Thomas Dudley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony

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Thomas Dudley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony

Birthplace: Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire, England
Death: July 31, 1653 (76)
Roxbury, Essex County, Massachusetts, British Colonial America
Place of Burial: Roxbury, Essex County, Massachusetts, British Colonial America
Immediate Family:

Son of Capt. Roger Dudley and Susanna Dudley
Husband of Dorothy Dudley and Katherine Allin
Father of Thomas Dudley; Rev. Samuel Dudley; Anne Bradstreet, 1st American poet; Patience Denison; Sarah Pacey and 4 others
Brother of Mary Dudley and Francis Dudley

Occupation: Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony 1630-34, 1637-1640, Army Captain, Steward to Earl of Lincoln, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony 1634, 1640, 1645, 1650
Managed by: Brent Thomas Pillsbury
Last Updated:

About Thomas Dudley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony

Thomas Dudley, the only son of Capt. Roger Dudley and Susanna Thorne, was born in 1576 at Northampton, England. On March 14, 1590, when he was fourteen years old, his father was killed at the Battle of Ivery, leaving Thomas and his sister orphans, as their mother had died previously.

Thomas inherited 500 pounds from his father and was raised as a page in the family of Lord Compton, Earl of Northampton. Afterwards, he became a clerk to his maternal kinsman, Judge Nichols, thus obtaining some knowledge of the law, which proved to be of great service to him in his later life. Also, while still in his minority, he was trained in Latin by a "Mrs. Purefoy", who was probably his maternal grandmother, Mary Purefoy. All in all, he gained a competent education and was able to understand any Latin author as well as most educated people of his time.

In 1596, at the age of twenty, Thomas received a Captain's commission in the army. According to Cotton Mather, "the young sparks about Northampton were none of them willing to enter into the service until a commission was given to our young Dudley to be their Captain, and thus presently there were four-score that listed under him." Thomas and his company of volunteers went to France and fought on the side of Henry IV, King of France, at the siege of Amiens in 1597.

On the conclusion of peace in 1597, Thomas returned to England, settled at Northampton and became acquainted with Dod, Hildersham and other Puritan leaders and himself became a Puritan. In 1603, he married Dorothy Yorke, daughter of Edmonde Yorke, yeoman, of Cotton End, Northamptonshire. She was described by Cotton Mather as "a gentlewoman both of good estate and good extraction." By her he had five children. During the period from about 1600 to 1630, Thomas was steward (manager of estates) to Theophilus, Earl of Lincoln, who had been deep in debt prior to Thomas' stewardship. After only a few years of management by Thomas, however, the Earl was out of debt and was prospering. Also, during this period, Thomas became acquainted with John Cotton, renowned minister of Boston, Lincolnshire (and later of Boston, MA). The Puritans were considered by many political leaders and by the Church of England to be a threat and were subjected to substantial persecution. During the 1620's, relations between the Church of England and the Puritans worsened. Continuing pressure led to a decision by a large group of Puritans to emigrate to New England.

In 1629, Thomas Dudley was one of the signers of the agreement to form the Massachusetts Bay Company. On Oct. 20, 1629, in the city of London, he was chosen one of the five officers to come to America with the Royal Charter.

The Massachusetts Bay Company was essentially similar to any other trading company of the time, except that its members had managed to obtain possession of the company charter, or patent, and thus could take it with them to the New World. With possession of the patent that established their rights and privileges, they could control their own government and elect their own magistrates. The group elected John Winthrop governor and Thomas Dudley deputy governor in October 1629.

It is difficult to understand Thomas Dudley's decision to leave England for the unknown shores of North America. In England he had friends, position and prosperity. But he decided to leave all this behind. Apparently, the pressures of persecution were so great that he was virtually forced to leave England or give up his religious convictions.

In 1630, Thomas and his wife and children sailed to New England with the Winthrop Fleet, a group of eleven vessels carrying 700 passengers. The Dudley family was on the flagship, the Arbella. The Fleet left England in the Spring and arrived in Salem in June. Not approving of Salem as the capital, John Winthrop ordered the fleet south along the coast to Charlestown, ultimately settling at Newtown. Before leaving England, Winthrop had been elected governor and Thomas Dudley deputy-governor. Many of those who came with Winthrop separated and founded Roxbury, Lynn, Medford, Cambridge and Watertown. According to Thomas Dudley, about 200 of the emigrants died the first year in New England.

A somewhat violent disagreement between Dudley and Winthrop, the first of many owing to Dudley's touchy and over-bearing temper, occurred when Winthrop abandoned the chosen settlement and moved to Boston. Dudley subsequently moved to Ipswich but after a short time, in order to be nearer the seat of government, settled at Roxbury. He built on the west side of Smelt Brook, just across the watering place, at the foot of the hill where the road that runs up to the First Church joins the Town Street.

Although Thomas Dudley was 54 years of age when he landed in New England, he still had a long public career ahead of him. Throughout the rest of his life, he was almost constantly in public office. He was four times elected governor and thirteen times made deputy-governor. When not occupying either of these offices, he was usually to be found in the House as an Assistant. When the Standing Council with the idea of forming a body of members for life, Dudley was one of the three first chosen. When the New England Federation was formed in 1643, Dudley was one of the two commissioners chosen by Massachusetts to confer with those of the other colonies. There is hardly an event in the life of the colony during his own in which he did not act a part.

Thomas Dudley and Simon Bradstreet (both future governors) founded Cambridge in 1631. Thomas, however, lived for many years in Roxbury (now part of Boston). In 1636, he was one of twelve men appointed by the General Court to consider the matter of a college at Newtown (Cambridge) and was one to report favorably on the project. In 1650, as governor, Thomas signed the original charter of the new college, named Harvard College.

Thomas was a strict Puritan and clashed several times with other leaders of the colony. He was known to be very inflexible in his views. Cotton Mather wrote that if Thomas Dudley had been alive at the time of the witchcraft trouble, New England would never have been disgraced by the bloodshed of innocent persons. He was one of the principal founders of the First Church at Boston and in the church now standing at Berkley and Marlborough streets is a tablet with the following inscription:


Thomas was evidently as strong in body as he was unyielding in temper and unbreakable in will. Dorothy Dudley died in 1643 and Thomas remarried to Catherine Dighton. By her he had three children, the most noted being Joseph Dudley (1647) the future royal governor of Massachusetts, who was born when the old man was 70 years of age.

Dudley was an able man with marked executive and business ability. His integrity was unimpeachable. His eye, though somewhat religiously jaundiced, was single to the public interest as he saw it. He was something of a scholar and wrote poetry, read in his day, but unreadable in ours. In him, New England Puritanism took on some of its harshest and least pleasant aspects. He often won approval, but never affection. He was positive, dogmatic, austere, prejudiced, unlovable. He dominated by sheer strength of will as a leader in his community. Like many of the others, he was no friend to popular government and a strong believer in autocracy. Opposed to the clergy in one respect, he believed that the state should control even the church and enforce conformity as the superior, and not the handmaid, of the ecclesiastical organization.

Thomas was a thrifty man, who became one of the largest landowners in Roxbury, He was a "trading, money-getting man" and was said to be somewhat hard and "prone to usury." When he died, his property was valued at £1,560 and included bandoleers, corselets, some Latin books, some on law, some that indicate a taste for literature, and many on the doctrines of religion.

On July 31, 1653, Thomas Dudley died at the age of 77 at Roxbury, Massachusetts. There was a great funeral, with the most distinguished citizens as pall bearers. the clergy were present in large numbers. Military units were present with muffled drums and reversed arms. He was buried at Roxbury, near his home, where his tomb may be seen on the highest point of land. His epitaph was written by Rev. Ezekiel Rogers and reads as follows:

In books a Prodigal they say; A table talker rich in sense; And witty without wits pretense; An able champion in debate; Whose words lacked number but not weight; Both Catholic and Christian too; A soldier timely, tried and true; Condemned to share the common doom; Reposes here in Dudley's tomb;

Colonist, Colonial Governor. He was the second Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and member of the first Board of Overseers for Harvard "College." Born in Northahmpton, England he married Dorothy Yorke and came to the colonies in 1626 as many did to follow the teachings of Reverend John Cotton. He and his wife came to the New World on the "Arabella" and after feeling that Plymouth was too vulnerable for attack by sea he and other members, most notably John Winthrop and Simon Bradstreet traveled up the river to higher ground. They traveled up the river and climbed a hill on the North shore. Local legend states that Dudley then thrust his cane into the ground and declared "This is the place." The location is now the corner of John F. Kennedy and Mount Auburn Streets. It is through this story that Thomas Dudley is considered the founder of Cambridge. Thomas's wife Dorothy died in 1643 and the next year he married Katherine (Dighton) Hackburne, a widow. They moved from Cambridge and settled in nearby Roxbury. Thomas had eight children in all, five by Dorothy Yorke and three by Katherine Dighton. The most notable of his offspring was Joseph Dudley (born 1647) who became the futu

He is mentioned on page 7


  • page 273 of book Lives of the governors of Ne w Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay; ..." -
  • "History of the Dudley Family" -
  • Supplement to the history and genealogy of the Dudley family ... by Dudley, Dean, 1823-1906
  • Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III, 3 vols., 1995). Great Migration Begins profile for Thomas Dudley, page 585. AmericanAncestors
  • The Magna Charta Sureties, 1215: The Barons Named in the Magna Charta, 1215 ... By Frederick Lewis Weis, William Ryland Beall. Page 71 GoogleBooks
  • The Life and Work of Thomas Dudley: The Second Governor of Massachusetts GoogleBooks
  • “Francis Dudley, an Unknown Brother of Gov. Thomas Dudley.” Barry E. Hinman. TAG Vol. 174, Fall 2020. Page 301-302. PDF Even though no parents are given, Francis Dudley (gen., short for generosus, i.e., well-born) appears to be a son of Captain Roger Dudley and his wife Susanna Dorne alias Thorne. The chronology and geography fit well with their other two children, and the sponsors had later known associations and connections by marriage with Thomas Dudley. Thomas Dudley was “trained up in some Latin school” by the care of Mrs. Puefroy [sic, Purefoy], and he “was taken by Judge Nichols to be his clerk, who being his kinsman also, by the mother’s side, took more special notice of him.”[4] ….
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Thomas Dudley, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony's Timeline

October 12, 1576
Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire, England
October 12, 1576
Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire, England
October 12, 1576
Yardley Hastings, Northampton, England
October 12, 1576
Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire, England
October 12, 1576
Northampton, Northa, England, Great Britain
October 12, 1576
Yardley Hastings, Northampton, England
Northampton, Northa, England, Great Britain
November 30, 1608
Canon's Ashby, Northamptonshire, England (United Kingdom)