History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay

The Province of Massachusetts Bay was a royal colony in Massachusetts in the 17th and 18th century.

The province was originally a charter colony called the Massachusetts Bay Colony until 1684, when its charter was revoked due to repeated violations of its terms, and it was converted into a royal colony in 1691.

British control of all 13 colonies in North America, including the Province of Massachusetts Bay, was eventually overthrown during the American Revolution in the late 18th century.

The Province of Massachusetts Bay then became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1780.

Charter of the Province:

The charter for the Province of Massachusetts Bay was issued by King William and Queen Mary on October 7, 1691. The charter took effect when Sir William Phips arrived in Boston with the new charter on Saturday, May 14, 1692.

In addition to converting the Massachusetts Bay Colony into a royal colony, the charter also absorbed Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into the province.

 A Map of the most Inhabited part  of New England, containing the Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New  Hampshire, with the Colonies of Connecticut And Rhode Island, by Thomas Jefferys, published in The American Atlas circa 1776
A Map of the most Inhabited part of New England, containing the Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire, with the Colonies of Connecticut And Rhode Island, by Thomas Jefferys, published in The American Atlas circa 1776

The first major difference between the new charter and the old charter was that the colonial officials were appointed by the crown, instead of being elected by the colonists.

The second major difference was that it changed the voting eligibility requirements from religious qualifications to land ownership. Under the new charter, voters had to own £40 worth of property or real estate that yielded at least £2 per year in rent.

Government of the Province:

The government of the Province of Massachusetts Bay consisted of a governor, lieutenant governor, secretary, a governor’s council and the general court.

Under the terms of the charter, the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the secretary were appointed by the crown, instead of being elected by the colonists.

The governor’s council, which consisted of eight to 20 councilors, was appointed by the general court. Eighteen of the councilors were required to be from the Massachusetts Bay, at least four were required to be from the former Plymouth Colony, at least three were required to be from the former Province of Maine, and at least one was required to be from the territory between the Sagadahoc River and Nova Scotia.

The first general court under the new charter was made up of the governor and his council but later members of the general court were elected by the colonists, with each town electing two representatives.

The governor’s council had the power to assume the duties of the governor and lieutenant governor if they were both absent from the colony, which happened three times in the history of the province.

The governor had the power to adjourn, prorogue or dissolve all general courts and assemblies if he deemed it necessary.

The general court had the power to create laws for the colony and met on the last Wednesday of May annually.

Governors of the Province:

  • Sir William Phips: May 16, 1692 – November 17, 1694
  • William Stoughton: December 4, 1694 – May 26, 1699
  • Richard Coote. 1st Earl of Bellomont : May 26, 1699 – July 17, 1700
  • William Stoughton (acting): July 22, 1700 – July 7, 1701
  • Governor’s Council (acting): July 10, 1701 – June 11, 1702
  • Joseph Dudley: June 11, 1702 – February 4, 1715
  • Governor’s Council (acting): February 4, 1715 – March 21, 1715
  • Joseph Dudley: March 21, 1715 – November 9, 1715
  • William Tailer: November 9, 1715 – October 5, 1716
  • Samuel Shute: October 5, 1716 – January 1, 1723
  • William Dummer (acting): January 2, 1723 – July 19, 1728
  • William Burnet: July 19, 1728 – September 7, 1729
  • William Dummer (acting): September 10, 1729 – June 11, 1730
  • William Tailer (acting): June 11, 1730 – August 10, 1730
  • Jonathan Belcher: August 10, 1730 – August 14, 1741
  • William Shirley: August 14, 1741 – September 11, 1749
  • Spencer Phips (acting): September 15, 1749 – August 7, 1753
  • William Shirley: August 7, 1753 – September 25, 1756
  • Spencer Phips (acting): September 25, 1756 – April 4, 1757
  • Governor’s Council: April 5, 1757 – August 3, 1757
  • Thomas Pownall: August 3, 1757 – June 3, 1760
  • Thomas Hutchinson (acting): June 3, 1760 – August 2, 1760
  • Sir Frances Bernard, 1st Baronet: August 2, 1760 – August 1, 1769
  • Thomas Hutchinson (acting): August 2, 1769 – May 17, 1774
  • Thomas Gage: May 17, 1774 – October 11, 1775

Lieutenant Governors of the Province:

  • William Stoughton: May 16 1692 – July 7, 1701
  • Vacant: July 10, 1701 – June 11, 1702
  • Thomas Povey: June 11, 1702 – January 28, 1706
  • William Tailer : October 4, 1711 – February 4, 1715
  • Vacant: February 4, 1715 – March 21, 1715
  • William Tailer: March 21, 1715 – October 5, 1716
  • William Dummer: October 5, 1716 – June 11, 1630
  • William Tailer : June 11, 1730 – March 1, 1732
  • Vacant: August 10, 1730 – August 14, 1741
  • Spencer Phips: August 8, 1732 – April 4, 1757
  • Vacant: April 5, 1757 – June 3, 1760
  • Thomas Hutchinson: June 3, 1760 – August 2, 1760
  • Andrew Oliver: March 14, 1771 – March 3, 1774
  • Thomas Oliver: August 8, 1774 – March 17, 1776

Governor’s Council:

The council appointed by the 1691 charter were:

  • Simon Bradstreet
  • John Richards
  • Nathaniel Saltonstall
  • Wait Winthrop
  • John Phillips
  • James Russell
  • Samuel Sewall
  • Samuel Appleton
  • Bartholomew Gedney
  • John Hathorne
  • Elisha Hutchinson
  • Robert Pike
  • Jonathan Corwin
  • John Joyliffe
  • Adam Winthrop
  • Richard Middlecot
  • John Foster
  • Peter Sergeant
  • Joseph Lynd
  • Samuel Hayman
  • Stephen Mason
  • Thomas Hinkley
  • William Bradford
  • John Walley
  • Barnabas Lothrop
  • Job Alcot
  • Samuel Daniel
  • Silvanus Davis

Massachusetts General Court:

The General Court of Massachusetts met once a year on the last Wednesday in May, although the first legislature under the 1691 charter met on June 8, 1692.

Between 1691 and 1780, a total of 3,117 men served on the Massachusetts General Court. These men were mostly farmers, but some were also shopkeepers and small-time merchants. A few were wealthy landowners, merchants and tradesmen.

In 1693, some towns cut the number of their representatives from two to one. Also that same year, the governor applied a rule of residency to General Court members as a way to force members to live in Boston if they wanted to serve on the court.

From 1693 onward, each town had to find two candidates for the General Court each May, elect them and pay their Boston per diem expenses and transportation or face a stiff fine.

As the number of towns within the colony began to increase, so did the number of representatives. By 1776, more than 240 towns qualified for representation and more than 90 percent of these towns elected at least one delegate (Schultz 21.)

End of the Province:

The American Revolution began in 1763 which eventually led to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1775.

After the 13 colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress officially changed the name of the colonies from the “United Colonies” to the “United States of America” on September 9, 1776.

On October 30, 1779, the Massachusetts Constitution was adopted during a constitutional convention in Cambridge.

On June 16, 1780, the Massachusetts Constitution was ratified after more than two thirds of the voting public voted in favor of it. It went into effect on October 25.

On February 6, 1788, Massachusetts became the sixth state to join the United States of America, after it ratified the Constitution of the United States, and officially became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Sources:
The Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay. Boston: T.B. Wait and Co, 1814.
Hutchinson, Thomas. The History of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, From the First Settlement Thereof in 1628, Until Its Incorporation with the Colony of Plimouth, Province of Maine, By The Charter of King William and Queen Mary, in 1691. London: Mr. Richardson, 1765.
Schultz, John A. Legislators of the Massachusetts General Court 1691 – 1780: A Biographical Dictionary, Northeaster University Press, 1997.

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the writer and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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