DORCHESTER COMPANY. Certain English merchants, having ships sailing from Weymouth to fish off the banks of Newfoundland, decided in 1622 that a settlement on the coast of New England would be to their advantage because they had to double-man their ships to have, besides the crews, enough men for the fishing. With a settlement, the men needed for fishing could be left onshore with sufficient provisions for the winter and employ their time until the fishing fleet returned in building, curing fish, trapping fur-bearing animals, and planting corn.
The Reverend John White, rector of Holy Trinity, Dorchester, England, was a prime mover in this enterprise. While at Oxford, he imbibed the principles of the early Puritans, who believed the Church could be purified from within, and therefore had little sympathy with Plymouth Colony's rigid separatism. Not only could a clergyman of his persuasion reside on this new plantation to attend to the spiritual welfare of the settlers, but here would be a refuge for those likely to suffer from the strict religious discipline of Plymouth Colony as well.
The merchants, represented by Richard Bushrod and his associates, obtained a fishing license from the Council for New England on 20 February 1622, which entitled them to search for a colony site. A year later, on 18 February 1623, the council granted a patent to Sir Walter Earle. The promoters, led by Earle and White, met in March 1624 at Dorchester to formally organize the venture. They formed a company of associates, consisting of 119 stockholders paying £25 per share. Altogether, the company's initial fund came to more than £3,000. Even before that meeting, the new "Dorchester Company" purchased a ship—the Fellowship—that set out for New England in the summer of 1623. It arrived too late for productive fishing and left fourteen men and provisions to occupy Cape Ann. Two additional voyages, in 1624 and 1625, also failed as fishing expeditions. The latter had to be financed on borrowed funds, resulting in great loss to the company. Sinking into debt with no obvious way to turn a profit quickly, the company folded in 1626.
By that time about fifty men had been left at Cape Ann, and some men from Plymouth Colony who disliked Separatist rule (including John Lyford and Roger Conant) joined them. Their experience as colonists was useful to the plantation, yet the undertaking did not flourish. Cape Ann was twenty miles from the best fishing waters and had little agriculturally productive land. The site being unsuitable, Roger Conant advised all who wished to re-main in New England to transfer to Nahum Keike, afterward named Salem. Despite the Dorchester Company's bankruptcy, John White undertook to provide the necessary supplies for the Nahum Keike colonists.
White still desired to establish a successful colony in New England, especially one that would serve as a refuge for non-Separatist dissenters. He hoped Nahum Keike could become such a colony and worked to attract new investors. A second joint-stock company—the New England Company—formed as a result, enabling John Endicott and about forty other colonists to ship for Nahum Keike on 20 June 1628. The New England Company, organized by patent from the Council for New England, was an unincorporated joint-stock company of ninety members. Its business concluded when it was merged into the Massachusetts Bay Company by royal charter in 1629.
Labaree, Benjamin W. Colonial Massachusetts: A History. Mil-wood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1979.
Rabb, Theodore K. Enterprise and Empire: Merchant and Gentry Investment in the Expansion of England, 1575–1630. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Rose-Troup, Frances. John White: The Patriarch of Dorchester (Dorset) and the Founder of Massachusetts, 1575–1648. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1930.