JOHN WHITE, A FOUNDER OF MASSACHUSETTS
REVEREND ARTHUR W. ACKERMAN, D.D.
[Reverend John White of Dorchester, England and his participation in Founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony By Reverend Arthur W. Ackerman, D.D. Boston, June, 1929. Publications of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England]
The Rev. John White of Dorchester, England, more than any other one man, must be held responsible for the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and should be given recognition because of his services. It is true that his native town has shown no particular pride in his achievement; his schools noted in themselves have not included him in the lists of those who have added lustre to their names because of what he did for New England, though he was asked to become Warden of his college; for two hundred and fifty years after his death, the city where he spent more than forty years of a very useful life had no monument, inscription, or any other memorial of his unique service; and, stranger still, the great State, of which he was the Founder, in a sense of which it may be said of no other one man, has never, in any official way, done anything to honor his memory. This lack of due recognition of the important part he took in the epoch-making undertaking should be admitted; in justice to him, and to ourselves, honor should be given where honor is due; he should be placed at the head of the list of the Founders of Massachusetts.
Those who were in closest touch with the great movement, who shared with him the toil, the risk, and the sacrifices of the adventure, were neither slow nor scant in their expressions of obligation to him or of the place which he occupied among them. If it were possible to secure the opinion of the full company of adventurers and settlers from the beginning to the sailing of the fleet with Winthrop, a chorus of praise and gratitude would acclaim our John White as the one above all others to whom they were indebted for the success of the enterprise. More than this the history of the movement reveals his extraordinary influence, backed by a deep-seated purpose, and demands that those who have profited most by his work should be generous in their recognition of his services. If the cod-fish is in any sense a fitting emblem of the prosperity of Massachusetts, it was John White who made it so. These two sources of evidence, his co-workers and the history, are to be drawn upon here, in support of this contention.
Roger Conant, who after his experience at Plymouth had chosen to remain at Nantasket, was selected by Mr. White to be the governor of the newly organized venture at Cape Ann, in 1625. Conants brother in England, well-known to Mr. White, had so commended him that Mr. White engaged Mr. Humphrey, the treasurer of the Dorchester Adventurers, to write to Mr. Conant in their names. That he would have done this without consulting his fellow stock-holders is hardly probable, and if it should be discovered that he failed to consult them, it would strengthen the evidence of his commanding position, because there is no hint that any objection was made to his taking such a liberty. The historian, Hubbard, who had Roger Conant for one of his sources of information, gives Mr. White the credit of the selection and of engaging Mr. Humphrey to write the letter which Mr. Conant must have received. In making his claims to have been the one to save the settlement, by changing the location from Cape Ann to Salem, and by persuading the others to remain there with him, Conant speaks of "that reverend person Mr. White (under God one of the chief founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England.)" As Mr. White was among those by whom Roger Conant was set aside when John Endicott was made governor, there might have been some feeling on his part, but even when he was making rather extraordinary claims for himself, and in spite of any feeling that he may have had, he was ready with his testimony that Mr. White was one of the chief founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, not only the settlement at Salem, but the greater Colony as it was permanently constituted.
Thomas Dudley is mentioned among "certain persons about London" who were "brought into acquaintance" with the Dorchester Adventurers " by means of Mr. White of Dorchester." In his letter to the Countess of Lincoln, written in Boston in 1631, he says: "Indeed to the agency of Mr. White, as much as that of any individual, may be imputed the permanent settlement at Naumkeag." As a reason for this opinion he says that at a critical moment Mr. White encouraged Conant and his associates to remain, adding that heed was paid to Mr. Whites plea, and that they trusted his promises, because they had had proof of his virtues as exhibited for their welfare at Cape Ann. That the moment was critical may not be doubted; the company as it had been constituted was breaking up, both shipping and provisions of the company were being disposed of; the settlers were leaving, some for home, others for Virginia; yet, Mr. White promises Conant and others, if they will only remain, "to provide a patent for them and likewise to send whatever they should write for, either men or provisions, or goods wherewith to trade with the Indians." Such a pledge reveals great faith, sublime confidence, and a deep-seated purpose, without which the whole project would have been wrecked. Mr. White wrote that it grieved him to the heart to think of the settlement being given up. So far as is now known, there was no other man in all England at that time who felt that way about a colony on the Massachusetts coast north of Plymouth. Thomas Dudley knew full well that without the saving of the settlement at Salem, the later greater settlement would not have materialized as it did. He gives Mr. White the credit of saving that critical situation, and being able to do so because of what he had previously done. John Winthrop was another man named in the group who were brought into acquaintance with the venture "by means of Mr. White of Dorchester." There seems to have been no wavering in the-mind of Mr. White as to the "usefulness" (to use his own term) of John Winthrop in the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. That Winthrop "came in" later than most of the others suggests that it may have been more difficult to secure his co-operation, but it also suggests that he was considered to be of enough consequence to warrant the greater effort to secure him. On the other hand there was no doubt in Winthrops mind as to the service which Mr. White had rendered. In a letter, dated at Boston, July 4, 1632, addressed to his "Reverend and verie loving Friend Mr. John White," Gov. Winthrop expresses the hope that he may at length see him in New England "that you may reap some fruit of all your labors, care and cost bestowed upon this work of the Lord." In the same letter, referring to a Surveyor of Ordnance whom he is sending home to Germany, admitting that the man had not been sufficiently provided for in his journey, the Governor adds, "I pray you Sir, make use of your old faculty to helpe him with some small matter more for his better accommodation." He also adds a note asking his "Bro Downing ... .to pay this bearer by the allowance of Mr. John White of Dorchester" 12 pounds for fishing lines, etc., to be sent into New England. Now here is the statement made by Governor Winthrop that Mr. White had done much for the Colony of which Mr. Winthrop was Governor, that he had received little, if any, personal return for "labors, care and cost," that he was still procuring materials for the benefit of the colony and that he could be relied upon to exert himself to make up what the Governor had lacked in getting his man home to Germany.
Among those who were brought into acquaintance with the venture "by means of Mr. White" was Matthew Craddock, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company. On the first page of the oldest manuscript book of records of the Company is a letter, dated Feb. 13, 1628-9, written by Mr. Craddock to Gov. Endicott at Salem, in which reference is made to a former letter which Mr. Craddock had written. It is commonly understood that this former letter was the one that has been found bearing the date, Feb. 10, 1628, which is in Mr. Craddocks handwriting, and which contains the following sentences: "It is fully resolved, by Gods assistance, to send over two ministers in the ship now intended to be sent thither." Those we send shall be by the approbation of Mr. White of Dorchester, and Mr. Davenport." Referring to Mr. Peter, as one well-known, he says that "he is now in Holland and his return is uncertain." Here is recognition of Mr. White of Dorchester as one whose judgment was valued, in whom Mr. Endicott might have confidence, one who would have approved of Mr. Peter if he had been available, and the latter to have been the one Mr. Endicott had expected. If this word from Mr. Craddock stood alone, it would be necessary to note that Mr. Davenport shared the honor and responsibility in this matter, but taken with the other evidence it is one item added to support the claim that Mr. Whites position and influence was unique. It is definitely known that Mr. White was in earnest in securing a homogeneous settlement that would avoid the unfortunate conditions, well-known to him, which prevailed in colonies made up of divergent, conflicting interests.
Rev. Hugh Peter was an early stockholder among the Adventurers of 1628, probably, brought in "by means of Mr. White" though not named in the recorded group. He was a generous contributor to the stock, one of those who signed Gov. Endicotts instructions, under the new charter, who had said that he was willing to come to New England when he was wanted. He came in 1635, in the same ship with Sir Harry Vane and John Winthrop, Jr.; he became pastor of the church at Salem in December of that year and served as such for six years, after which he returned to England. His wife was the mother of the second wife of John Winthrop, Jr., and it was partly, at least, through his intercession that the breach between Gov. Winthrop and Gov. Dudley was finally healed. In his Dying Legacy, written in prison, in 1660, as he waited his fate at the hands of the King, he says that his friend Mr. White of Dorchester and Bishop Lake "occasioned, yea, founded, that work of the colonization of New England." Bishop Arthur Lake, to whom he referred, was a brother of Sir Thomas Lake, Secretary of State under James I, was consecrated as bishop in 1616, and the coronation of Charles I, walked with Bishop Neile, by the side of the King beneath the canopy of state a man of distinction. He and Mr. White had been fellow-students at both Winchester and New Colleges, though in different classes. Bishop Lake was elected Warden of New College, Oxford, in 1613 (thirty years later Mr. White was offered the same position) and together with the bishopric, he held the college living of Stanton St. Johns until his death. Mr. White was born in the rectory at Stanton St. Johns in 1575. It is easy to see how these two might be brought together, how they might be interested in the same undertakings and be moved by the same motives. One may be fully assured that Bishop Lake would be vastly instrumental in opening the way and supporting Mr. White in any attempt he might make to become acquainted with men of prominence and influence about London, although Mr. White had many advantages of his own. But whatever may have been Bishop Lakes contribution, he died in 1626, and that was before the men about London were brought in. Let fitting credit be given to Bishop Lake on the evidence of Hugh Peter, even if he is the only one who mentions him. This in no wise diminishes the credit due to Mr. White who continued his efforts, without the aid of Bishop Lake, during the four years that elapsed before Winthrop sailed with his company.
Now here are five first-hand witnesses, men who were on the spot, and on the job as well, who had personal knowledge of what was going on. They are unanimous in their opinions, independently given, that Mr. White was responsible for the beginnings of the Puritan settlement of Massachusetts Bay. There is no other to whom such credit is given. But there are others who bear testimony of the things they have heard from the first-hand witnesses.
When Alexander Young was preparing his Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, he had before him a copy of The Planters Plea, which had belonged at one time to Dr. Increase Mather, and on the title page in Mathers handwriting was penned, "Mr. White of Dorchester, Author." Rev. Richard Mather came to New England in 1635 and was the chosen teacher of the church in Dorchester, Mass., for over thirty years. About three years after his arrival in New England, his son Increase was born at Dorchester, where he had the associations and privileges of the community which had been originally founded by Mr. White. Not all of the first comers had gone to the Connecticut. Whether the copy of the Plea which he owned came from his father, or from some other dweller in Dorchester, or was picked up in England during his two visits there may never be known, but there should be no doubt of his having the fullest opportunity to satisfy himself as to the authorship of the work. During his first visit to England he preached, for a time, in Devonshire, adjoining the county of Dorsetshire of which Dorchester was the most important town. On his second visit he acted as agent for the Colony in support of the claim for a continuance of the first charter, which would have compelled him to make himself familiar with the conditions under which it had been granted, and when this could not be accomplished, he was able to secure the new charter, which again would force him to become acquainted with the history of the Colony from the start. His long pastorate with the North Church, Boston, and his seventeen years service as president of Harvard College, should free him of any suspicion of ignorance, or of any bias in favor of Mr. White. The testimony of Dr. Increase Mather to the authorship of The Planters Plea is a testimony to Mr. White as a founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Planters Plea was written after the Winthrop company had gone, but not long enough after for word to be received of the safe arrival in New England, and it was written by one who claimed to have had knowledge of the "whole work" from the beginning up to that time; from "the very first conceiving and contriving of this project of planting this Colony; and to the several passages that have happened since," which, of course, includes the company that had only recently gone. It begins the history with the venture of some western merchants, who had continued, for "divers years before" 1623, a trade of fishing for cod and bartering for furs on the coast of America, of which the author had had personal knowledge. It considers that from that point to the time when "some persons of competent estates not formerly engaged" had resolved to take part in the project, and had "embarked themselves for a voyage to New England, where I hope they are long since safely arrived," as one work as if the writer had been connected in a continuous attempt to accomplish this result. If there was any other man who could justly make this claim, no one in the progress of these three hundred years has ever thought to mention him.
William Hubbard was fourteen years old when he came to New England in 1635; an early graduate of Harvard College; ordained as pastor of the church at Ipswich, Mass., in 1658, where he remained until his death in 1704. In his General History of New England he gives the results of his own observations and the memories of those who were very early on the ground, among them both Conant and Endicott, and is thought by some to have a leaning towards the Conant point of view. He says, however, that "some knights, gentlemen and merchants about Dorchester, by the advice of one Mr. White, an eminent preacher there, obtained a patent for all that part of New England between the Merrimack and the Charles;" and again, "about the year 1624 at the instigation of Mr. White... .send over sundry persons in order to the carrying on a plantation at Cape Ann." Regarding the crisis at Salem, when the disposition of the most of those who had been interested was to give it all up, Hubbard says that it was because of the "active and vigorous endeavors" of Mr. White that "they maintained their ground and afterward greatly prospered. This was the first peopling of Massachusetts Bay."
Dr. Daniel Neal, writing his History of New England in 1719, approaching the subject from the English point of view, says, "The Rev. Mr. White, Minister of Dorchester, encouraged by the success of Plymouth Colony, projected the New Settlement in Massachusetts Bay." The fact that Mr. Neal was prejudiced in favor of dissenters would not lead him to favor, unduly, Mr. White who never left the Church of England, and the credit he gives to Mr. White would seem to support his reputation for conscientious accuracy.
Thomas Prince, writing his Annals of New England in 1727, used materials which he had gathered with great care during his sojourn of nearly ten years in England to supplement that which he had found in New England. His work was officially approved by the Massachusetts Legislature, and published while he was pastor of the Old South Church in Boston. He has this to say of Mr. White: "The fame of the plantation at New Plymouth being spread through all the western parts of England, Rev. Mr. White, a famous Puritan minister of Dorchester excites several gentlemen there to make way for another settlement in New England, who now on a common stock send over sundry persons to begin a plantation at Cape Ann." With all his searching, he found nothing which in any way would diminish the credit due to Mr. White, and he has no other name to suggest as being instrumental in the same way or the same degree.
Turning to the history of the movement, we shall find that from the formation of the first company of Adventurers to the departure of Winthrop and his fleet, and after that in more moderate measure, Mr. White gave himself no rest in his effort to secure a settlement on the coast north of Plymouth. He not only advised, or excited, others, he promoted the undertaking; by his personal efforts he secured subscriptions to a capital stock of about 3,000 pounds, to be paid in instalments during a period of five years; he invested his own money; he provided the necessary funds for a number of men of his own parish, or in the vicinity of Dorchester, that they might have a share in the venture ; and it is understood that it was he who gained the concession from the Plymouth Colony to make use of their fishing stages at Cape Ann. The only two names of those who were connected with that first company which have come down to us are "Mr. White, the instigator," and Mr. Humphrey, the treasurer." As far as we know, these two are the only ones who continued their connection with the enterprise until the settlement of Boston in 1630.
During his researches in England, the late Mr. Joseph Gardner Bartlett discovered in the uncalendared Proceedings of the Court of Requests of Charles I, dated Oct. 12, 1634, an "answer" by Rev. John White of Dorchester, England, to a "bill" against him and his associates in an "adventure" from 1623 to 1628 to New England to recover the value of some salt said to have been seized at Cape Ann by the agents of the adventurers, with which he names his associates, (cf. New England Historic Genealogical Society Register, vol. 61. p. 278). It will be noted that this list covers the five years, during which the different companies were operating and does not give the names of those associated with him in any one adventure, and also, omits the names of those who were well known to have been associated with him in particular companies. The list is important and interesting, but the men who are mentioned as coming over in the Lions Whelp, and, again, in the Mary & John, are not included.
When the Plymouth Council for New England granted the charter, dated March 19, 1627-8, it was at the solicitation of John White and his associates, which indicates that he was the leading spirit. In the company were Sir Henry Rosewell and Sir John Young, the latter a close personal friend of Mr. Whites, and also Thomas Southcote, John Humphrey, John Endicott and Simon Whitcombe. His name does not appear in the deed which conveyed the "jurisdiction, rights and privileges to the Massachusetts Bay containing the bounds of the Massachusetts patent; wherein is Boston in New England," with the further grant of incorporation by the name of "The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in America." (Recital of the transfer in the Colonial Papers.) That, however, is characteristic of him in all of his dealings in connection with this adventure. Perhaps his financial standing would not warrant it, but more likely he knew the value of the influence of men of standing in the social and financial world, whose names would carry weight and win the co-operation of others. But when Gov. John Endicott was sent out under this charter, his instructions, dated May 30, 1628, were signed by John White and Hugh Peter, among others, as members of the company. Endicott, who, if born in Dorchester as sometimes claimed, was probably of Mr. Whites parish, sailed, as was natural, from Weymouth, the seaport of Dorchester, indicating that his support was largely from the west of England.
By his own exertions certain planters "out of Dorset and Somerset" were sent over in the Lions Whelp, one of the four vessels which went out under Endicott. In the second letter of instructions from the Governor and Company in England to the Governor and Company in New England, is the following:? "Some things we are desired by Mr. Whyte, the minister, to recommend unto your care, viz. that you would show all lawful favor and respect unto the planters that came over in the Lions Whelp... .that you would appoint unto William Dodge, a skilful and painful husbandman, the charge of a team of horses; to appoint Hugh Tilly and William Edes for servants to Sir Richard Saltonstall; to give approbation and furtherance to Francis Webb in setting up his saw mill; and to take notice that all other persons sent over by Mr. Whyte are servants to the Company, whatsoever he hath written to the contrary, this being now his desire." Here were men for whom he was responsible, independently; responsible for their coming, for their treatment and for the financial obligations bound up with their presence-in the colony, whose consent was needed before two could become servants of Mr. Saltonstall, and the rest servants of the Company. Whatever were the actual conditions back of these transfers, it is clear that Mr. White was a prominent factor in the movement, whose wishes were to be considered.
It was about this time that Hubbard places the bringing into acquaintance with the Dorchester Company certain men about London, naming Winthrop, Johnson, Dudley, Craddock, Goff and Saltonstall. The Planters Plea, however, states that it was a gradual development. In 1626, some cattle were sent over, and "conferring casually with some gentlemen of London moved them to send as many more." In 1628, the "business came to agitation afresh in London, and being at first approved by some and disliked by others, by argument and disputation it grew to be more vulgar; insomuch that some men showing some good affection to the work offered to help with their .purses if fit men might be procured to go over." By enquiry "they lighted at last upon Master Endicott." In 1629, the "often agitation of this affair in sundry parts of the kingdom, the good report of Capt. Endicotts government and increase of the Colony began to awaken the spirits of some persons of competent estates not formerly engaged, who took at last a resolution to unite themselves for the prosecution of that work." As this is the account by Mr. White, it is to be accepted as correct, and as referring to his own activity by "conferring casually," by "fresh agitation in London," by "argument and disputation," and by "often agitation" of this affair. No claim is made that he was the only one who did this, or who worked for the same ends, but we do claim that he began it, worked constantly at it, and had no thought of allowing the agitation to cease. What the result would have been without his zeal and importunity there is no way of knowing, but we know that the project was thus furthered and the result was the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In the summer of 1629 another crisis appeared. Gov. Craddock had suggested that the government be transferred to New England. John Winthrop had finally "come in," but he announced his unwillingness to emigrate unless Mr. Craddocks suggestion was adopted. The influential men of the company refused to emigrate unless Winthrop came with them. But who could reasonably expect that the transfer would be allowed? To this day, it remains a mystery that the Crown should have overlooked the possible outcome of that transfer. Locked up in it, as the germ in the acorn, was an independent United States of America. It looked as if the whole enterprise depended on this decision, but such was not the case. In the midst of the uncertainty of affairs in London, John White, never ready to give up because of obstacles, was quietly and sedulously, providing for any contingency. He wrote to Endicott at Salem, instructing him to find places of habitation for sixty families out of Dorsetshire who were to arrive in New England in the following spring. This was decisive action quite in contrast with the indecision elsewhere. Whatever he may have thought of the importance of the transfer of the government, he proposed to have the work of strengthening the settlement at the Bay go on unhindered. When this company of settlers came together at the New Hospital, Plymouth, England, having been gathered and sponsored as quite independent of the greater movement, he was with them. A day of fasting and prayer was observed; in the morning, Mr. White preached; in the afternoon, a church was organized with his approval and Mr. Maverick and Mr. Warham were chosen its officers; 140 passengers embarked on the Mary & John. This company arrived at Nantasket on May 30, 1630, and about two weeks later landed at Savin Rock, the first group of settlers of the future Colony to make a landing within Boston Harbor. The significance of this incident in the settlement of Massachusetts as evidence of the service of Rev. John White may not easily be overestimated. It was his work; it was one phase of what he had been doing for seven trying years; there is a sense in which it may be said that he had founded the settlements about Boston Harbor before Winthrop and his fleet landed at Salem, but, actually, it was only one of the many ways in which he had been the founder of the whole settlement.
When the London company had arrived at its decision to emigrate, the transfer of the government having been made, it was necessary that the difficult questions about debts and other obligations, together with the readjustment of the stock of the Company, should be settled fairly and amicably. Committees were appointed for these purposes and also to draft plans to fit the new conditions. As umpires, to whom were to be submitted such differences as might arise in the committees, Mr. White of Dorchester, Counsellor White and Mr. Davenport were appointed. It should be noted that Rev. John White was named first. On Nov. 25, 1629, Mr. White of Dorchester was appointed as the head of a committee to value the stock of the Company, the others being Mr. Goff, Mr. Webb and Mr. Nowell.
In the following spring, while the Arbella was in the port of Yarmouth with Gov. Winthrop and several of his assistants on board, waiting for favorable conditions to set sail for New England, an address was signed which was published as The Humble Request of His Majestys Loyal Subjects, the Governor and the Company late gone for New England, to the rest of their Brethren in and of the Church of England. The body of the Request was, of course drawn up before it was signed, but, apparently, the title was framed after they had gone. There is general agreement that the author of this paper was Rev. John White. Hubbards testimony is: "It is commonly said that the Declaration was drawn up by Mr. White that famous minister of Dorchester if so, it had a reverend, learned and holy man for its author." It is certain that the object of the Request is the same as that of The Planters Plea, expressed in the former by the words "your assured friends and brethren," and in the latter by a desire to "allay suspicions and scandalous reports" of any intention to "erect a seminary of faction and separation." This, being the work of Mr. White, would mean that after he had been present at Plymouth to give his blessing and counsel to the group sailing on the Mary & John, he went to Yarmouth to bless the greater company which he had served so long and faithfully. But why was his presence acceptable, or even tolerated, on the flagship of the fleet? Why should Gov. Winthrop and his assistants sign a paper which the Rev. John White of Dorchester had drawn up?
Later, he wrote to Gov. Winthrop, "my care and desires for your good have not been wanting I have many times had conference with my friends here to lay their purses together to send over needful provisions" for sale, but he had learned that objection had been made by dealers in the Colony who "wanted to sell at a dearer rate, enriching themselves by the necessities of the rest, an old mischief which hath proved a moth to many a State and may be prevented in the first forming of a State, than remedied afterwards." He expresses his fear "that half a dozen may be made rich by the pinching of thousands," suggests that "shop-keeping or retailing of wares be kept an appendix to some handicraft," urges "attention to fishing as the first means to an income," and in closing expresses the hope that if Winthrop "conceives his intimation unsuitable to the present condition" that he will still believe "that any error of mine in judgment is not accompanied with any ill-intention." It would be well to analyze that series of intimations. Why should a minister in Dorchester, England, write such a letter as that to the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony? Here is a personal claim that he had already done much for the Colony, that he was continuing to interest his friends in its welfare, and the assumption of the right, or the privilege, to give advice about the economic policies of the settlement in Boston. It is true that he guards himself with customary phrases, "I make bold to represent unto you" "I am not worthy to advise those that understand more than I do" but continues to advise. Take this passage, "I know it will be pretended that all manner of restraint is prejudicial to liberty, and I grant the name of liberty is precious so it be liberty to do good, but no farther. Now the good which ought to be respected is Bonu Publicu, not Privatum Commodam. Salus populi supremas lex was wont to be the Rule." (The public good, not private advantage? The welfare of the people is the supreme law.) And James Russell Lowell has said, of those first settlers, "I think their most remarkable characteristic was their public spirit." But one needs to read the whole letter to get the full force of the attitude which he assumes toward the policies of the Colony, and there is no resentment on Gov. Winthrops part.
It might be considered natural for him to have something to say about religious" affairs, but the tone he uses provokes amazement. "You may be as much endangered by your liberty as we are by our bondage?.I desire" what of it if he did desire?" you to have an eye to one thing, that you fall not into that evil abroad which you labored to avoid at home, to bind men to the same tenets and practices in things indifferent, of all things that rock of separation, which if you once light on, you will find will shake you in pieces," adding that he exceedingly fears that already there is strong inclination that way. As he had approved of Mr. Higginson as minister at Salem who in his farewell to England said, "We do not go to New England as separatists from the church of England; though we cannot but separate from the corruptions of it," as the author of the Planters Plea and the Humble Request, he could not be expected to look with complacency upon the tendencies in the Colony, but why should he presume to take an almost dictatorial attitude, and why should the Governor accept his admonitions with patience? The fact is that these "intimations" as he calls them came from one who was so much the founder of the Colony that it would have shown a greater degree of poor taste than has ever been charged against John Winthrop, for him to have resented them.
There are in existence today four papers, generally referred to as "Considerations for the Plantation of New England." One was found among the papers of Mr. Higginson; among the manuscripts of John Winthrop were found various drafts, as of matters being worked over, with one entitled "Particular Considerations of J. W.;" another, in the handwriting of Sir John Eliot, written, apparently, while he was a prisoner in the Tower, was found among his papers and with it was a letter from John Hampden asking that the "Considerations" be sent to him; the fourth was found in the State Paper Office in London and is endorsed "White of Dorchester, his instructions for the plantation of New England." A letter from John Winthrop, Jr., to his father suggests that there were other copies scattered about the country. These papers are so much alike in sentiment, style of argument, phraseology and arrangement as to suggest a common author, and there is no one to whom the authorship may be fairly attributed except the Rev. John White. They are all abstracts or transcripts of the arguments of Mr. White which he had used to awaken interest in the settlement of New England.
It is well considered the effect upon Mr. White in his own town and country. The same year in which Winthrop and his fleet sailed, there was a complaint before the magistrates of Dorchester, that a widow there "did speak unseemly words of Mr. White by saying that he did starve the Cuntry, and did joine with the divell for money, and would be a merchant and fearmer for his profitt, and did send provision to New England in a color to convey to Speync," etc. Five years later he was before the Court of High Commission in London, not for refusing to observe any of the requirements of the Church, but to explain his financial activities, his accounts having been taken from his study in Dorchester by order of Archbishop Laud. After being detained in London, for about six months, he was allowed to explain. Some of the accounts had to do with a trust fund under a widows will; some with a trust fund for needy ministers; some with his support of an attempt to bring about the union of religious sects, and a considerable sum which had been sent to Mr. Craddocks agent for the benefit of the colony of the Massachusetts Bay Company in New England. He thus suffered for his interest in the settlement of Massachusetts.
The question has often been raised when this subject has been under discussion as to why he did not come over himself, and the answer is found in the fact that two years after the sailing of the fleet the officials of Dorchester were seeking an assistant for him because of the infirmities that had fallen upon him. In 1636 he wrote to Gov. Winthrop "although it pleased God hitherto to deny me that which I have not so long expected as desired, the opportunity and means to do that holy society with you service in mine own person." For some of us the effect upon the history of mankind of his doing other than he did would be a little short of appalling. He would not have been one of the two assistants of the presiding officer of the Westminster Assembly; he would not have broken the deadlock in the debate on accepting the Scotch Covenant by praying for an hour and a quarter, saying many things to both God and the Assembly, a prayer which had its effect upon the whole future of religion in England. More than this, one of his daughters would not have married a man by the name of Wesley, whose son was Samuel Wesley of Epworth, and whose grandsons were John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism.
The writer has often been asked his reason for his interest in this matter and the form of the question has been, Is he an ancestor of yours? How do you descend from him? The answer is always, he has no known descendants in this country, and that has been given as a reason that so little is said about him. The writer goes back to the Winthrop family, but there is neither sense nor justice in allowing pride of ancestry to become a cloak to hide the truth of history. Gov. Winthrop has his assured place in the history of Massachusetts, but he was not the founder of the Colony. That honor belongs, as to no other man, to Rev. John White of Dorchester, England. Though his work was in the background, it was fundamental. In speaking of the crisis of 1626, when the company refused to go on, he says: "Nothing new fell out in the managing of this stock, seeing that experience hath taught us that, as in building houses, the first stones of the foundation are buried under ground and are not seen, so in planting colonies, the first stocks employed that way are consumed, although they serve for a foundation for the work." He knew, also, that it was only just that such work should be recognized. In 1623, when the concession of fishing privileges was secured at Cape Ann, the Adventurers, of whom Mr. White was the instigator, wrote to the men at New Plymouth, "Let it not be grievous to you that you have been instruments to break the ice for others who come after you. The honor shall be yours to the worlds end."
It is to be hoped that proper recognition shall be given to the service of Rev. John White of Dorchester, England, during the tercentenary observance of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and especially of the founding of Boston and its vicinity, as he was the one who sent over the first group of settlers that landed within Boston Harbor.
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Created: June 1, 2007 Modified: September 27, 2015