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Governor of Salem
Virtually nothing is known about John Endecott's life prior to his involvement with the Massachusetts Bay Colony other than that he was born either in or near Devon, England, sometime around 1588.
In 1628, Endecott and six other men, as The New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts, were granted a charter for all land between three miles north of the Merrimack River and three miles south of the Charles River, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Endecott was chosen to lead the company's first expedition, which set sail on June 20, 1628. Upon arrival, the fifty settlers organized the settlement of Naumkeag, after a local Native American tribe, in an area that was already occupied by settlers of the failed Dorchester Company. The settlement faced serious problems from the beginning, not the least of which was an epidemic that began taking hold during its first summer. As the colony's leader, Endecott perusaded the Governor of the New Plymouth Colony to send their resident physician, Dr. Samuel Fuller, to Salem and stop the epidemic before it could claim too many lives. The settlement was renamed Salem upon issuance of a royal charter in 1629, and Endecott was formally named as the colony's Governor at the same time.
As Governor of Salem, Endecott earned a reputation as a fair, but strict, leader who rigorously enforced Puritan religious beliefs and punished, often severely, those he believed to be offenders. In 1630, John Winthrop arrived with a new group of colonists, as well as a new charter naming him as Governor. Endecott dutifully handed over control of the colony to Winthrop, who then moved its seat to what is now Boston. Endecott chose not to move to the new site, but he continued to serve the colony in various capacities, including several more stints as Governor, for the rest of his life. When not engaged in colony business, he lavished attention on his 300-acre land grant (located where the city of Danvers, Massachusetts, sits today). One of his earliest ventures was the propogation of the first cultivated fruit trees in North America, and one of the pear trees he planted still bears fruit to this day. 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.
Right: the Endecott Pear Tree in Danvers
Religious conflict between the Salem and Boston settlements was the primary source of political conflict in the New England colony, with the Salem church seeking a complete break with the Church of England and the Boston church advocating reform of the Church from within. This conflict was heightened by the arrival in Boston of Roger Williams, an avowed Separatist, in 1631. After refusing an invitation to become the minister of a Boston church because that church had not officially severed its ties with the Church of England, Williams accepted Endecott's invitation to assume the ministry of the church at Salem. When, in 1634, Boston authorities issued a warrant for Williams's arrest on grounds of treason and heresy, Endecott responded by defacing the local militia's flag, declaring that the St. George's Cross it bore was a symbol of the papacy. Endecott was censured for the rashness of his action (not for the act itself) and prevented from holding any public office for one year, and, as a result, 1635 was the only year in which he held no office of any kind.
Left: Endecott defacing the flag
In July of 1636, Massachusetts trader John Oldham was killed by a band of Native Americans on Block Island (off Rhode Island). Massachusetts authorities immediately blamed the Narraganset for the murder, but Narragansett leaders claimed that those responsible for the crime had actually been affiliated with the Pequot, who at that time were already at odds with Massachusetts for failing to turn over men implicated in the murder of another trader two years earlier. In August, Massachusetts Governor Henry Vane placed Endecott at the head of a 90-man force to punish the Pequot. Although Endicott met little resistance from the Pequot when he landed on Block Island, he spent two days destroying their villages, crops, and canoes. Proceeding on to Pequot territory, Endicott initially agreed to meet with Pequot envoys to negotiate a settlement, but then decided they were simply stalling while awaiting reinforcements and went off on another destruction and looting rampage before heading back to Salem. Although Endecott's raids resulted in very few casualties on either side, the Pequot War that followed practically destroyed the Pequot tribe as an entity.
Right: Endecott landing on Block Island
Endecott was elected Deputy Governor in 1641, and in this role was one of the signatories to the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, an enumeration of rights available to every individual citizen of Massachusetts. In 1643, he represented Massachusetts as part of the New England Confederation, which was formed to facilitate united action by all New England colonies against common external threats as well as internal matters such as escaped slaves and criminal fugitives.
In 1644, Endecott was elected Governor, with Winthrop as his Deputy. During his one-year term, Endecott oversaw the division of the Massachusetts Colony into four counties -- Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, and Norfolk. Endecott's return to the governorship also sparked a movement to move the capital back to Salem, but the colony's Council of Assistants, who held the actual governing authority, nixed the idea almost immediately and it was never again an issue. Endecott became Governor again upon the death of Winthrop in 1649, and, by annual re-elections, subsequently served as either Governor or Deputy Governor almost continuously until his death. Most of his later tenures as Governor were marked by severe retributions against non-Puritans, especially Quakers. Those Quakers who dared to emigrate to Boston were subject to immediate arrest and deportation, and those who either refused to leave or tried to return to Massachusetts were even subject to the death penalty. The colony's consistent refusal to accept non-Separatists into its realm ultimately led to the revocation of its charter in 1684.
John Endecott died in Boston on March 15, 1664/5.
This page was last updated on January 12, 2017.