|About John White
John White was born at Stanton St. John, a few miles east of Oxford, in Oxfordshire, in 1575. John was born in the stone house of the manor farm, which was across the street from the 13th century parish church of Stanton St. John. The manor belonged to New College, Oxford, John's uncle, Thomas White, was the Warden of the College from 1553-1573. There is some speculation that Thomas used his influence to help secure the leasing of the Manor Farm property to his brother, John's father.
John was educated first at Winchester, and then at New College, Oxford, where he -was fellow and resided for eleven years.
In 1606 he became rector of Holy Trinity parish in Dorchester.
Anthony Wood says,
" He as for the most part of his time a moderate Puritan, and conformed to the ceremonies of the Church of England before and when Archbishop Laud sat at the stern." On the breaking Out Of the civil wars, he sided with the Popular party; and his house and library having been plundered by the royalists tinder Prince Rupert, he came to London and was made minister of the Savoy parish. In 1643 he was chose one of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, and " showed himself one of the most learned and moderate among them, and his judgment was much relied on therein."
At that time Dorchester was one of the largest towns located on one of the busiest intersections in Dorset.
England was in an economic slump and going through a period of economic adjustment. Farm lands were being walled in for the raising of sheep, leaving a large population of people, that relied on the land for work and sustenance, on the road with no where to go. So they headed for the large cities looking for work, many found their way to Dorchester. There was not enough work for all the common labors that flooded many of the cities during that time. Some leaders of the day used this, over population, as an argument for colonization.
He seems to have been a very civic minded and charitable minister, and very attentive to the social condition of the people in his parish. He convinced the town officials to create a free primary school. When the town was destroyed in a fire in August of 1613. The fire leveling about 170 houses, most of the public buildings, warehouses with all their stock and store, shops and two of the three churches. Holy Trinity being one of them. Luckily no one was killed during the fire, as all were out in the fields for the harvest. The King advanced 1000 pounds for the rebuilding of the town and John White with the support of town leaders and merchants lead the way in securing subscriptions for its rebuilding. This rebuilding of the town created jobs for the homeless and poor. Almshouses, workhouses, brewhouse and another free school with library were build in the years shortly following the fire.
Thomas fuller tells us that:
"All able poor were set on work, and the important maintained by the profit of the public brewhouse; thus knowledge causeing piety, piety breeding industry, and industry procuring plent unto it. A beggar was not then to be seen in the town."
The Dorchester Company 1623-1628
There had been for a number of years previous, been yearly fishing ventures to the New England coast.
In 1623 the Dorchester Adventures was created. It consisted of about 120 persons of substance from the Dorset area, as a joint-stock fishing adventure group, with John White at its head. Many of the adventures were in someway closely connected with John, as brothers, cousins, brothers-in-law, friends and church associates
The plan was to plant men on the shores to set up year round preparation / salting stations for the manufacturing of cod for the market in England and other countries. The first group of men sailed on the Fellowship in 1623. They settled at Cape Ann and 14 men stayed behind the first winter. Again in 1624 & 1625, the Fellowship along with another ship arrived with more men and supplies.
In 1625 The Dorchester Company was dissolved. During this last year of operation Roger Conant was put in charge of the operation in New England. He had come to Plymouth in New England in 1623, but left that colony shortly because of differences he had with the ridged way of Separatism. Rodger's brother John was a member of the Dorchester Adventures group.
Fifty or so years later Roger Conant had told the historian William Hubbard:
That secretly he was hoping that New England might prove a religious refuge, he sent word of this to his friends in the old country. "wherefore that reverned person Master White (under God one of the chief founders of the Massachusets Colony in New england), being grived in his spirit that so good a work should be suffered to fall to the ground by the Adventurers thus abruptly breaking off, did write to Master Conant not so to desert the business,"
John promised that if he and three others would stay he would get them a new land grant and fresh support. Meanwhile Roger felt the need for a better settlement and in the autumn of 1626 moved the remaining twenty or thirty Cape Ann's settlers by Indian path to a place called Naumkeag, now called Salem. They built some cottages and settled in for the winter. That first winter in Salem may have been had on them, as there was talk of leaving and going to Virginia, but Roger seems to have talked many into staying.
The New England Company
After the second winter and sometime around March 19, 1627/28 the Dorchester Company's property was transferred to a newly formed company called, The New England Company for the Plantation in Massachusetts Bay. This company came into existence through of the hard work and tireless energies of John White. However, you will not find his name among the list of members, as he had no money remaining (having used it up in the failed Dorchester co.) to contribute.
He started the new company under the articles of the Dorchester Company and recruited some inner-core members. Two small ships were sent out to the new colony with provisions of cattle, fodder, beef, cheese, butter, soap, oil, beer, and clothing. This proved taxing for a small group of locals. They needed more money and most of all they needed a patent.
To obtain the patent for new settlement and the new company, it was thought, in the view of the Council for New England, that applications should be made by "gentlemen of blood". John white enlisted the help of some of his neighbors, many of whom were also members of the old Dorchester Co . They were: Sir Henry Rosewell, of Ford Abby and Lymington, in Somerset, who was the high sheriff of Devon; Sir John Yonge, of Colyton, in Devon; Thomas Southcote, of Mohuns Ottery, in Devon; John Humfry, of Dorchester, who was the treasurer for the old Dorchester Adventures; Simon Whetcombe, of Sherborne, a wealthy cloth-worker; and John Endicott, maybe from Chagford in Devon, a solider, was to became governor for this patent in New England.
The gentlemanly blood requirement fulfilled, the patent was obtained from the Council for New England on March 19, 1628.
All the lands laying between parallels three miles north of "a greate river there commonlie call Monomack alias Merriemack," and three miles south of "a certen other river there, callled Charles river, being in the bottome of a certayne bay there, commonlie called Massachusetts, alias Mattachuestte, alias Massatusetts Bay... from the Atlantick and westerne sea and ocean on the east parte, to the south sea on the west parte."
On the next day, March 20, 1628, supplies of cattle, food and clothing were placed on board some ships at Weymouth under a licence to Simon Whetcombe and associates. John White fulfilled his promise to send supplies to Roger Contant and the rest of the Salem settlers.
Endecott's arrival - summer 1628
Endecott's instructions were signed by fourteen of the Adventures on May 30, 1628 and he sailed in the Abigail about June 20th. He sailed from Weymouth with about 50 colonists and supplies which included; arms and ammunition, five tuns of beer, thirty hogsheads of malt and two of aquavty, twelve runlets of strong waters and two pips of Maderia. He arrived in Salem in Sept. and was governor of Salem until 1630.
Upon Endecott's arrival in New England, even though he was instructed by the Company to be tender to the Old planters, he took over everything in the name of the Massachusetts Pattenetees. He appropriated the old planter's gardens and homes for the new settlers. He had the frame of their great house at Cape Ann, removed and transported to Salem for his own use.
Some of the old Dorchester Planters were not happy with this turn of events and maintained that they, their services and their lands were not part of the deal. With the help and influence of John White, over time their rights as first settlers were acknowledged and special grants were made to them. In the end Roger Conant and others moved to a new location which would, in his life time become the town of Beverly.
This large land grant appears to have overlapped a number of other grants handed out by the council. The grant of land issued in 1622 to the Earl of Warwick, Lord Gorges, Sir Robert Mansell, and Sir Ferdinado Gorges among them. It was a complicated situation as the Earl of Warwick was the president of the Council for New England. Warwick was in sympathy with the puritans and seems to have been willing to help them out with getting the patent. Gorges, upset by this patent, declares that it was obtained from the Council in a clandestine manner during his absence while away at war with France. This causes a good deal of anxiety about the security of the patent.
The Royal Charter and New Financial Backing 1628-1629
Meanwhile to insure that patent would not be taken away from the New England Company, John White needed a secure title, this could be accomplished by way of a Royal Charter. During the year of 1628 White and Humfry were going back and forth to London trying to stir up interest in, and money for their company. White was able to make a deal with an important group of about forty one persons to start, more would join later. This group that joined the New England Company consisted of London merchants, some gentlemen, a couple of clergy and officers of the London trainbands.
In Feb. 1629 with new money, the New England Company started preparing the Talbot and Lyons Whelp and three other ships for voyage, clothing and supplies on hand and men engaged. That spring they sent three hundred colonists to Salem. But they still did not have the Royal Charter. The Charter was obtained on March 4, 1628/29 granted to company under it's reformed name, The Massachusetts Bay Company.
The Massachusetts Bay Company 1629
During the year of March 1628/29, the newer members started changing the character of the company.
The New England Company which had been a small locale Dorchester interest, full of west county men, of the more moderate protestant variety, was now overwhelmed by the radical influence of the North and East countrymen and the London merchantmen. By late 1629, as news of the success of the plantation venture spread, more people mostly from the north invested into the company. Men the like Winthrop, Downing and Dudly start to appear in the company records.
Although his moderate puritan ideals were quite different from the newer members and of Endecott's, John White was still a very active and respected member of the reformed company. He was at many of the important company meetings, including the Aug. 19, 1629 meeting where it was decided that the patent and government would be transferred from London to New England. John was also very sympathetic towards the old planters, he represented them and worked for interested and causes back in London.
Mary and John - March 20 1630
While the Mass. Bay Company's started growing and it's religious philosophy was changing, the news of Endecott's behavior and treatment of the old planters was disappointing to say the least to John White.
A major disappointment for the puritan moderates was an incident concerning the Brown brothers. John and Samuel, came to New England in April 1629 on the talbot or the Lyon's Welp. They were both moderate Protestants, full members of the company, appointed assistants to Endecott's council and knew John White. When they reached New England and saw that the Book of Common Prayer was not being used by the new ministers and that this moderate type of ministry was missing. They took up the Book of Common prayer to minister to some locales, were hauled before Endicotts court and thrown out of New England... They were allowed to choose three or four of the Company to speak on their behalf, they chose brothers Samuel and William Vassell, Mr. Symon Whetcombe and William Pynchon. I descend from both of the above Williams and both had trouble with the governor and assistants later on down the road, Vassell much sooner than Pynchon.
With the spiritual winds changing in New England, John White became more concerned about his new and old planters. His hopes for a moderate puritan plantation in Salem seemed to have be snatched away from him by the more radical elements in the company, Endicott and the separatist thinking ministers in New England. During this time John White composed The Planters Plea and Humble Request.
While the Mass. Bay Company was preparing for the sailing of what has become known as the Winthroup Fleet, White was preparing his own ship, the Mary and John, with another batch of planters from the west country areas. Many of the passengers were known or recruited personally by White. Many were his own relatives through marriage or blood. Those that were not in some way related to him, consisted of other closely related families from the surrounding areas. Masters John Warham and John Maverick were chosen to be their minsters
Winthroup Fleet- March 1630
John White in his frustration over the separatist ideas taking over the colony in New England and the tendency of the North County folk, now in control of the majority of the Mass. Bay company to go along with the separatist way of thinking, made another effort to stop the separatism from spreading further. He composed a tract called the 'Humble Request of His Majestie's loyall Subjects, the Governour and the Company late gone for New-England; To the rest of their Brethren, in and of the Church of England. For the obtaining of their Prayers, and the removall of suspitions, and misconstructions of their Intentions.' The Humble request for short.
He had the leaders of the Winthroup fleet sign the document in hopes of keeping them from adopting separatist polices once in New England. While John White had hoped their signatures on the document would be some assurance to bind them to a more moderate form of Protestantism, this was not to be the case for most. Their interpretation of the document was a more general one. They felt that they were creating the true church according to the word of god. Removing or separating themselves from the corruptions and errors of the Church of England not the Church.
John White's years after the Great Migration
For a number of years following the migration he had intended to make the journey himself, but for some reason he never did. He still keep a watch over them and lent assistance when needed, after all many friends and relatives had made the journey.
In 1631 he so energetically collected needed provisions for Massachusetts, that a some people of Dorchester in England, accused of diverting parish funds to that cause.
In 1636 and 1637 there are letters from White to Governor Winthrop complaining of the profiteering if the merchants and advising the governor to be more tolerant of those with differing religious views.
The Archbishop of England had ordered that the Book of Sports be read in the pulpit. 1633 he refused to do so and an out spoken sermon caused him to come under suspicion of non-conformity. His personal study was searched for evidence against him and later distorted by Prince Maurice's calvary.
He was to become a prominent member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines and according to Anthony Wood, "one of the most learned and moderate among them... a person of great gravity and presence". He rallied to Presbyterianism, against the Independents and the Sectaries.
After the Civil war he retired to his old parish in Dorchester and wrote a tract call, The way to the tree of Life. He died on July 21, 1648 and was buried under the south porch of St. Peter's Church.
What others said of John White of Dorchester:
- Wood Says,
- " He was a person of great gravity and presence, and had always influence on the Puritanical party, near to and remote from him, who bore him more respect than they did to their diocesan."
- Fuller, in his Worthies, says that
- "he had a patriarchal influence both in old and New England."
- Callender, in his Historical Discourse on Rhode Island, calls him
- " the father of the Massachusetts Colony."
His name will often occur hereafter in the meetings of the Massachusetts Company in London. See Wood's Athen. Ox. iii. 236, (ed. Bliss); Fuller's Worthies of England, ii. 233; Hutchins's History of Dorset, i. 390; Mass. Hist. Coll. xxviii. 306 ; and Rhode Island Hist. Coll, iv. 67.