Gov. John Endicott
d.15 Mar 1664/5 Boston, Suffolk Co., Massachusetts
Facts and Events
John Endecott (before 1601 – 15 March 1664/5, also spelled Endicott) was an English colonial magistrate, soldier and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During all of his years in the colony but one, he held some form of civil, judicial, or military high office. He served a total of 16 years as governor, including most of the last 15 years of his life; this period of service was the longest of any colonial governor. He also held important posts representing the colony as part of the New England Confederation, and was a leading force in expanding the settlement of Salem, Massachusetts and other parts of Essex County.
Endecott was a zealous and somewhat hotheaded Puritan, with Separatist attitudes toward the Anglican Church. This sometimes put him at odds with Nonconformist views that were dominant among the colony's early leaders, which became apparent when he gave shelter to the vocally Separatist Roger Williams. Endecott also argued that women should dress modestly and that men should keep their hair short, and issued judicial decisions banishing individuals who held religious views that did not accord well with those of the Puritans. He notoriously defaced the English flag because he saw St George's Cross as a symbol of the papacy, and had four Quakers put to death for returning to the colony after their banishment. An expedition he led in 1636 is considered the opening offensive in the Pequot War, which practically destroyed the Pequot tribe as an entity.
Endecott used some of his properties to propagate fruit trees; a pear tree he planted still lives in Danvers, Massachusetts. He also engaged in one of the earliest attempts to develop a mining industry in the colonies when copper ore was found on his land. His name is found on a rock in Lake Winnipesaukee, carved by surveyors sent to identify the Massachusetts colony's northern border in 1652. Places and institutions are named for him, and (like many early colonists) he has several notable descendants.
Most of what is known about John Endecott's origins is at best circumstantial. Biographers of the 19th century believed he was from the Dorset town of Dorchester because of his significant later association with people from that place. In the early 20th century, historian Roper Lethbridge proposed that Endecott was born circa 1588 in or near Chagford in Devon. (Based on this evidence, Chagford now has a house from the period named in Endecott's honour.) However, more recent research by the New England Historic Genealogical Society has identified problems with Lethbridge's claims, which they dispute. According to their research, Endecott may have been born in or near Chagford, but there is no firm evidence for this, nor is there evidence that identifies his parents. They conclude, based on available evidence, that he was probably born no later than 1600. A John Endecott was active in Devon early in the 17th century, but there is no firm evidence connecting him to this Endecott.
Very little is known of Endecott's life before his association with colonisation efforts in the 1620s. He was known to Sir Edward Coke, and may have come to know Roger Williams through this connection. He was highly literate, and spoke French. Some early colonial documents refer to him as "Captain Endecott", indicating some military experience, and other records suggest he had some medical training.
Settlement in the New World
In March 1627/8 Endecott was one of seven signatories to a land grant given to "The New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts" (or the New England Company) by the Earl of Warwick on behalf of the Plymouth Council for New England; the council was at the time the umbrella organisation overseeing English colonisation efforts in North America between 40 and 48 degrees latitude.
Endecott was chosen to lead the first expedition, and sailed for the New World aboard the Abigail with fifty or so "planters and servants" on 20 June 1628. The settlement they organized was first called Naumkeag, after the local Indian tribe, but was eventually renamed Salem in 1629. The area was already occupied by settlers of the failed Dorchester Company, some of whose backers also participated in the New England Company. This group of earlier settlers, led by Roger Conant, had migrated from a settlement on Cape Ann (near present-day Gloucester, Massachusetts) after it was abandoned. Endecott was not formally named governor of the new colony until it was issued a royal charter in 1629. At that time, he was appointed governor by the company's council in London, and Matthew Craddock was named the company's governor in London.
Endecott's first tenure as governor came to an end in 1630, with the arrival of John Winthrop and the colonial charter. The company had reorganised itself, relocating its seat to the colony itself, with Winthrop as its sole governor. After seeing the conditions at Salem, Winthrop decided to relocate the colony's seat at the mouth of the Charles River, where he founded what is now the city of Boston. Endecott, who was chosen as one of the governor's Assistants (a precursor to the later notion of a Governor's Council), chose to remain in Salem, where he was one of its leading citizens for the rest of his life, serving in roles as town councilor and militia leader, in addition to statewide roles as militia leader, magistrate, deputy governor, and governor. He established a plantation called "Orchard" in Salem Village (now known as Danvers), where he cultivated seedlings of fruit trees. One particular pear tree, brought over as a sapling on one of the early settlement convoys, still lives and bears fruit; it is known as the Endicott Pear Tree.
In 1636 the boat of Massachusetts trader John Oldham was seen anchored off Block Island, swarming with Indians. The Indians fled at the approach of the investigating colonists, and Oldham's body was found below the main deck. The attackers were at the time believed to be from tribes affiliated with the Narragansetts, but Narragansett leaders claimed that those responsible had fled to the protection of the Pequots. At the time the Pequots were aggressively expansionist in their dealings with the surrounding native tribes (including the Narragansett), but had generally kept the peace with the English colonists of present-day southern New England. The accusation of the Narraganssetts angered Massachusetts authorities (then under governor Henry Vane), who were already upset that the Pequots had earlier failed to turn over men implicated in killing another trader on the Connecticut River. This second perceived affront produced calls in Massachusetts for action against the Pequots. In August 1636 Governor Vane placed Endecott at the head of a 90 man force to extract justice from the Pequots.
After some discussion and delays due to bad weather, Gardiner and a company of his men agreed to accompany the Massachusetts force to raid the Pequot harvest stores. When they arrived at the Pequot village near the mouth of the Thames River, they returned the friendly greetings of the inhabitants with stony silence. Eventually a Pequot sachem rowed out to meet them; the English delivered their demands, threatening war if they did not receive satisfaction. When the sachem left to discuss the matter in the village, Endecott gave a promise to await his return; however, shortly after the sachem left, he began landing his fully armed men on shore. The sachem rushed back, claiming the senior tribal leaders were away on Long Island; Endecott responded that this was a lie, and ordered an attack on the village. Most of the villagers got away, and once again the expedition's activity was reduced to destroying the village and seizing its crop stores; Gardiner reported that "[t]he Bay-men killed not a man". After completing this work, Endecott and the Massachusetts men boarded their boats to return to Boston, leaving Gardiner and his men to finish the removal of the crops. The Pequots regrouped and launched an attack on Gardiner's party whose armor protected them from the arrowfire, but their escape was nevertheless difficult.
Historian Alfred Cave describes Endecott's actions as a "heavy-handed provocation of an Indian war." All of the surrounding colonies protested the action, complaining that the lives of their citizens were placed in jeopardy by the raid. Since the Pequots had previously been relatively peaceful with the English, Endecott's raid had the effect Gardiner predicted and feared. Communities on the Connecticut River were attacked in April 1637, and Gardiner was virtually besieged in Saybrook by Pequot forces. Endecott had no further role in the war, which ended with the destruction of the Pequots as a tribe; their land was divided up by the colonies and their Indian allies in the 1638 Treaty of Hartford, and the surviving tribespeople were distributed among their neighbors.
Later terms as governor
Endecott was elected deputy governor in 1641 and in this role was one of the signatories to the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, which enumerated a number of individual rights available to all colonists, and presaged the United States Bill of Rights. The next few years were quiet, although rumors of war with the Indians led to the formation in 1643 of the New England Confederation, designed to facilitate united action by the New England colonies against common external threats as well as internal matters like dealing with escaped slaves and fugitives from justice.
In 1643, Governor Winthrop became embroiled in a controversy over the propriety of taking sides in a power struggle going on in neighbouring French Acadia. Endecott pointed out that he should have let the French fight amongst themselves without English involvement, as this would weaken them both. The 1644 governor's election became a referendum on Winthrop's policy; Endecott was elected governor, with Winthrop as his deputy. During his one year term he oversaw the division of the colony into four counties: Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, and Norfolk. The ascent of the Salem-based Endecott also prompted an attempt by other Salem residents to have the colonial capital relocated there; the attempt was rejected by the governor's council of assistants.
Fallout from the English Civil War (begun in 1642) also permeated Boston during Endecott's tenure. Two ships, one with a Royalist captain, the other with a Parliamentarian captain, arrived in Boston, and the Parliamentarian sought to seize the Royalist ship. After much deliberation, Endecott's councils essentially adopted support of the Parliamentarian position, reserving the right to declare independence if the Parliament "should hereafter be a malignant spirit". The Parliamentarian was permitted to seize the Royalist vessel, and the colony also began seizing Royalist vessels that came into port.
Thomas Dudley was elected governor in 1645, with Winthrop as his deputy. Endecott, as a consolation, was given command of the colonial militia, reporting to the governor. He was also once again made a governor's assistant, and was chosen to represent the colony to the confederation in 1646. The threat of Indian conflicts in neighbouring colonies prompted the colony to raise its defensive profile, in which Endecott played a leading role. Winthrop was reelected governor in 1646; after his death in 1649, Endecott succeeded him as governor. By annual re-elections Endecott served nearly continuously until his death in 1665; for two periods (1650–1651 and 1654–1655) he was deputy governor.
In 1639 Endecott had been granted several hundred acres of land north of Salem, in what is now Boxford and Topsfield. The tract was not formally laid out until 1659, but as early as 1651 Endecott was granted an additional "three hundred acres of land to tend the furtherance of a copper works" that was adjacent to his land. Endecott hired Richard Leader, an early settler who had done pioneering work at an iron works in nearby Lynn, but the efforts to develop the site for copper processing failed.
A persistent shortage of coinage in all of the colonies prompted Massachusetts to establish a mint in 1652, and begin production of coins from its silver reserves. This act solved a practical problem, but the colony had no authority to do so from the crown. Although this did not become an issue while Endecott was governor, it eventually became a source of controversy with the crown, and the mint had apparently ceased operations around 1682.
The colony's boundaries expanded somewhat during Endecott's tenure, mainly in the 1650s. In addition to formally claiming present-day Stonington, Connecticut as spoils from the Pequot War, Endecott sought to establish the colony's northern boundary. In 1652 he sent a commission with surveyors to locate the most northerly point on the Merrimack River, since the colonial grant defined its northern border as north of that river. These surveyors were led by Indian guides to the outlet of Lake Winnipesaukee which was claimed by the guides to be the source of the Merrimack. At that location, the party incised an inscription on a rock that survives, and is now located in a small New Hampshire state park. When this survey line was extended eastward, the boundary was determined to fall on the coast at Casco Bay, and the colony thus claimed most of what is now southern Maine and New Hampshire.
One written statement made early in his tenure in May 1649 showed Endecott's dislike of a fashionable trend toward long hair: "Forasmuch as the wearing of long haire after the manner of Ruffians and barbarous Indians, hath begun to invade new England contrary to the rule of gods word ... Wee the Magistrates who have subscribed [signed] this paper ... doe declare and manifest our dislike and detestation against the wearing of such long haire". In 1651 he presided over a legal case in which three people were accused of being Baptists, a practice that had been banned in the colony in 1644. In convicting John Clarke and sentencing him to either pay a fine or be whipped, Endecott, according to Clarke's account of the exchange, told Clarke that he "deserved death, and said he would not have such trash brought into his jurisdiction." Clarke refused to pay the fine; it was paid by friends against his wishes, and he returned to Rhode Island. Of the three men convicted, only Obadiah Holmes was whipped; John Crandall, out on bond, returned to Rhode Island with Clarke.
When Oliver Cromwell consolidated his control over England in the early 1650s, he began a crackdown on religious communities that dissented from his religious views. This notably included Baptists and Quakers, and these groups began their own migration to the North American colonies to escape persecution. Those that first arrived in Boston in 1656 were promptly deported by Endecott's deputy, Richard Bellingham, while Endecott was in Salem. More Quakers arrived while Endecott was resident in Boston, and he had them imprisoned pending trial and deportation. He met several times with the Quaker, Mary Prince, after receiving an "outrageous letter" from her. The meetings were apparently fruitless, and she and the other Quakers were deported. Following these acts, the members of the New England Confederation all adopted measures for the prompt removal of Quakers from their jurisdictions.
The measures adopted were insufficient to prevent the influx of these perceived undesirables, so harsher measures were enacted. Repeat offenders were to be punished by having ears cut off, and, on the third offense, to have the tongue "bored through with a hot iron". By 1658 the punishment for the third offense had been raised to death, "except they do then and there plainly and publicly renounce their said cursed opinions and devilish tenets." In October 1658 the death penalty was enacted for the second offense in Massachusetts. One year later, three Quakers were arrested and sentenced to death under this law. Two of them, Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson, were hanged, while the third, Mary Dyer, received a reprieve at the last minute. Dyer returned to the colony in 1660, and, under questioning by Endecott and the other magistrates, refused to either recant her beliefs or agree to permanent banishment from the colony. She was hanged on 1 June 1660; she, Stephenson, Robinson, and William Leddra (hanged in 1661) are now known as the Boston martyrs. The severity of these acts was recognized by the colonists as problematic, and the laws were changed so that execution was the penalty for the fifth offense. (The poor treatment of Quakers and other religious dissenters would be cited as one of the reasons for revocation of the colonial charter in 1684.)
Endecott's role in the treatment of the Quakers was immortalized by John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem "Cassandra Southwick", named for another Quaker who suffered while Endecott was governor. Whittier characterized Endecott as "dark and haughty", and exhibiting "bitter hate and scorn" for the Quaker. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recreated the trial of Wenlock Christison in "John Endicott", one of three dramatic poems in a collection called New England Tragedies. Christison was the last Quaker Endecott sentenced to death for returning to Massachusetts after having been banished. He was not executed, however, because the law was changed shortly after his sentencing. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne described Endecott in "The Gentle Boy", whose title character is the six-year-old son of William and Mary Dyer, as "a man of narrow mind and imperfect education, and his uncompromising bigotry was made hot and mischievous by violent and hasty passions; he exerted his influence indecorously and unjustifiably to compass the death of the enthusiasts [i.e., the Quakers]; and his whole contact, in respect to them, was marked by brutal cruelty."
Even though the Puritan colonists of New England were supportive of Oliver Cromwell's reign in England, they were not always receptive to Cromwell's suggestions. In response to a proposal by Cromwell that New Englanders migrate to Ireland to increase its Protestant population, the Massachusetts assembly drafted a polite response, signed by Endecott, indicating that its people were happy where they were.
In July 1660 word arrived in Boston that Charles II had been restored to the English throne. This was an immediate cause of concern in all of the colonies that had supported Cromwell, since their charters might be revoked. In Boston it created a more difficult problem for Edward Whalley and William Goffe, two of the "regicide" commissioners who had voted to execute Charles I. Although Charles promised in the 1660 Declaration of Breda that all were pardoned except by act of Parliament, the Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660 singled out all of the regicides for punishment. Whalley and Goffe moved freely about the Boston area for some time, and Endecott refused to order their arrest until word arrived of the passage of the Indemnity Act. Endecott then issued a warrant for their arrest on 8 March 1661. It is unknown whether Whalley and Goffe had advance warning of the warrant, but they fled, apparently to the New Haven area.
Opponents to the rule of the Puritans in Massachusetts were vocal in airing their complaints to the new king. Among their complaints was the fact that Charles' ascension to power had not been formally announced; this only took place in 1661 after Endecott received a chastising order from the king. This prompted the assembly to draft another of several laudatory letters it addressed to the king, congratulating him on his rise to power. The mint was claimed to be a bald-faced attempt to devalue good English currency, some colonists complained that the expansion of the colony's borders in 1652 was little more than a land grab, while others put forward claims of administrative malfeasance with respect to funds provided by the crown for the Christianization of Indians, and the Quakers cataloged a long list of grievances. Believing that it was best to ignore the accusations, Endecott and other members of the old guard opposed sending representatives to London to argue against these charges. Supporters of the idea raised funds in a private subscription, and sent a commission to London.
The colonial mission, led by future governor Simon Bradstreet and pastor John Norton, was successful, and King Charles announced that he would renew the colonial charter, provided the colony allowed the Church of England to practice there. The Endecott administration dragged its feet on implementation, and after months of inaction, the king sent a commission headed by Samuel Maverick, one of the colony's most vocal critics, to investigate. Endecott had advance warning of what the commission was to investigate, and took steps to address in form, if not in substance, some of the expected actions. Charles insisted that all religious dissenters be freed, which Endecott had done long before Maverick's arrival, but he did so by deporting them. Upon the commissioners' arrival, the assembly took up the matter of allowing Church of England activity in the colony. They passed a law deliberately using the king's language, allowing anyone "orthodox in religion" to practice in the colony; however, they also defined such orthodoxy as consisting of views that were acceptable to local ministers. This effectively negated the law, because there were probably no ministers in the colony who would agree that Anglicans satisfied their idea of orthodoxy.
In 1655 the Massachusetts assembly passed a law requiring its governor to live closer to Boston; this was probably done in response to Endecott's sixth consecutive election as governor. Endecott was consequently obliged to acquire a residence in Boston; although he returned to Salem frequently, Boston became his home for the rest of his life. Endecott died in Boston on 15 March 1664/5. Although early accounts claim he was buried at Boston's King's Chapel, later evidence has identified his burial site as tomb 189 in the Granary Burying Ground.