Richard Bellingham

Richard Bellingham
8th, 16th, and 18th Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
In office
MonarchCharles I
Preceded byThomas Dudley
Succeeded byJohn Winthrop
In office
MonarchThe Protectorate
Preceded byJohn Endecott
Succeeded byJohn Endecott
In office
MonarchCharles II
Preceded byJohn Endecott
Succeeded byJohn Leverett
Personal details
Bornc. 1592
Boston, Lincolnshire, England
Died7 December 1672 (aged 79–80)
Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony

Richard Bellingham (c. 1592 – 7 December 1672) was a colonial magistrate, lawyer, and several-time governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the last surviving signatory of the colonial charter at his death. A wealthy lawyer in Lincolnshire prior to his departure for the New World in 1634, he was a liberal political opponent of the moderate John Winthrop, arguing for expansive views on suffrage and lawmaking, but also religiously somewhat conservative, opposing (at times quite harshly) the efforts of Quakers and Baptists to settle in the colony. He was one of the architects of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, a document embodying many sentiments also found in the United States Bill of Rights.

Although he was generally in the minority during his early years in the colony, he served ten years as colonial governor, most of them during the delicate years of the English Restoration, when King Charles II scrutinized the behavior of the colonial governments. Bellingham notably refused a direct order from the king to appear in England, an action that may have contributed to the eventual revocation of the colonial charter in 1684.

He was twice married, survived by his second wife and his only son Samuel. He died in 1672, leaving an estate in present-day Chelsea, Massachusetts and a large house in Boston. The estate became embroiled in legal action lasting more than 100 years after his will was challenged by his son and eventually set aside. Bellingham is immortalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The New England Tragedies, both of which fictionalize events from colonial days.

Early life

Richard Bellingham, the son of William Bellingham and Frances Amcotts, was born in Lincolnshire, England, in about 1592. The family was apparently well to do; they resided in a manor at Bromby Wood near Scunthorpe.[1][2] He studied law at Brasenose College, Oxford, matriculating on 1 December 1609.[3] In 1625 he was elected Recorder (the highest community legal post) of Boston, a position he held until 1633. He represented Boston as a member of Parliament in 1628 and 1629.[4] He was first married to Elizabeth Backhouse of Swallowfield, Berkshire, with whom he had a number of children, although only their son Samuel survived to adulthood.[5]

In 1628 he became an investor in the Massachusetts Bay Company, and was one of the signers of the land grant issued to it by the Plymouth Council for New England. His name also appears on the royal charter issued for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629.[6] In 1633 he resigned as recorder of Boston and began selling off his properties. The next year he sailed for the New World with his wife and son;[7] Elizabeth died not long after their arrival in Boston, Massachusetts.[8]