Text of history station erected by Cambridge Historical Commission in Winthrop Square

The Founding of Newtowne


The Puritans of Lincolnshire and East Anglia, England, in anticipation of their emigration to New England, organized the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1628, and obtained a grant of the territory between the Merrimac and the Charles Rivers from King Charles I for their settlement. They chose John Winthrop as Governor, Thomas Dudley as Deputy Governor, and "the Assistants," who together act as a kind of executive committee or council in the negotiations of July and August, 1629 for a transfer of the government of the Colony from the Company in Britain to the settlers in Massachusetts (recorded October 15, 1629).
     In April and May, 1630, seventeen vessels with "nearly 1,000 souls" sailed from Britain preceded on March 29, 1630 by the Arbella, with Winthrop, Dudley and the Assistants, which landed in Salem on June 22, 1630. They settled in Charlestown about July 1st and organized what is now known as the First Church of Boston on August 27, 1630. At this same time other arrivals settled in Watertown, in Medford, and in Dorchester. (Thomas Graves had built a house on Graves Neck in what is now East Cambridge in 1629). When problems of water supply were encountered in Charlestown, Winthrop, Dudley, and the Assistants accepted the invitation of the hermit William Blackstone to move to Trimountain, which they renamed Boston on September 17, 1630.


Concerned that Boston was too open to attack from the sea by King Charles or the French, Winthrop, Dudley, and the Assistants rowed up the Charles River on September 30, 1630, in search of what Winthrop called "a fit place for a fortified town." The first high ground near the river channel was then somewhat northeast of what is now the Anderson Bridge (about on the site of Standish Hall), and there they landed. Tradition has it that from there they walked up a "rounded hill" to what is now Winthrop Square (southwest corner of Boylston and Mt. Auburn Streets), and there Deputy Governor Dudley stuck his cane in the ground and announced, "This is the place."
     After a second trip and "Diverse meetings," all the members of the council signed an agreement on December 18 or 18, 1630, "to build houses in the next spring (1631) and to winter there (Newtowne) the next year (1631-32).
     And so it came about that a gridiron plat of streets and lots (the first town plan in the English colonies of America) was laid out for the area south of what is now Massachusetts Avenue and east of Brattle and Eliot Streets.


By July 26, 1631, eight houses were completed and occupied by Dudley, Bradstreet, Lockwood, Poole, "Capt." Patrick, Spencer, Kirman, and Sackett. Governor Winthrop's house was never completed. His failure to comply with the agreement triggered a feud between Winthrop and Dudley which lasted the rest of their lives. With Governor Winthrop in Boston, the General Court met alternately in Newtowne and Boston until 1638.
     In the spring of 1632, the arrival of the "Braintree Company" and its minister, the Reverend Thomas Hooker, greatly increased the size of Newtowne so that by the spring of 1635 there were 86 houses. Hooker was "settled" as minister on October 11, 1633, when the first meeting house was constructed, at the southwest corner of Mt. Auburn and Dunster Streets. This meeting house served as church and meeting place for the Colony's General Court and town meetings.
     In October, 1635, The Reverend Thomas Shepard came to Newtowne. In anticipation of the departure of Reverend Hooker and his company to what iis now Hartford, Connecticut, in the spring of 1636, Shepard was installed as Minister in February, 1636, to serve until 1647.