The Cambridge Agreement


April 13, 2021

CAMBRIDGE AGREEMENT. On August 17, 1629, twelve Puritan members of the Massachusetts Bay Company, under the leadership of John Winthrop, signed an agreement in Cambridge, England, in which they agreed to emigrate with their families to New England. The signatories to the Cambridge Agreement insisted that the charter of companies be transposed into the New World and that it serve as a constitution for the new colony. This was an unprecedented demand, as traditionally a board of directors governed chartered colonies in England. A few days later, the general court of the company adopted an application to transfer the company and the Charter to New England, becoming the only English colonization company without a board of directors in England. Subsequently, all shareholders who did not want to settle in America sold their shares to those who were willing to make the trip. By taking the Charter, the Puritans shifted the attention of the business from commerce to religion, and they guaranteed that the Crown would not endanger their religious freedom in America. The agreement guaranteed that the Massachusetts Colony would be self-administered, only for the English crown. The colony and society then became, in all respects, one and the same.

The Puritans of Winthrop carried this charter across the Atlantic when they arrived in America in 1630. On his terms, those who wanted to emigrate to the New World could buy shares held by shareholders who wanted to stay at home. The agreement was therefore a precursor to the founding of Boston, Massachusetts. Their foresight to take the Charter to the new colony proved decisive when King Charles and Archbishop Laud, in 1635, attempted to destroy it and impose a dictatorship of vice-jurisdiction on the settlers. Their efforts were delayed until parliamentary victories ensured the security of the Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth in its rights. . After the creation of the charter and the formation of the society, the governor and society again held the court in Cambridge, England, near or within the boundaries of the famous university that John Winthrop had visited. Here, a dozen of the company hired not only its energies and capital, but also its life, and decided to sail to New England to build and live on the plantation.

Of these twelve signatories, ten (all except Browne and West) sailed with the fleet next spring. In the spring of 1630 Winthrop and about 100 followers sailed the Arbella to the New World. The group arrived in Massachusetts in June 1630 and was soon accompanied by other English emigrants. By the end of the year, two thousand English-born settlers lived in Massachusetts. The Arbella`s journey marked the beginning of a 10-year period of mass emigration from England, known as the Great Migration. By the end of the decade, about eighty thousand men, women and children had left England, and twenty thousand of them had settled in Massachusetts. In return for the guarantee of local control of the colony, the non-emigrant shareholders were bought out by the emigrant shareholders. John Winthrop became the leader of Puritan emigration following the Cambridge Agreement negotiations, and it was understood that he would be governor upon his arrival.

This was done by court order on August 29. 1629. A remarkable reservation concludes this document that “the whole government and the patent of the plantation in question” must go with them to the new colony.