The first English attempts to plant colonies in the New World were managed by landed gentry such as Sir Walter Raleigh, who was given an undefined grant of land in America by the Queen Elizabeth I, in effect a license to send adventurers there to claim & settle what they could, returning to the crown a portion of any gains reaped through mining or other enterprises. Raleigh’s attempts between 1584 & 1587 failed, in part because, like others of his courtier class, he lacked the funds to sustain it. Beginning in 1606, the English crown began granting the right to form colonies in the New World to joint-stock companies—groups of private investors, many of them merchants, who were willing to undertake the expense & risk of these enterprises. The colony of Virginia & a series of others were planted by this means.
Those who underwrote the founding of Massachusetts made an arrangement for the government of the colony that earlier joint-stock companies had not. A group of Puritans within the Massachusetts Bay Company pledged to travel to & settle in the new colony if given the charter to carry with them. By buying out the other shareholders, those who were actually going to live in the colony insured that they retained control of the colony‘s management. This was an unintended first step toward self-government in America; the royal charter they were given, which became colonial Massachusetts’ constitution, stipulated that the colony be governed by “one Governor, one Deputy Governor, & eighteene Assistants of the same Company, to be from tyme to tyme constituted, elected & chosen out of the Freemen of the saide Company . . . .” On August 26, 1629, the group of male Puritans undertaking the voyage met in Cambridge to sign this legally binding agreement.
Agreement of the Massachusetts Bay Company at Cambridge, England August 26, 1629
Upon due consideracion of the state of the plantacion now in hand for New England, wherein wee (whose names are hereunto subscribed) have ingaged ourselves: and having weighed the greatnes of the worke in regard of the consequences, Gods glory and the churches good: As also in regard of the difficultyes and discourgements which in all probabilityes must be forcast upon the prosecucion of this businesse: Considering withall that this whole adventure growes upon the joynt confidence we have in each others fidelity and resolucion herein, so as no man of us would have adventured it without assurance of the rest: Now for the better encourragement of ourselves and others that shall joyne with us in this action, and to the end that every man may without scruple dispose of his estate and afayres as may best fitt his preparacion for this voyage, It is fully and faithfully agreed amongst us, and every of us doth hereby freely and sincerely promise and bynd himselfe in the word of a Christian and in the presence of God who is the searcher of all hearts, that we will so really endevour the prosecucion of his worke, as by Gods assistaunce we will be ready in our persons, and with such of our severall familyes as are to go with us and such provisions as we are able conveniently to furnish ourselves withall, to embarke for the said plantacion by the first of march next, at such port or ports of this land as shall be agreed upon by the Company, to the end to passe the Seas (under Gods protection) to inhabite and continue in New England. Provided alwayes that before the last of September next the whole governement together with the Patent for the said plantacion bee first by an order of Court legally transferred and established to remayne with us and others which shall inhabite upon the said plantacion. And provided also that if any shall be hindered by such just and inevitable Lett or other cause to be allowed by 3 parts of foure of these whose names are hereunto subscribed, then such persons for such tymes and during such letts to be discharged of this bond. And we do further promise every one for himselfe that shall fayle to be ready through his owne default by the day appointed, to pay for every dayes defalt the summe of 3 li to the use of the rest of the Company who shall be ready by the same day and tyme.
This was done by order of Court the 29th of August. 1629.