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Belcher, Jonathan

Belcher, Jonathan

BELCHER, JONATHAN. (1682–1757). Merchant, colonial governor of Massachusetts and New Jersey. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 8 January 1682, Jonathan Belcher was raised in a prosperous family that had important political and commercial connections. Graduating from Harvard in 1699, Belcher traveled in Europe before becoming a wealthy merchant in Boston. In 1705 he married Mary Partridge, daughter of New Hampshire Lieutenant Governor William Partridge.

After being elected to the Massachusetts Council eight times during the twelve years from 1718 to 1729, Belcher happened to be in England when Governor William Burnet died, and he was able to secure the governorship of Massachusetts and New Hampshire for himself. On 10 August 1730 he landed in Boston to take up his commission. His position was one that called for real genius, which Belcher lacked. He tried to walk the fence between royal and colonial interests, but repeatedly found himself embroiled in controversy. Among the conflicts that troubled his time in office was the Broad Arrow policy, which brought him into conflict with royal authority; the Land Bank, in which he supported his friends and family, who opposed the popular scheme; and the boundary dispute between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, in which he was accused of accepting a bribe. On 7 May 1741 the Board of Trade dismissed Belcher as governor of both provinces.

In 1744 Belcher went to England to argue his case, meeting with the Board of Trade, members of Parliament, and King George II. In 1747, perhaps just to get rid of him, the Crown appointed Belcher governor of New Jersey. He reached his new post in August 1747 and had a relatively tranquil tenure until his death on 31 August 1757, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He took a great interest in the founding of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and left the college his library.

SEE ALSO oad Arrow.


The Belcher Papers. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 6th ser., vols. 6 and 7. Boston: The Society, 1792.

Batinski, Michael C. Jonathan Belcher, Colonial Governor. Lexington, Ky., University of Kentucky Press, 1996.

                          revised by Michael Bellesiles

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