List of colonial governors of Massachusetts

See caption for details.
Map depicting lines of charters and grants for Massachusetts-related colonies and provinces

The territory of the modern Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the United States of America, was settled in the 17th century by several different English colonies. The territories claimed or administered by these colonies encompassed a much larger area than that of the present commonwealth, and at times included portions of central and southern New England outside the bounds of the modern state, as well as present-day Maine and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Some colonial land claims extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The first permanent settlement was the Plymouth Colony (1620), and the second major settlement was the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Salem in 1629. Settlements that either failed or were merged into other colonies included the failed Popham Colony (1607), on the coast of present-day Maine, and the Wessagusset Colony (1622–23), in present-day Weymouth, Massachusetts, whose remnants were folded into the Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies coexisted until 1686, each electing governors in annual elections. Governance of both colonies was dominated by a relatively small group of magistrates, some of whom governed for many years. When the Dominion of New England was established in 1686, it covered the territories of those colonies, as well as those of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In 1688, it was further extended to include New York, and East and West Jersey. The Dominion was unpopular in the colonies, and was effectively disbanded when its royally appointed governor, Sir Edmund Andros, was arrested in the wake of the 1688 Glorious Revolution and sent back to England.

After Andros' arrest, each of the colonies temporarily reverted to previous governance until King William III reorganized the territory of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies into the Province of Massachusetts Bay and appointed Sir William Phips as its royal governor in 1692. The Province of Massachusetts Bay was governed by appointed civilian governors until 1774, when Thomas Hutchinson was replaced by Lieutenant General Thomas Gage amid rising tensions between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Parliament. Gage, the province's last royal governor, was effectively powerless beyond Boston, and was recalled after the June 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. By then the province was already being run de facto by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress; following the adoption of a state constitution in 1779, the newly formed Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected John Hancock as its first governor.

Popham Colony: 1607–08

Main article: Popham Colony

The Popham Colony was founded on the coast of present-day Phippsburg, Maine in 1607 as a colonization attempt by the Virginia Company of Plymouth. The colony lasted about one year before being abandoned. One of its principal backers was Sir John Popham; his nephew George was the colony's governor for most of its existence.[1] George Popham died in the colony in 1608, and was replaced by Ralegh Gilbert. He and the remaining colonists abandoned the colony after word arrived that John Popham and Gilbert's older brother, Sir John Gilbert had died.[2]

Governor Took office Left office
George Popham 1607 February 1608
Ralegh Gilbert February 1608 September 1608
Source: Grizzard and Smith, p. 189

Plymouth Colony: 1620–86, 1689–92

Main article: Plymouth Colony

The Plymouth Colony originated as a land grant issued by the London Virginia Company to a group of English religious separatists who had fled to Holland to avoid religious persecution. Their migration to the New World in 1620 aboard the Mayflower was funded by the Merchant Adventurers, who sent additional settlers to engage in profit-making activities in the colony.[3] The settlers had intended to establish a colony near the mouth of the Hudson River, within the bounds of the London Virginia Company's territory, but conditions on the crossing led them to establish it instead on the shores of Cape Cod Bay at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.[4] The colonists eventually acquired a land grant from the Plymouth Council for New England in 1621,[5] but its early governance took place under the terms of the Mayflower Compact, a document drafted by the colonists aboard the Mayflower before they landed.[4] In 1630 the colony acquired a formal charter with authority to govern from the Plymouth Council, but it was unsuccessful in attempts to acquire a royal charter that would guarantee its territory against other claimants.[6]

The colony held annual elections for its offices.[7] Between 1620 and 1680 the colony was ruled by a governor, who appointed a temporary replacement if he left the colony. In 1681 they began also electing a deputy governor, who would serve in the governor's absence.[8] The colony's rule was dominated by William Bradford, who served more than thirty terms as governor.[5] The colony was incorporated into the Dominion of New England in 1686.[9] After the dominion was dissolved in 1689, the colony temporarily reverted to its previous rule. In 1691 it was incorporated by charter into the Province of Massachusetts Bay, which took effect in 1692 with the arrival of the new royal governor, Sir William Phips.[10][11]

Governor Took office Left office Deputy governor
John Carver November 11, 1620 died April 15, 1621[12] The colony had no deputy governors until 1681; the governor named a pro tem governor when he was absent.
William Bradford May 1621 January 1, 1633
Edward Winslow January 1, 1633 March 27, 1634
Thomas Prence March 27, 1634 March 3, 1635
William Bradford March 3, 1635 March 1, 1636
Edward Winslow March 1, 1636 March 7, 1637
William Bradford March 7, 1637 June 5, 1638
Thomas Prence June 5, 1638 June 3, 1639
William Bradford June 3, 1639 June 5, 1644
Edward Winslow June 5, 1644 June 4, 1645
William Bradford June 4, 1645 died May 9, 1657[13]
Thomas Prence June 3, 1657 June 3, 1673
Josiah Winslow June 3, 1673 December 18, 1680
Thomas Hinckley December 18, 1680 1686 James Cudworth (1681–82)
William Bradford the Younger (1682–86)
Dominion of New England 1686 1689 Not applicable
Thomas Hinckley 1689 1692 William Bradford the Younger (1689–92)
Sources unless otherwise cited: Gifford et al., p. 205; Capen, p. 53

Wessagusset Colony: 1622–23

Main article: Wessagusset Colony

The Wessagusset Colony (sometimes called the Weston Colony or Weymouth Colony) was a short-lived trading colony located in present-day Weymouth, Massachusetts. It was settled in August 1622 by between 50 and 60 colonists who were ill-prepared for colonial life. After settling without adequate provisions[14] and harming relations with local Native Americans,[15] the colony was dissolved in late March 1623. The surviving colonists either joined the Plymouth Colony or returned to England.[16]

Governor Took office Left office
Richard Greene April 1622 died c. October 1622
John Sanders c. October 1622 March 1623
Source: Adams and Nash, pp. 11, 14, 27

Governor-General of New England: 1623–24

In 1623, Robert Gorges was commissioned as Governor-General of New England by King Charles I to oversee Plymouth, Wessagusset, and future New England colonies.[17] Gorges established a small colony on the site of the recently failed Wessagusset Colony; his effort was abandoned after one year for financial reasons.[18][19] Some of his settlers thereafter remained in the area without formal governance, moving to occupy the Shawmut Peninsula (future site of Boston, Massachusetts) among other places.[20]

Governor-General Took office Left office
Robert Gorges September 1623 1624
Source: Adams and Nash, pp. 29–31

Massachusetts Bay Colony: 1629–86, 1689–92

The Massachusetts Bay Company was established in 1628, and was funded in part by investors in the failed Dorchester Company. In that year, the company elected Matthew Cradock as its governor and received a grant from the Plymouth Council for New England for land roughly between the Charles and Merrimack Rivers.[21] The company dispatched John Endecott and a small company of settlers to Massachusetts Bay not long after acquiring the grant.[22] In 1629 the company acquired a royal charter as a means to guarantee its grant against other claims, and elected Endecott as the first colonial governor, while Cradock continued to govern the company in London.[23] In August 1629 the company's shareholders reorganized the company so that the charter could be removed to the colony, merging corporate and colonial administration.[24] John Winthrop was elected governor in October, but did not formally take charge of the colony until he arrived in 1630.[25] Colonial officials (governor, deputy governor, and the council of assistants) were thereafter elected annually by the freemen of the colony. The governorship was dominated by a small group of early settlers, who sought to ensure that the vision of a Puritan settlement was maintained: in addition to Winthrop and Endecott, Richard Bellingham, John Leverett, and Simon Bradstreet all served extended terms. These men, and Thomas Dudley (who served four one-year terms as governor), were regularly in positions of importance when they were not serving as governor.[26]

Following the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, the colony's governance and religious attitudes came under greater scrutiny, which finally led to the revocation of its charter in 1684.[27][28] King James II then established the Dominion of New England, an appointed regime not well received in the colonies.[29] It took effect in 1686 and lasted until 1689, when the Glorious Revolution toppled James and led to the arrest in Massachusetts of the Dominion's unpopular governor, Sir Edmund Andros.[30] The colony reverted to its previous rule on a provisional basis, because it then lacked any sort of legal charter.[31] In 1691 King William III merged the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay along with the territory of Maine, the islands south of Cape Cod (including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands), and recently captured Nova Scotia (which included present-day New Brunswick) to form the Province of Massachusetts Bay.[10] This new governmental structure took effect in 1692, with the arrival of the new royal governor, Sir William Phips.[11]

Governor Took office Left office Deputy governor
Matthew Cradock 1628 October 20, 1629 Thomas Goffe
John Endecott A head and shoulders portrait of Endecott. He wears a black magistrate's robe, with a falling collar or clerical rabat of gray. He has a narrow goatee beard and a moustache that roughly form a cross. April 30, 1629 June 12, 1630[32] None
John Winthrop The bearded Winthrop wears a black magistrate's robe with lace collar and shirt cuffs visible. October 20, 1629 May 14, 1634 John Humphrey (1629–30)
Thomas Dudley (1630–34)
Thomas Dudley May 14, 1634 May 6, 1635 Roger Ludlow
John Haynes May 6, 1635 May 25, 1636 Richard Bellingham
Sir Henry Vane the Younger Head-only portrait of Vane with long hair and a lace collar. May 25, 1636 May 17, 1637 John Winthrop
John Winthrop May 17, 1637 May 13, 1640 Thomas Dudley
Thomas Dudley May 13, 1640 June 2, 1641 Richard Bellingham
Richard Bellingham June 2, 1641 May 18, 1642 John Endecott
John Winthrop May 18, 1642 May 29, 1644 John Endecott
John Endecott May 29, 1644 May 14, 1645 John Winthrop
Thomas Dudley May 14, 1645 May 6, 1646 John Winthrop
John Winthrop May 6, 1646 May 2, 1649 Thomas Dudley
John Endecott May 2, 1649 May 22, 1650 Thomas Dudley
Thomas Dudley May 22, 1650 May 7, 1651 John Endecott[33]
John Endecott May 7, 1651 May 3, 1654 Thomas Dudley
Richard Bellingham May 3, 1654 May 23, 1655 John Endecott
John Endecott May 23, 1655 May 3, 1665 Richard Bellingham
Richard Bellingham May 3, 1665 December 12, 1672 Francis Willoughby (1665–71)
John Leverett (1671–72)
John Leverett A three-quarter length engraved portrait of Leverett in full military uniform. His right hand rests on a knight's helmet, and his left is on his hip, holding gloves. December 12, 1672 (acting until May 7, 1673) May 28, 1679 Samuel Symonds (1673–78)
Simon Bradstreet (1678–79)
Simon Bradstreet A head and shoulders portrait of Bradstreet, who wears a gold-peach robe over a black shirt and white cravat. His shoulder-length hair is topped with a small black cap. May 28, 1679 May 25, 1686[34] Thomas Danforth
Dominion of New England The seal of the Dominion of New England. The text around its border reads (in abbreviated Latin) "HIB : REX : FIDEI : DEFEN · JACOBUS : II : D : G : MAG : BRIT: FRAN". This is abbreviated Latin for "Iacobus Secundus Dei Gratia Magnae Britanniae, Franciae et Hiberniae Rex, Fidei Defensor", which reads in English as "James the Second, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith". The king is shown with two people, a white man and an Indian, kneeling before him with gifts. Above them is a cherub holding a banner that reads "NUNQUAM LIBERTAS GRATIR EXTAT". This is an abbreviated quotation, whose full text is "Nunquam libertas gratior extat Quam sub rege pio", in English "Never does liberty appear in a more gracious form than under a pious king". May 25, 1686[34] April 18, 1689[35] Not applicable
Simon Bradstreet April 18, 1689[35] May 14, 1692[36] Thomas Danforth
Sources unless otherwise cited: Capen, pp. 53–54; Hart, p. 1:607

Dominion of New England: 1686–89

The Dominion of New England was established by King James II in order to bring the fractious colonies of New England more firmly under united crown control, and to streamline the costs associated with colonial administration.[37] All of the New England colonies, as well as the provinces of New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey all eventually came under its authority.[38] Sir Edmund Andros, who governed the Dominion for most of its existence, alienated many New Englanders, insisting on introducing the Church of England into Puritan Boston and vacating land titles issued under the old charter.[39] After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed James, Massachusetts political operatives conspired to have Andros arrested and returned to England.[40][41] All of the affected colonies reverted to their previous rule, although Massachusetts did so without formal constitutional authority because its charter had been revoked.[42] William and Mary eventually issued new charters; in the process of doing so they combined the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony and other territories into the Province of Massachusetts Bay.[10]

Plans to establish the dominion had started under King Charles II early in the 1680s. He initially selected Colonel Percy Kirke as the dominion's governor in 1684. Kirke's commission was approved by James, but was then withdrawn after Kirke's controversially harsh actions in putting down Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685. As an interim measure before Andros' commission could be finalized, Joseph Dudley, son of Thomas Dudley, was given a commission as "President of the Council of New England" with limited powers.[43]

Governor Took office Left office Lieutenant Governor
Joseph Dudley (as President of the Council of New England) A half-length oil portrait of Joseph Dudley, wearing a magistrate's robe. May 25, 1686[44] December 20, 1686[45] William Stoughton (as Deputy President)[46]
Sir Edmund Andros A half-length engraved black-and-white portrait of Edmund Andros. He wears metal plate armor, and a lace collar or cravat is visible. December 20, 1686[45] April 18, 1689[35] Francis Nicholson (appointed April 1688)[47]

Province of Massachusetts Bay: 1692–1775

The royal charter for the Province of Massachusetts Bay was issued in 1691. The territory it encompassed included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the territories of Maine and Nova Scotia (which then included present-day New Brunswick), and the proprietary plantation holdings of Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and other islands off the southern coast of Cape Cod.[10] The government did not formally begin operating until the first governor, Sir William Phips, arrived in 1692.[11] The province was governed by civilian governors until 1774, when Thomas Hutchinson was replaced by Lieutenant General Thomas Gage amid rising tensions between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Parliament.[48] Gage, the province's last royal governor, was effectively powerless beyond Boston,[49][50] and was recalled after the June 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill.[51] By then the province was already being run de facto by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, which continued to govern until 1780. Following the adoption of a state constitution in 1779, the newly formed Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected John Hancock as its first governor.[52]

Under the terms of the royal charter, both the governor and lieutenant governor were appointed by the crown. The charter contained a provision that the governor's council would assume the duties of the governor should both governor and lieutenant governor be absent from the colony.[53] This occurred three times:

  1. When acting governor William Stoughton died in 1701, the council governed until the arrival of Joseph Dudley.[54]
  2. Following the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the commissions she had issued expired six months later. Although her successor, King George I, issued an order continuing all commissions, this order did not reach Massachusetts before the six months expired. The council asserted its authority, claiming that the commissions of Joseph Dudley and William Tailer had expired, and ruled from February 4 until March 21, 1715, when the king's order arrived.[55]
  3. After acting governor Spencer Phips died in 1757, the council governed until the arrival of Thomas Pownall.[54]
Governor Took office Left office Lieutenant Governor
Sir William Phips A head and shoulders portrait of Phips. He has dark hair, and wears a magistrate's robe. May 16, 1692 November 17, 1694 William Stoughton
(May 16, 1692 –
died July 7, 1701)
William Stoughton
A full length seated portrait of the elderly William Stoughton. Harvard College's Stoughton Hall is visible in the background. December 4, 1694 May 26, 1699
Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont A black and white half-length engraved portrait of Bellomont. He wears a uniform adorned with military honors. May 26, 1699 July 17, 1700
William Stoughton
July 22, 1700 died July 7, 1701
Governor's Council
July 10, 1701 June 11, 1702 Vacant
Joseph Dudley June 11, 1702 February 4, 1715 Thomas Povey
(June 11, 1702 –
left colony c. January 28, 1706)
William Tailer
(October 4, 1711 –
February 4, 1715)
Governor's Council
February 4, 1715 March 21, 1715 Vacant
Joseph Dudley March 21, 1715 November 9, 1715 William Tailer
(March 21, 1715 –
October 5, 1716)
William Tailer
November 9, 1715 October 5, 1716
Samuel Shute October 5, 1716 left colony January 1, 1723 William Dummer
(October 5, 1716 –
June 11, 1730)
William Dummer
A three quarter length black and white engraved portrait of William Dummer. He is wearing fashionable early 18th century clothing and a long wig. January 2, 1723 July 19, 1728
William Burnet A half length color portrait of William Burnet. July 19, 1728 died September 7, 1729
William Dummer
September 10, 1729 June 11, 1730
William Tailer
June 11, 1730 August 10, 1730 William Tailer
(June 11, 1730 – died March 1, 1732)
Jonathan Belcher A head and shoulders portrait detail of Jonathan Belcher in middle age. He wears a wig and a reddish-brown jacket. August 10, 1730 August 14, 1741
Spencer Phips
(August 8, 1732 –
died April 4, 1757)
William Shirley A three quarter length portrait of William Shirley. He wears a red coat over a white shirt with lace ruffled cuffs. His right hand rests on desk or table containing papers. August 14, 1741 September 11, 1749
Spencer Phips
September 15, 1749 August 7, 1753
William Shirley August 7, 1753 September 25, 1756
Spencer Phips
September 25, 1756 died April 4, 1757
Governor's Council
April 5, 1757 August 3, 1757 Vacant
Thomas Pownall A head and shoulders black and white engraved portrait of THomas Pownall. August 3, 1757 June 3, 1760 Thomas Hutchinson
(June 1, 1758 –
March 14, 1771)
Thomas Hutchinson
A photograph of an oil painting of a head and shoulders portrait of Thomas Hutchinson. The photograph has faded and discolored into primarily red colors. June 3, 1760 August 2, 1760
Sir Francis Bernard, 1st Baronet A head and shoulders portrait of Francis Bernard. This black-and-white photograph of an oil painting is blotched due to age. August 2, 1760 August 1, 1769
Thomas Hutchinson
(acting, August 2, 1769 
March 14, 1771)
August 2, 1769 May 17, 1774
Andrew Oliver
(March 14, 1771 –
died March 3, 1774)
General The Hon. Thomas Gage A head-only portrait of Thomas Gage. His red military uniform is just visible. May 17, 1774 October 11, 1775[56]
Thomas Oliver
(August 8, 1774 – March 17, 1776)[57]
Source unless otherwise cited: Massachusetts Royal Commissions, pp. xxxiii–xxxv

See also


  1. Grizzard and Smith, p. 189
  2. Vaughan, p. 64
  3. Hart, p. 1:67
  4. 1 2 Hart, p. 1:69
  5. 1 2 Hart, p. 1:72
  6. Hart, p. 1:78
  7. Hart, p. 1:83
  8. Hart, p. 1:607
  9. Hart, pp. 1:569–572
  10. 1 2 3 4 Barnes, pp. 267–269
  11. 1 2 3 Capen, p. 54
  12. Moore, p. 46
  13. Moore, p. 79
  14. Thomas, G.E. (March 1975). "Puritans, Indians, and the Concept of Race". New England Quarterly. The New England Quarterly, Inc. 48 (1): 12. doi:10.2307/364910.
  15. Adams and Nash, pp. 15–16
  16. Adams and Nash, pp. 25–29
  17. Adams and Nash, pp. 29–30
  18. Adams and Nash, pp. 30–31
  19. Levermore, p. 603
  20. Adams and Nash, pp. 31–34
  21. Hart, pp. 1:96–99
  22. Moore, pp. 240, 348
  23. Moore, pp. 348–349
  24. Hart, pp. 1:99–101
  25. Moore, pp. 242,350
  26. Hart, pp. 1:112, 1:607
  27. Barnes, pp. 6–32
  28. Hart, p. 1:566
  29. Barnes, pp. 46–69
  30. Hart, pp. 1:600–601
  31. Hart, p. 1:602
  32. Moore, p. 244
  33. Capen (p. 54) incorrectly lists Dudley as deputy; it was in fact Endecott. Davis, p. 163
  34. 1 2 Moore, p. 393
  35. 1 2 3 Moore, p. 385
  36. Moore, p. 226
  37. Barnes, pp. 29–30
  38. Barnes, pp. 32–39
  39. Barnes, pp. 128–130, 187–201
  40. Barnes, pp. 234–250
  41. Hart, pp. 1:602–603
  42. Barnes, pp. 247–249
  43. Barnes, pp. 45–49
  44. Barnes, p. 54
  45. 1 2 Barnes, p. 69
  46. Barnes, p. 55
  47. Barnes, p. 72
  48. Hart, pp. 2:514–523, 2:591
  49. Hart, p. 2:562
  50. French, p. 130
  51. French, p. 355
  52. Peters, pp. 16–18
  53. Kimball, pp. 77, 193
  54. 1 2 Massachusetts Royal Commissions, p. xxxiv
  55. Kimball, pp. 193–197
  56. This is the de facto end of Gage's tenure, when he departed Boston for the last time. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, p. 17:87
  57. This is the de facto end of Oliver's tenure, when he departed Boston for the last time. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, p. 17:96


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