consolidate the New England colonies as the Dominion of New England. In December 1686 Sir Edmund Andros arrived in Boston as royal governor of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. By 1688 the dominion included all of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Nova Scotia. The dominion government made Andros a virtual dictator. Under his harsh rule the colonists were not allowed to have a representative assembly, town meetings were permitted only once a year, and taxation was imposed by the provincial governments without the consent of the colonists. The governor also supported the Church of England against the interests of the Puritans.

All these moves greatly angered the people of Massachusetts. In 1689, when it was learned that James II had been overthrown and fled England, Andros was seized in Boston and the dominion collapsed. For the next two years the colony was governed under a temporary government of Puritan leaders with a popular assembly.

Royal Colony


In 1691 a new royal charter was granted for the colony of Massachusetts, which incorporated the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island, Maine, and Nova Scotia. Under the charter a popular assembly was established to aid the royal governor, and the right to elect representatives to the assembly was based on property qualifications, rather than on church membership. The royal charter ended control of Massachusetts government by Puritan religious leaders. Their influence was further weakened after an outbreak of hysteria in 1692 in Salem, in which hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft. The accusations, mostly made by young girls, came at a time of religious, political, and social divisions.

After a series of trials, 19 people were executed as witches, and one man who refused to enter a plea to the charge was also put to death, before leading ministers helped end the scare. Although Puritan influence declined, the Congregational Church retained a privileged position in Massachusetts until the 19th century.

The relationship between the colonists and the royal governor was strained from the outset, simply because the governor represented the king and had veto power over the General Court. However, the court was able to exercise some control over the governor because it paid his salary. During this period, Massachusetts was extensively involved in Britain’s wars with France over domination of North America and Europe. The fighting in North America took place intermittently between 1689 and 1760, with each side using Native American allies and attacking each other’s settlements.

In Massachusetts many towns were destroyed, such as Deerfield, where 40 people were killed and many more taken captive in 1704. Many merchant ships were captured or sunk by the French, and Massachusetts raised taxes and mustered thousands of soldiers to support the war effort. French forces were finally defeated in 1760, and a treaty in 1763 left Britain in control of North America. "Massachusetts" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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