John Endecott

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Endecott, John

1588 (or 1589)

Dorchester, England

March 15, 1665

Boston, Massachusetts

Governor and military leader

John Endecott "rebuked the inhabitants [of the Massachusetts Bay Colony] for their profaneness, and admonished them to look to it that they walked better."

Puritan leader John Winthrop.

John Endecott was one of the early leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which consisted of several settlements and towns. He came to the New World (the European term for North and South America) in 1628 as a member of a small group that paved the way for the "Great Migration" of Puritans (a religious group who preached strict moral and spiritual codes) two years later. Endecott was a strict Puritan whose actions generally benefitted the colony. Nevertheless, he could also be extremely cruel, and he dealt very harshly with dissenters (those who question authority) and other rebels. He is infamous for cutting down the maypole at Merry Mount (now Quincy) to punish unruly settlers. (A maypole is a tall flowerwreathed pole that is the center for May Day sports and dances, which were not condoned by Puritans.) Endecott is best known, however, for the expedition that led to the Pequot War of 1636 and for his harsh treatment of Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends who believe that the individual can receive divine truth from the Holy Spirit through his or her own "inner light" without the guidance of a minister or priest) toward the end of 1660. The strong-willed Endecott served as governor until his death in 1665.

Helps form Puritan colony

John Endecott was born in 1588 (or 1589) in Dorchester, England. His parents were Thomas and Alice (Westlake) Endecott. His grandfather was a wealthy man who held mining interests in England. As a young man, Endecott became a Puritan after being influenced by the Reverend John White of Dorchester and the Reverend Samuel Shelton, who became the pastor of the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts. Because of his conversion, Endecott was practically disowned by his grandfather, who disagreed with his religious views. Before emigrating (moving from one country to another) to the New World, Endecott married Ann Gower, who was related to Matthew Craddock, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in England (at that time the colonies did not have self-rule).

Endecott had no trouble finding other Puritans who were interested in emigrating to New England. By 1628 the Plymouth Colony had already been well established, and there were some settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. On March 19, 1628, Endecott joined six other "religious persons" in purchasing a patent (an official document giving a right or privilege) from the Plymouth Council (the British government agency that issued colonizing rights) for land in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. With permission to colonize, the group proceeded immediately to the New World. On June 20, 1628, Endecott and his wife joined about thirty other emigrants and sailed out of Weymouth, England on board the ship Abigail. After reaching Naumkeag (now Salem), Massachusetts, on September 6, 1628, the small group prepared for other settlers who were to come later. Ann Endecott died soon after they arrived in Massachusetts, and John Endecott was remarried in 1630 to Elizabeth Gibson. They had two sons.

Punishes rebels and dissenters

Historians have difficulty in determining Endecott's title after he landed at Massachusetts. On April 30,1629, he was appointed temporary governor by the Plymouth Company in England. His election, some sources say, was probably influenced by his relation to Craddock. On October 20, 1629, John Winthrop (see entry) was elected the official governor of Massachusetts, but he did not arrive in the colony until 1630. As a result, Endecott headed Plymouth for an entire year. Even though Endecott initially held the position, historians consider Winthrop the first official governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

While Endecott was in office he made considerable progress in clearing the way for more settlers. For instance, he commanded a military company that protected settlers against Native Americans. But Native Americans were not the only problem. The colonists also had to confront merchants and planters who had already settled the area. Endecott had the most problems with the traders in Mount Wollaston, or Merry Mount. He disapproved of the conduct of Thomas Morton (see entry), who headed a gang of traders. Leading an expedition to Merry Mount, Endecott "rebuked the inhabitants for their profaneness," and admonished them to "look to it that they walked better." In an event now famous in American history, Endecott cut down the maypole at Merry Mount to discourage such public celebrations as dancing and sporting events.

As temporary governor, Endecott also had to deal with religious problems in Massachusetts. After Puritan preachers Samuel Skelton and Francis Higginson arrived in 1629, a new church was built for the colony. Calling themselves Separatists (those that separated from the Church of England), Endecott and the two clergymen organized a church that was based on the one in Plymouth and separate from the Puritan church in England. When two colonists, John and Samuel Browne, refused to become Separatists, Endecott deported them to England. Although British authorities were generally satisfied with Endecott's job as governor, they were critical of his treatment of the Brownes. His abrupt actions revealed an intolerance toward dissenters and foreshadowed his eventual harsh treatment of the Quakers.

Reveals extreme Puritanism

The summer of 1630 marked the high point of the "Great Migration" of Puritans to New England. Nearly one thousand new settlers arrived from England. Among them was Winthrop, who brought a charter (a grant or guarantee from the sovereign power of a state or country) that allowed the New England settlers to govern themselves. Winthrop immediately took over as governor and Endecott willingly gave up his position to become Winthrop's assistant. In return for his services, Endecott was granted land in 1632, and two years later he was appointed military commissioner of the colony.

The "Great Migration" and the Pequot War

As a result of the "Great Migration" of Puritans to New England, the population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony rose from about 4,000 to 11,000 between 1634 and 1638. In 1635 Puritans moved west onto land that was controlled by the Pequots, a Native American tribe. For instance, the Hartford settlement was established by Baptist minister Thomas Hooker, and Fort Saybrook was built by the English Saybrook Company near the Pequot village of Mystic. Because the English were allied with their enemies, the Naragansetts, the Pequots were not friendly with the English. As the Puritans began their westward expansion, tensions increased between the colonists and the Pequots.

The Puritans' main goal was to rid the area of all Native Americans. Even though the colonists had a treaty with the Pequots, they hoped to provoke the Native Americans into breaking the agreement. When Native Americans from an unknown tribe killed two English colonists, John Stone and John Oldham, colonists had the provocation they wanted. In September 1636, Endecott led an attack on the Pequots and their allies on Block Island, thus beginning the Pequot War. After the Pequots retaliated by laying siege to Fort Saybrook, the conflict quieted for some time. Western settlers worried that the Pequots would be victorious, however, and fighting soon escalated. The war finally ended at Mystic after the settlers burned the village and exterminated nearly all the Pequots. The few survivors were either killed later by the Puritans or they fled to other parts of the country. In 1638 the Treaty of Hartford declared the Pequot nation to be dissolved.

Endecott continued making history, even as an assistant to the governor. In September 1634 he cut the cross of St. George from a banner used by the colonists in Salem. Being a strict Puritan, Endecott believed that the cross represented popery. ("Popery" refers to the pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Puritans opposed any symbol of the Catholic Church.) Although the Puritan community, including Winthrop, secretly sympathized with his actions, the matter was brought before the general court in 1635. Endecott was suspended from office for one year. He was reappointed assistant governor in 1636. During the same year two colonists, John Stone and John Oldham, were killed by Native Americans from an unknown tribe. In retaliation, Endecott led an expedition against the Pequot Indians that resulted in the Pequot War. Also in 1636, the military finally agreed that the cross of St. George was idolatrous (the worship of a physical object as a god) and should be left off the colony's banners.

Becomes official governor

After 1636 Endecott held various positions in the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. When Winthrop died on March 29, 1649, Endecott took his place as governor. He was reelected governor every year until his death, except for 1650 and 1654, when he served as deputy governor.

As governor Endecott enforced strict Puritan principles, and he felt that it was his duty to punish dissenters. He had problems particularly with the Quakers, who believed that church leaders should have no role in determining whether individual Christians had gained salvation (forgiveness of sins against God). In 1659 Endecott executed Quaker dissenters William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson. Then in 1660 he executed Quaker rebel Mary Dyer (see entry), who had repeatedly defied the community's laws against Quaker activities. Some historians believe that Endecott was too brutal in his handling of rebels such as Robinson, Stephenson, and Dyer. However, other scholars point to the prevailing opinion among colonists that dissenters should be executed.

After 1660 the Massachusetts Bay Colony struggled to preserve its freedom. As governor, Endecott petitioned King Charles II in England, begging for protection and continued liberty for colonists. Charles II decided to send four commissioners to investigate the Massachusetts government and court. When the commissioners returned to England they issued a highly negative report to the king. On October 19, 1664, Endecott wrote to Secretary William Morrice protesting the power of the commissioners. Morrice, in turn, complained to the king about Endecott's conduct and recommended that he be replaced. Before a new governor was appointed, however, Endecott died in Boston on March 15, 1665.

Shows humanity with interest in education

Despite his flaws, Endecott managed to be a successful governor until his death because he was strong-willed. Most historians agree that Endecott was self-absorbed and cruel to dissenters. Yet others point out that circumstances at the time demanded such a man. To say that Endecott was completely inhumane would be to ignore the fact that he supported education for the colonists. In 1641 he suggested establishing a free school in Salem. In 1642 he became a member of the staff at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Endecott was survived by his son John and his other son Zerubbabel, who was a physician in Salem.

For further research

Johnson, Allen, and others, eds. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, pp. 155–57.

Stephen, Leslie, and Sidney Lee, eds. The Dictionary of National Biography. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1917, pp. 784–87.

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John Endecott

John Endecott (1588-1655) was one of the English founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later its governor. He often used harsh measures against the colony's enemies.

Born in Devon, John Endecott may have seen some military service. He early became interested in colonization through the influence of John White, a Puritan clergyman. Endecott was included among the six patentees of the New England Company because he was willing to emigrate as the director of the Cape Ann settlement.

Appointed "chief-in-command" and commissioned to prepare the way for more colonists, Endecott arrived at Salem, Mass., in September 1628. Under his directorship Salem became a Puritan beachhead in New England. He sent two brothers who continued using the Anglican Prayer Book back to England as undesirable colonists, and he chopped down Thomas Morton's frivolous maypole at Merrimount. Both actions indicated his impulsiveness and partisanship. He later had the cross of St. George removed from Salem's militia flag because of its papal connotation and was reprimanded by the legislature for his political indiscretion.

In 1629 the New England Company was reorganized as the Massachusetts Bay Company, and when Governor John Winthrop arrived in 1630 Endecott relinquished his leadership, although he remained among the colony's public servants. Endecott's lack of restraint was demonstrated again in 1637, when he led an expedition against the Pequot Indians to avenge the murder of a trader. After destroying one Native American settlement, Endecott and his men went to another. Ignoring pleas for caution by Connecticut settlers, Endecott continued to destroy Native American canoes and villages until, satisfied, he returned to the safety of Boston and Salem, leaving Connecticut to suffer the reprisals of the Native Americans in the Pequot War. Later, as governor of Massachusetts during the Quaker intrusions of the 1650s, he bore much of the responsibility for the inhuman treatment of the Quakers—ranging from imprisonment and banishment to execution. King Charles II eventually rebuked Massachusetts and Governor Endecott for their cruelty.

Despite his strictness and narrowness, Endecott served the colony as best he could. His election to colonial offices attests to his honesty and willingness to serve the common good. In addition to minor posts, he served 5 yearly terms as deputy governor and 15 as governor, filling the governorship longer than anyone else. If he was overzealous in defending the truth as he saw it, he was like many others in an overzealous age.

Further Reading

The only recent biography of Endecott is Lawrence S. Mayo, John Endecott: A Biography (1936). Background material can be found in Herbert L. Osgood The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (3 vols., 1904-1907); James Truslow Adams, The Founding of New England (1921); Frances Rose-Troup, The Massachusetts Bay Company and Its Predecessors (1930); and Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History (4 vols., 1934-1938). □

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