Massachusetts Bay highlights two decades, through the eyes of a remarkable family, of New England’s formative years. In 1635, a group of ninety Puritans leave England on the ship, Truelove, bound for John Winthrop’s emerging Boston colony. Thomas Burchard, his wife, Mary, and their six children, are among the emigrants. Three months later, a landfall is made on Nova Scotia, and, ten days after that, the weary passengers debark.
Boston is a settlement of two thousand hardy souls, held together, largely, through the iron will of its Governor, John Winthrop. Thomas Burchard builds a home for his family, then accepts an offer from John Winthrop, Jr., to manage a gunpowder factory. The Burchard children, Elizabeth, the oldest at fourteen, Marie, twins Sarah and Susan, John and three-year-old Ann, explore Boston with old friends from the Truelove and new friends from the town.
The first Indian War in the colonies is precipitated, when Pequot chief, Sassacus, welshes on a territorial deal, with Massasoit, sachem of the peaceful Wampanoags, and begins attacking settlements around Boston. Governor Winthrop and John Endicott, Mayor of Salem, form the First and Second Massachusetts Regiments and Thomas Burchard is given command of one of First Regiment’s companies. Ahab Bunting, a blacksmith, who’d accompanied Thomas across on the Truelove, becomes his sergeant.
After the war, friction arises between Puritan factions. Liberals, including followers of Roger Williams, who had been banished to Rhode Island, believe that the church is going down the same, narrowing path that had led them to leave the Church of England, in the first place. Conservatives argue that strict observance of “God’s” rules and a literal interpretation of the bible (as explained by ministers) is the only way to go. The synod would seem to have had its way, when “antinomianist”, Anne Hutchinson, is banished and Ahab Bunting’s wife, on the barest of evidence, is flogged in the town square and branded with the “scarlet letter”.
The Burchard children marry, John taking his wife to Hartford, where he opens the town’s first printing press. Thomas, middle-aged now and having two sons-in law active at the gunpowder plant, which he owns, looks for a place to retire. John has heard of an uninhabited island east of Providence, called Martha’s Vineyard, and goes with Thomas to look at it. Enthralled with its beauty, Thomas leases the island from the Land Office in London for development.
In 1655, twenty years after he had brought his family to Boston and as squire of the village of Vineyard Haven, Thomas Burchard dies. Mary takes the body back to Boston, where the family and hundreds of friends gather to pay their final respects to a man they loved and respected.