Plymouth Bay Colony vs. Massachusetts Bay Colony

+7 votes

I haven't run across a profile in which the person was identified as born, lived, or died in the Plymouth Bay Colony, which in fact was a colony separate from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Both colonies ceased to exist in 1691 when they were joined by a new charter for the Province of Massachusets Bay, which existed until it became the State of Massachusetts in 1776.

We've been urged for accuracy in naming conventions to use the name used during the lifetime of the profiled person. We don't seem to be distinguishing between these two, however, and calling them both Massachusetts. Am I being too anal about this?

edit: added tag pgm and replaced naming_conventions with place_names

in Policy and Style by Jim Parish G2G6 Pilot (159k points)
edited by Liz Shifflett

Um... Plymouth Colony didn't have "Bay" in its name. If you omit "Bay" from your search string, I think you'll find that there are plenty of profiles for people who lived in Plymouth Colony. Also see Category: Plymouth Colony.

I don't really mean to raise again the question discussed in  In striving for accuracy, however, it seems that there should be a distinction.


I'm unsure that Plymouth had an "official" name. Wikipedia says "sometimes known as Plymouth Bay Colony".  The earliest laws of Plymoth, from 1623-1636, refer to the colony as "New Plymouth". It alos refers to the governor as "Governour of New Plymouth".  I would imagine that in general usage the "new" was eventually dropped.
The sources used in genealogy for this period often refer to places only by the name of the town (e.g., "Duxborough" or "Scituate" or "Taunton" or "Watertown") without additional geographic or political identification. Additional identifiers such as "Massachusetts," "Bristol County," or "Plymouth Colony" are needed, but it seems to me they are mainly for the benefit of modern people; they don't necessarily indicate how the people themselves would have described these places.
I think this discussion shows how difficult it can be to get an historical place name correct and also shows that in many cases there may not be one "correct" name. I have sympathy for those who conclude it isn't worth the effort.
The information on Nathaniel Warren and Joseph Warren was from the book titled, :Mayflower Families in Progress, Richard Warren of the Mayflower and His Descendants for Four Generations."

Nathaniel Warren starts on page 9 of the book and References include PLYMOUTH COLONY RECS 1:94...  On page 10,his brother, Joseph has References that also include PLYMOUTH COLONY RECS 8:33-4...
I always distinguish between Plymouth Colony & Massachusetts Bay Colony in my contributions.  I also correct any citations that are wrong.

The same care should be taken with ancestors who were born, baptized, lived, and/or died in what is now Connecticut to distinguish between New Haven Colony & Connecticut Colony.

Also Carolina which divided into North & South.

Also Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820.
With the changing of boundaries between charters, towns, cities, counties, and states of the early colonies over a span of up to 100 years, I would suggest beginning your research with Wikipedia, and roll on from there.
Jim, has this issue been resolved to your satisfaction? If so, please CLOSE this thread (it's an option underneath your name up above).

If not, please clarify what remains unaddressed.

This helps the PGM project track unresolved g2g posts.


North America:  The Thirteen Colonies

4 Answers

+17 votes
Best answer
Some profiles are correct and some wikitreers do try to distinguish between Massachusetts colonial place names. However, I think most profiles probably do not have historically correct place names because (i) virtually no gedcom imports have the correct historical names, which creates a huge mass of profiles that need to be corrected, (ii) many beginning wikitreers are not aware of the policy about historically correct place names, (iii) many wikitreers who are aware of the policy don't care about following it and some perhaps don't even agree with it, (iv) even among those wikitreers who agree with the policy in theory many probably do not follow it consistently in practice because they prefer to put their genealogical efforts into other areas than researching historical place names, and (v) even the few who try to get the historical place names correct may fail from time to time. Besides the problem of colony names, getting county and town names historically correct can be a big problem because many current counties and towns did not exist or had different borders in the past.
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (232k points)
selected by Edie Kohutek
Wow.  I love the historial/geographical aspect of place names.  Especially in a place like Germany, or what used to be the Holy Roman Empire, etc...I get a free history lesson with that stuff.
+6 votes
Sons of Richard (Mayflower) Warren, Nathaniel and Joseph were both born at Plymouth, MA and died there. Nathaniel Warren was born 1624 or 1625 and died between 16 July 1667 and 21 October, 1667. Joseph Warren was born at Plymouth 1626/7 and died there 4 May 1689.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)


There was both a town named Plymouth and a colony by the name of Plymouth. Plymouth Colony was distinct from Massachusetts Bay Colony. Sometime in the mid-late 1600s, they merged, I believe.

UPDATE: It existed 1620 to 1691.

I think you would have to research the original charters for the "new world" per the English monarchy.
+6 votes
I've yet to find a contemporary document calling it Plymouth Bay Colony. As for "New Plymouth", yes, but that was the town or settlement, not the larger colony or county entity.

And if you're anal about it, Jim, so am I. I do change profiles that name "Massachusetts, USA" prior to 1776, and change them to the colony names prior to 1691. I try to be as accurate as possible. But then dealing with place names in Maine... that's frustrating, too.
by Bobbie Hall G2G6 Pilot (217k points)
I think it is worth the effort (but I do not always have time for that effort) to try and identify the name of the location in question.  You learn a lot about the history and eventually try and find an actual documented usage, that usually is helpful with these profiles.  It pushes you toward greater accuracy and documentation. That sometimes leads to new places to look for documentation.
My direct ancestors arrived in Massachusetts Bay in 1637. However they sailed up the bay and estuary and Charles River and were among the earliest settlers in Watertown. My family records, written in 1906 and 1927 which go back to before leaving England always refer to specific town names in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. Generic names (e.g. Massachusetts Bay Colony) are referred to in the departure records of the ships. So Thomas Flegg departed Yarmouth, Norfolk on a ship bound for Massachusetts Bay Colony but he settled in Watertown immediately upon arrival. I suspect it was critical to the well organized settlers to know precisely where everyone had set up home and business.
+3 votes

I was given to understand that the different settlements were each established the "Puritans" and the "Pilgrims."  According to one little book, namely, The Mayflower Story by the Mayflower Society of Arizona (1973), "The Pilgrims settled Plymouth Colony, and a little later, the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colonies...which included Salem..." and "The Separatists, demanding complete separation from the Church of England, and from which group developed our Congregational Church the church the Pilgrims brought to America.The other group were the Puritans, who wanted to reform the church from within, and later emigrated to form the Massachusetts Bay Colony."  I hope that helps a bit.  If you want to read more, the book is found using the search word Mayflower at the LDS website.

by Alycia Keating G2G6 (8.2k points)

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