The Hereditary Order of the First Families of Massachusetts was established to commemorate the families of our Puritan ancestors. Because there is a tendency to think chiefly in terms of male ancestors, the Order places equal emphasis upon the wife and mother. Her ceaseless work in the home and the sharing of her husband’s interests in religion and community affairs contributed essentially to maintaining a civilized community in a wilderness surrounded by savage circumstances. The Order honors these women and gives particular attention to the word “families” and to its meaning, both for our forebears and for ourselves.
It is Massachusetts where the largest number of early American families had their first home on this side of the Atlantic. It is Massachusetts where the most remarkable advances were made during the first 20 years of its existence in religion, education, government and financial enterprise. Today it is to her records, so complete and so readily available, that untold numbers of people turn for information about their ancestors.
The Puritan story is well known. England was in turmoil, both in religion and in politics. Parliament had been dismissed. There was every indication that no reform of the Church was possible and that it might well return to the Papacy. So the Puritans determined to leave their native land, and they prepared methodically to do so.
John Winthrop, who was designated as the first official Governor, was a gentleman of birth and wealth from Groton, Suffolk, England. He was to occupy the foremost place among the founders of New England. He was intensely religious, had remarkable strength of character, was scholarly and charitable. His arrival during the year 1630 with his fleet of 17 ships and nearly 1,000 settlers was the beginning of the Great Migration. In this migration, a principle of selection was at work that insured an unusual uniformity of character and purpose among the settlers. To this uniformity of purpose, combined with homogeneity of race, is due the early and lasting leadership of the colony established on the Massachusetts Bay.
The common purpose of John Winthrop and his friends in coming to the Bay was the construction of a theocratic state, to consist of a united body of believers; there was no room for heretics. The Puritan was intensely conservative in religious attitude. There was a strong desire to lead a godly life, and to drive out sin from the community. Yet, the Puritan was practical. In the aspiration to “win a crown of glory” hereafter, he did not forget that the present life has its simple duties, in the exact performance of which the existence of society mainly consists. Each individual must hold his religious opinions at his own personal risk. The result was a conservative, yet flexible, intelligence that assured the Puritan of predominance in his own day and for several succeeding generations.
Although the Great Migration ended, for all practical purposes, in 1640, there often was no occasion for public records, such as wills or property transfers, to be entered for some years afterward. The year 1649 was the end of an era. King Charles I was executed, bringing a temporary end to the English monarchy, and John Winthrop died that year. For these reasons it is appropriate that the restrictive date for establishment of the settling of a propositus ancestor in the Colony is “before the year 1650.”