First Governor: The Saga of Sir William Phips
Phips was a Bostonian, originally a shipbuilder of humble social standing, but skillful enough to have done well in that business. He invested in a boat and crew and took to exploring in the Caribbean for sunken Spanish treasure ships. Some modest successes in this venture earned him a royal commission from Charles II and financial backing from some of the aristocracy.
When he returned to Boston, however, Phips found that Governor Andros, who had already appointed a Provost-Marshal and the sheriffs who reported to him, was too deeply involved in military and administrative business to take any interest in making a change. Frustrated, Phips sailed back to London in search of justice, where he joined Increase Mather and other Massachusetts exiles in their lobbying against Andros. When the Glorious Revolution put William and Mary in James’ place, Phips returned to Boston bearing proclamations from the new king and queen. Arriving there in May, 1689, he found Andros and friends already behind bars.
France, on behalf of the exiled James II, had declared war on England, and danger threatened on the northern frontier. The English government asked Massachusetts to do something, and the General Court, eager to gain good will in London, appointed Phips to lead an expedition against Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia), the capital of French Acadia. Finding the fort undermanned and in the process of reconstruction, Phips took it easily.
Phips optimistically returned to England to seek support for another expedition, but reasonably enough this wasn’t forthcoming. He stayed there to help Increase Mather campaign for a return of the old Massachusetts Bay charter. As we know, that effort failed, but the appointment of Sir William Phips as the first royal governor was a compensatory gesture on the crown’s part. He had become close friends not only with Increase Mather, but also his son Cotton Mather, now one of Boston’s leading clerics.
Though he was a much more acceptable governor than another Andros would have been, Phips proved to have no greater skill as a politician than he had as a soldier. Political factions in the province were in fierce contention, and Phips formed few ties with any of their leaders. Many eminent Bostonians resented his lower-class manners. His irascibility and “blustering aggressiveness” (admitted by several of his biographers, according to Wikipedia) complicated relations with other colonies as well as local movers and shakers. Meanwhile, in London, Joseph Dudley was scheming and working constantly to replace him.
Second Governor: More or Less Absent
It took many months to get Lord Bellomont’s various commissions finalized, and he didn’t arrive in the New World until late in 1697—at New York, not Boston. He was not a young man, and held his three governorships for just over three years until his death early in 1701. During that time he spent about 14 months in Boston, trying to carry out the government’s policies against the polite obstruction of the General Court (which, although it wouldn’t vote him a salary, did vote an unusually generous grant of £1,000). Historically speaking, his influence on the province of Massachusetts was not great.