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Massachusetts Bay Company
Establishment
of a
New Country


William Bunnell
(10th generation - G1008)

Benjamin Wilmot
(11th generation - G1105)

This partially outlines some of the problems, procedures, etc. as America was established. At least two of the Gillett ancestors belonged to the Massachusetts Bay Company -- William Bunnell and Benjamin Wilmot.

By the end of March 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Company had grown to include seven hundred men, women, and children -- all prepared to leave their native land and journey across a hazardous sea to a new life filled with promise.

Eleven ships were necessary to transport the multitude, which to date had been the largest number of Englishmen traveling in a body across the Atlantic. The ships were ordinary freighters in which some cabins had been constructed for the purpose of transporting humans. The ship provided provisions for each passenger: "salted beef & pork, salted fish, butter, cheese, peas, portage, water, & biscuits."

Household goods that were shipped caused an extra fare. An average Puritan family of eight persons, with a ton of freight, was charged about thirty pounds. This was an indication, in itself, that only people of some fair amount of substance could afford passage on the fleet.

The "Arabella" was the first ship purchased for the expedition, followed by the "Ambrose", "Jewel", "Talbot", "Charles", "Mayflower", "William & Francis", "Hopewell", "Whale", "Success" and "Trial." On March 29, 1630, the first three ships left, with the last eight leaving within the next two to three weeks. The ships embarked from Yarmouth. Most of the people were from the East Anglia Counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex. Some were from the Counties of Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, and London.

In crossing they met with stormy weather, fog, and heavy seas, and most of the passengers were horribly seasick. In addition, they were encountered by pirates. Of the two hundred and forty cows and sixty horses transported with the fleet, seventy died from being bruised from tossing about during the storms. The "Talbot" lost fourteen passengers by death. One child was born, and another stillborn during the journey. When they finally arrived, of the seven hundred men, women and children, two hundred deaths and one hundred desertions or removals left them with four hundred fifty persons.

The first ships arrived at Salem, Massachusetts, on June 13, 1630, and the last ship arrived in July. The journey took three months. The new arrivals at Salem were already weak from malnutrition and they found the summer heat hotter than they had ever known in England.

Although the original plans were for the group to settle as one community, this did not come to pass. Winthrop's dream was a settlement of a "city upon a hill" - each settler would have his own house and garden - beyond which would be fields the planters could cultivate and on which they would graze their cattle. The larger farms were to be granted to the more wealthy and prominent as their due - or for services rendered the group or for their investment in the enterprise - large enclaves in the wilderness worked by servants.

Arriving in Salem they found a colony in a sad and unexpected condition. Eighty or more of the previous settlers had died during the preceding winter, and many of those still living were weak and sick. The existing settlers were the remainder of a group who had emigrated in 1623 and settled along Cape Ann.
       They had been backed by a company of merchants calling themselves the
       Dorchester Adventurers. The merchants gave up the venture in 1627 and most
       of the settlers returned to England but a few remained in Salem.

Five days after their arrival at Salem the new settlers began a search to start a new town. By the end of the first week in July, they determined that the narrow peninsula separating the mouths of the Charles and Mystic Rivers was the ideal location to setup a temporary camp as soon as the last of the fleet arrived. By the end of July and throughout August and September, dissension among the people had already begun and small groups soon left the encampment, each under one or two of the prominent leaders. This is how seven additional towns were established, with Boston as the largest settlement and Watertown as the second.

Very quickly a form of government was organized with justices of the peace appointed to oversee abuses and the punishing of offenders. They formed a grand and petty jury, which tried felonies and misdemeanors, heard civil suits and conducted probate and coroner's hearings, licensed and supported improvements within the towns, regulated wages and prices, taverns, trades, apprenticeships and defense.

The leaders assumed the direction of distribution of land within the towns. Large tracts were offered to actual investors of the enterprise. Two hundred acres were allotted for each fifty pounds invested. The cost of each individual's transportation was considered an investment and subject to return.

Fifty acres were allotted to each family head, and an additional fifty acres for each servant brought over. Land was also given to those who performed services for the company.

The first winter, two hundred of the four hundred fifty remaining settlers died.

As early as 1634 the first group of settlers, disenchanted with politics in the Massachusetts Bay Company, petitioned to leave and settle in the Connecticut Valley; the settlers were allowed to leave.

The first groups to leave moved from Watertown, Newtown, and Dorchester to the Connecticut River, and the towns of Wethersfield, Windsor, and Hartford were founded during 1634 and 1635. This became the nucleus of the Connecticut Colony.

Making the move into Connecticut was fairly easy because of the Great Trail used for centuries by the Indians. Hundreds moved in a very short time. They were attracted by the rich meadows strung out along the banks of the river. Open land along navigable streams was a premium in the heavily forested new world. Here they found grassy meadows to be excellent fodder for their animals, the rivers full of salmon, alewives, shad, pickerel, and other fish, and the country stocked with grouse, wild fowl, turkeys, bear and deer, with brooks and streams arising from the ground. The main Indian trail had few forgings, no large hills to cross, and it allowed for easy communication with other places. The soil, however, was to prove not as rich in nutrients as they would have liked.

The General Court in Massachusetts had at first been reluctant to allow these people to stray so far from their government, but they did so with the provision that these settlers continue under the Massachusetts government. Overcrowding in the Massachusetts Bay Colony swayed many people to leave and settle in Connecticut. Before 1630 only five hundred people inhabited the New England Colonies. By 1640 there were ten thousand inhabitants, two thousand of whom were already in Connecticut. By 1650 the population swelled to twenty-four thousand, with sixteen thousand of those in New England and eight thousand in Virginia.

Legally, none of the settlers had any right to their lands. The Indians in the area, however, were friendly and interested in trade with the settlers. There were at least ten different Indian tribes in the area, and they were referred to collectively as "river tribes." In addition to trade, they wanted the settlers as allies since these river tribes were constantly harassed by the more powerful Mohawks and Pequots.


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