Like many of the early American colonies, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1630, has its roots in the search for religious freedom. The Puritans of England came to Massachusetts in hopes of living free from persecution for their religious beliefs. However, the Massachusetts colonists were unique in America because they were not only religious, but well-educated and wealthy. This distinctive combination eventually made Massachusetts one of the more influential colonies of early America.

Religious Motivation for Founding

In England, the Puritans did not completely sever ties with the Church of England but they did wish to “purify” the church. At that time in England, the persecution of dissenters of the Church of England continued to escalate. Puritans sought a new place where they could experience religious freedom and a greater degree of self-governance. In 1630, the pursuit of religious freedom drove a large group of Puritans from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Massachusetts Bay Charter

As persecution of the Puritans increased in England, Puritans searched for a leader and advocate for their religious position. The Puritans chose John Winthrop, a wealthy English lawyer, to negotiate a settlement between them and King James I of England. John Winthrop convinced King James I to award the Puritans a charter to the New World where they could establish a colony and live by their religious principles.

The Founding of Boston

Over 1,000 Puritans traveled to the New World in what would be the largest migration of the 1600s. They came to America well-educated, well-funded, and well-equipped with supplies. They founded the city of Boston as the Massachusetts Bay Company. As Boston grew, the Puritans became more self-sufficient and less dependent on England. The Puritans' church became more local and self-sufficient as well; each Puritan church soon began selecting its own ministers. With the benefits of wealth and education, the Puritans instituted a freeman’s government that promoted religious tolerance and included a court and the election of a governor. The Puritans quickly established a reputation for their hard-working diligence and their religious devotion.

Emphasis on Education

The Puritans of Massachusetts appreciated the importance of education. Of the 1,000 colonists in the first migration to Massachusetts, 100 of them had received degrees from Cambridge or Oxford in England. John Harvard, a Puritan colonist and Cambridge-educated minister, came to Massachusetts but died shortly thereafter from tuberculosis. In furtherance of formal education within the colony, he bequeathed half of his small estate and his entire library collection to begin Harvard College, now Harvard University, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.