What Was the Dominion of New England?

The Dominion of New England was a merging of British colonies in New England in the 17th century.

The Dominion was formed in 1686 and merged the colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, together into one large colony. In 1688, the Dominion was expanded to include New York and New Jersey.

The creation of the Dominion of New England officially brought the New England Confederation, an alliance between the New England colonies, to an end.

Who Created the Dominion of New England?

Before the Dominion of New England was created, each colony operated under individual charters that allowed them to organize and run their colonies as they pleased.

Unable to get the Massachusetts Bay Colony to obey his commands, Charles II revoked its charter in 1684. He died shortly after in February of 1685 and King James II took over the throne immediately after.

In 1686, King James II created the Dominion of New England in order to tighten control over the administration affairs of the New England colonies, according to the book Making America, Volume I:

“After the Restoration in 1660, Charles II cast a doubtful eye on a colony that sometimes ignored English civil law if it conflicted with biblical demands. In 1683 Charles insisted that the Massachusetts Bay Colony revise its charter to weaken the influence of biblical teachings and eliminate the stringent voting requirements. The Massachusetts government said no. With that, Charles revoked the charter. Massachusetts remained in political limbo until 1685, when James II came to the throne. Then conditions grew far worse. In an effort to centralize administration of his growing American empire, King James decided on a massive reorganization of the mainland colonial world. He combined several of the northern colonies into one large unit under direct loyal control. This megacolony, the Dominion of New England, included Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Plymouth Plantations, New Jersey and New York, both newly acquired from the Dutch. James expected the Dominion to increase the patronage, or political favors, he could provide to his loyal supporters – favors such as generous lead grants or colonial administrative appointments. He also expected to increase revenues by imposing duties and taxes on colonial goods in the vast region he now controlled.”

Seal of the Dominion of New England
Seal of the Dominion of New England

The Dominion was also designed to strengthen colonial defense in the event of a war with the local Native American population, much like the New England Confederation had done.

But most importantly, the Dominion was set up to enforce the Navigation Acts in the colony which prohibited the colonists from trading with countries not ruled by the British crown, particularly with the Dutch.

King James II chose Sir Edmund Andros to govern the Dominion. Andros had previously served as the governor of New York and New Jersey from 1674 to 1681.

Boston was chosen as the headquarters of the Dominion of New England. Andros arrived in Boston on December 20, 1686 and immediately took control of the Dominion.

Town meetings were severely restricted, the local legislatures were disbanded and a council was created to assist Andros in governing the colony.

According to the book The Imperial Executive in America, it was the lack of local legislatures that became the biggest source of strife in the Dominion:

“The Dominion of New England did not have a representative assembly. All legislation would be adopted by the governor and council subject to the approval of the king. Unlike Andros own experience in New York, in New England he would attract significant opposition because representative government had been the rule there for several decades. William Blathwayt’s assistant, John Povey, accurately surmised that it ‘will put Sir Edmund to his utmost dexterity’ to govern Massachusetts without a representative body. Andros himself had no aversion to an assembly and in New York had requested the duke to permit him to call such a body. The absence of an assembly was probably the chief reason underlying unrest in Massachusetts. Even before Andros arrived, [Edward] Randolph had warned the Privy Council that he found ‘the country dissatisfied for want of an Assembly of Representatives…with power to raise money, and make laws, etc.’ Randolph’s suggestions to provide representative government fell on deaf ears.”

Andros’ council was based in Boston and distance made it difficult for many of the council members, who were not paid for their service or compensated for their travel expenses, to attend the meetings. As a result, Andros often passed legislation that the council had not even voted on.

The most frequent attendees were council members who lived nearby, including Edward Randolph, John Usher, Joseph Dudley, William Stoughton, Wait Winthrop, Robert Mason, John West and Francis Nicholson (who was appointed in August of 1687.)

Dominion of New England Flag
Dominion of New England Flag, illustration published in Edward Randolph Letters and Official Papers, 1898

Jonathan Corwin, who later served as a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, was also nominated to serve on the council by Edward Randolph but he wasn’t appointed, although Corwin’s brother-in-law William Browne, Jr., later joined the council in 1688.

One of the first things Andros did as Governor of the Dominion was find a way to raise revenue. In March of 1687, Andros proposed a penny per pound tax for imports, estates and poll taxes. The council opposed this measure but discovered shortly after that Andros had signed it into law without a vote.

The following year, when these taxes failed to raise enough revenue, Andros also raised levies on wine, rum and brandy, which again went against the wishes of many of the councilors.

Also, because the old charter was revoked, all the old land titles were brought into question. All landowners were informed that the titles to their land had been voided. The land now belonged to the king and the landowners were required to petition the government for new titles.

Getting new titles involved paying fees and sometimes bribes to government officials. Andros also seized all public land, stating that it was now property of the government, and gave much of it away to his close friends and associates.

To prevent large land companies from illegally seizing land belonging to colonists and to rectify any past illegal seizures, land titles would only be confirmed on valid purchases. Land developers deemed it a serious threat to their livelihood and quickly turned against Andros.

To make matters worse, the government soon discovered that many colonists had actually purchased their land directly from the local Indians, which was not allowed, and lacked any proof or evidence of ownership.

Other measures Andros took involved cracking down on the smuggling of imports and goods that arose after the passage of the Navigation Act and, due to King James II Declaration of Indulgence, holding Anglican services in the local churches for the first time.

In addition, the council encouraged Maypoles to be constructed in Boston and Charlestown, which the puritans opposed because Maypoles are pagan in origin, according to the book The Imperial Executive in America:

“Further evidence of Anglicization was provided by the presence of a Maypole in Charlestown, a symbol that was particularly offensive to Puritans. Angry Puritans cut down the Charlestown maypole, but an even bigger one was put up. Its very existence was a sign that Anglican influence was becoming stronger and that the Puritans were losing control of their society. The Maypole represented only the tip of the Anglican wedge, soon to be followed by observance of Christmas and other holy days, and by card games, dancing, playgoing, and other activities previously banned by the Puritans.”

In addition, although the puritan ban on Christmas was lifted in 1681, the puritans still disapproved of Christmas and were offended when Andros attended Christmas services, with sixty redcoats following behind him, the first month he arrived in Boston.

According to an article on the New England Historical Society website, Andros committed a similar offense again on Good Friday:

“On March 23, 1687, the Wednesday of Passion Week, Andros ordered his agent to ask for the keys to the Old South Church (then the Third Church) for Anglican services. He was rebuffed. A Puritan delegation visited him to explain why they couldn’t allow it. On Good Friday, he ordered the sexton to throw open the doors of Old South and ring the bell for ‘those of the Church of England.’ Whether the sexton was persuaded or coerced is not known, but the doors were open, the bell rung and the service held. It was an affront the Puritans would not forgive. Andros wife, Mary Craven Andros, died soon after arriving in Boston. Andros added insult to injury by holding her funeral service at Old South on Feb. 10, 1688, with the pomp and ritual so abhorrent to Puritans.”

In 1686, Andros founded the King’s Chapel congregation, which was the first Anglican church in colonial New England. In 1688, when the puritans in Boston refused to sell land to the congregation to build a church on, Andros directed King’s Chapel to be built on public land in the corner of an old puritan burying ground on Tremont street. In 1749, the original small wooden church built there was eventually replaced with the large granite church that still stands there today.

The British government also issued a Royalist flag for the Dominion: A white flag with a red cross and a gold crown embossed with the letters J.R.

When New York was added to the Dominion in 1688, the Lieutenant Governor of New York at the time, Thomas Dongan, was dismissed and Andros was sent to New York that summer to establish his commission.

How Did the Colonists React to the Dominion of New England?

The colonists strongly resented the Dominion of New England and Andros, whom they viewed as greedy and arrogant. Andros offended the puritans when he established the Church of England as the official religion of the colony. He also alienated the non-puritans when he completely abolished the local legislatures, which they had struggled to be included in for years.

When Andros instituted the new taxes, both puritans and non-puritans refused to pay them. The colonists were also angered by the presence of Andros’ small army of soldiers whom they accused of teaching people to “drink, blaspheme, curse and damn.”

The Boston Revolt of 1689:

The Dominion was disbanded after the Glorious Revolution took place in England, during which James II was pressured to abdicate the throne in December of 1688 after England was invaded by James II’s son-in-law, William of Orange.

On February 13, 1689 his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, became King and Queen of England. The news sparked a mob to rise up in Boston and overthrow Andros, according to the book American Pageant:

“When the news of the Glorious Revolution reached America, the ramshackle Dominion of New England collapsed like a house of cards. A Boston mob, catching the fever, rose against the existing regime.”

The insurgents seized Andros on April 18 and set up a Council for Safety, which was led by Simon Bradstreet and included Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, who later became judges in the Salem Witch Trials. The council handled affairs in the colony for a few months until official confirmation of a new regime came from William and Mary.

On May 22, the council voted to return the colony to its former puritan-run government. This prompted the other colonies that had been included in the Dominion to assert their independence and reinstate their old charters as well.

The Aftermath of the Glorious Revolution:

The overthrow of the Dominion didn’t work out as favorably as the puritans had hoped. Increase Mather, a reverend from Boston, was sent to persuade William and Mary to reissue the original charter but was unable to do so, according to the book Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather:

“Being satisfied that a restoration of the old charter could not be obtained, Increase Mather acquiesced in what he deemed a necessity, and bent his efforts to have as favorable terms as possible secured in the new. His colleagues in the agency, Elisha Cooke and Thomas Oaks, opposed his course – the former, with great determination, taking the ground of the ‘old charter or none.’ This threw them out of all communication with the home government, on the subject, and gave to Mr. Mather controlling influence. He was requested by the Ministers of the Crown to name the officers of the new government; and, in fact, had the free and sole selection of them all. Sir William Phips was appointed Governor, at his solicitation; and, in accordance with earnest recommendations, in a letter from Cotton Mather, William Stoughton was appointed Deputy-governor, thereby superceding Danforth, one of the ablest men in the province. In fact, every member of the council owed his seat to the Mathers, and, politically, was their creature.”

This new charter, issued in 1691, made the Massachusetts Bay Colony a royal colony, meaning the governor was appointed by the monarchy instead of elected. The charter also absorbed the Plymouth Colony into the Massachusetts Bay Colony. According to the book Church and State in Massachusetts, the new charter simply continued the policies of the Dominion of New England:

“The Massachusetts charter, as we have seen, illustrates the way in which William III followed the colonial policy of the last two Stuarts in its political and economic phases. William believed, as had the Stuarts, that the well being of the empire lay in the enforcement of the Navigation Acts; he believed that colonial governments which had shown a tendency to resists such law in a spirit of independence must be controlled, and that the way to do this was to be found in uniting them and bringing them more closely under the crown.”

The loss of the original old charter was devastating to the puritans, although the Anglicans in the colony welcomed it. The puritan colonists deeply resented these changes and opposed the government’s attempts at controlling the colony. Many historians speculate that the colonist’s anxiety and unrest during this time period was one of the many underlying factors in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

The Dominion of New England forever changed the culture of the New England colonies from a strict puritan society independent of Britain into a much more secular royal colony.

Following the failure of the Dominion of New England, in the late 1690s and early 1700s the British government began to follow a policy of salutary neglect, during which it relaxed its enforcement of laws and trade regulations in the colonies.

This came to an end though after the Seven Year’s War in 1763 when the government, saddled with debt from the war, began passing new laws and taxes in the colonies, causing the colonist’s lingering resentment to build until it erupted in the American Revolution in the late 1770s.

“The Great Boston Revolt of 1689.” The New England Historical Society, www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/great-boston-revolt-1689/
“The Glorious Revolution.” BBC.com, British Broadcasting Coporation, www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/glorious_revolution_01.shtml
“King’s Chapel.” The Freedom Trail Foundation, www.thefreedomtrail.org/freedom-trail/kings-chapel.shtml
P., Sunderland. “Instructions to Sir Edmund Andros.” Hanover College,  history.hanover.edu/texts/ANDROSIN.html
“Commission of Sir Edmund Andros for the Dominion of New England. April 7, 1688.” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, n.d., avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/mass06.asp
Galtsin, Dmitry. “A Train of Disasters: Puritan Reaction to New England Crisis of 1680-90s.” Library of Congress, 16 Feb. 2012, www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=5467
“King’s Chapel & King’s Chapel Burying Ground.” Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, www.bostonteapartyship.com/boston-attractions/kings-chapel-burial-ground
Lustig, Mary Lou. The Imperial Executive in America: Sir Edmund Andros, 1637-1714. Rosemont Publishing  & Printing  Corp, 2002.
What Should Constitutions Do? Edited by Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller, Jr, Jeffrey Paul. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Reed, Susan Martha. Church and State in Massachusetts, 1691-1740. University of Illinois, 1914.
Kennedy, David and Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. Bailey. The American Pageant: The History of the American People. Wadsworth, 2010.
Brodhead, John Romeyn. The Government of Sir Edmund Andros Over New England, in 1688 and 1689. Bradstreet Press, 1867.
Berkin, Carol and Christopher Miller, Robert Cherny, James Gormly. Making America, Volume 1 To 1877. Cenage Learning, 2012.
McWilliams, John. New England’s Crises and Cultural Memory: Literature, Politics, History, Religion 1620-1860. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Geiter, Maary K. and  W.A. Speck. Dictionary of British America, 1584-1783. Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
Upham, Charles Wentworth. Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather: A Reply. 1869

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist 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.

1 thought on “What Was the Dominion of New England?

  1. Gordon R. Harris

    When the leaders of Ipswich persuaded the Town Meeting to refuse to appoint a tax collector, Andros sent his soldiers to arrest the Rev. John Wise, town clerk John Andrews, Samuel and John Appleton and several others, an act for which the town of Ipswich is known as the “Birthplace of American Independence.”

Comments are closed.