Massachusetts Bay Colony Genealogy

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Massachusetts Bay Colony was a 17th Century British settlement and political unit on the east coast of North America. It was established in 1628; its charter revoked in 1684, and it became part of the Dominion of New England Genealogy in 1686. Massachusetts Bay Colony included parts of New England, centered around Boston and Salem. The Colony included parts of present-day Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. She claimed land to the Pacific Ocean. Her modern successor is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the fifty United States.

Prelude, and the Great Migration. The Massachusetts Bay Company included investors in the Dorchester Company which had colonized 1623-1626 Cape Ann (northwest of Salem). That company went bankrupt, the colony was abandoned, and some of her settlers moved to what became Salem.[1] Backers of the remaining colonists continued to work on support for the survivors. By 1628 they organized the Massachusetts Bay Company to begin further settlements around Salem and Boston. The colony became economically viable partly because of fur trading. From 1630 to 1640 about 20,000 mostly Puritan colonists seeking to build an ideal society arrived from England and Barbados in what is now called the Great Migration.[2]

Great Migration Sources

Additional Sources

Out migration of dissidents. Massachusetts Bay Colony leaders were elected by freemen examined for their adherence to Puritan religious views. Thus, their leadership was usually intolerant of Anglican, Quaker, or Baptist religious ideas. These strict religious norms were one of the factors contributing to dissidents' early migration westward away from the colony center and out of reach of colony leaders.[2] Another significant factor in westward migration was the need for new farm land for the maturing children of large New England families.


Indian relations. At first, the colony's relations with native tribes were good. However, eventually cultural and demographic friction led to the Pequot War, 1637, and King Philip's War 1675-1676, the bloodiest war (per capita) in American history. After 1676 most Indians in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut had died of disease, been killed in war, pacified, or driven off.[2]

Relations with England. The independence and religious views of Massachusetts Bay Colony leaders also led to friction with the mother country. King James II tried to reign in his too independent colony and establish more respect for the Church of England (Anglican Church). In 1684 he revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter. In 1686 he put the former colony in the Dominion of New England Genealogy and sent governors to enforce more discipline. The Dominion government collapsed in 1689 with news of the Glorious Revolution in Britain. By 1691 a new charter combined the Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colonies into one province.[2]

Colony records. Search Boston repositories for colonial records before 1684. The old Norfolk County, one of the four original Massachusetts Bay Colony counties, extended north well into present-day New Hampshire. At the least, her land conveyance records up to 1714 and apparently some early marriages are housed at the Essex County Registry of Deeds in Salem, Massachusetts.[3]

Most of the genealogically significant records were kept at the town level. Look for ancestors in their respective town records.

The original four Massachusetts Bay Colony counties were Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, and old Norfolk (mostly in New Hampshire), all formed in 1643. In 1680 New Hampshire was separated, and in 1820 Maine was split-off from Massachusetts. Plymouth Colony Genealogy remained separate and independent of Massachusetts Bay Colony until 1691. Many other Massachusetts counties were eventually formed and also had responsibility for keeping selected records.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Aaron J. Palmer, "Dorchester Company," in Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. History at (9 July 2012).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Wikipedia contributors, "Massachusetts Bay Colony" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 9 July 2012).
  3. "Old Norfolk County Records," Essex Antiquarian 1, no. 2 (February 1897), 19. Online at American Ancestors by NEHGS ($). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Film 599729 Item 2; Book 974.45 B2a. Includes a map of the six towns.