The Great Boston Revolt of 1689

Colonists in Boston revolted against a hated English governor 86 years and one day before the the world heard the shot in Concord, Mass.

Only no one did any shooting and the new king of England had no problem with it.

Andros is taken prisoner during the Boston Revolt

Andros is taken prisoner during the Boston Revolt

The Puritan colonists overthrew Sir Edmund Andros, for some of the same reasons the Protestant William of Orange overthrew the Catholic James II. James’ religious tolerance was as troubling to England’s political leaders as was Andros’ support of the Anglican Church to New England’s Puritans.

Andros’ doom was probably sealed the day he forced the Puritans’ Old South Church to host an Anglican service on Good Friday.


Andros arrived in Boston on Dec. 20, 1686 to enforce the Crown’s crackdown on the colony’s independent ways. King Charles II had learned the colonists were settling land well beyond the boundaries set by the charter. They ignored trade restrictions and they did not tolerate the Church of England. They had refused to take an oath of allegiance for years. Treason wasn’t even a crime anymore.

Charles ordered every male 16 years and older to swear allegiance to the king. Restrictions on trade and navigation were to be obeyed; and no one was to be prohibited from celebrating the ritual of the Church of England. Treason was again a crime.

The king made more demands on the Massachusetts colonists, which they generally evaded. He began to take steps to consolidate his control of the New England colonies, but died before he could finish the job. His successor, the Roman Catholic James II, picked up the task and in 1686 created the Dominion of New England from the New England colonies, New York and New Jersey. It didn’t go well.

James sent Andros to govern the new dominion. He seemed like a good choice, as he had served as governor of the provinces of New York, East and West Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.

‘Bigoted Papist’

The day he set foot in Boston, Andros began talks with the Puritan elders for the better accommodation of the Church of England. The Puritans said no to the man they viewed as a ‘bigoted Papist.’

The Puritans were pretty bigoted themselves. They objected to the Church of England’s embrace of Catholic traditions. The Puritans banned Christmas and viewed Easter with the same disdain. They had no use for hot cross buns, ashes on foreheads, handing out palms or creeping to the cross on Good Friday.  Boston’s Anglicans were forced to hold services in the open air, even as Puritans tried to disrupt them. Anglican ministers couldn’t wear a surplice in public, and to recite the Church of England’s burial service at a gravesite was to risk a brawl.

Andros asked for a donation of a small spot of land on which Anglicans could build a church. The Puritans refused. So Andros asked for the Puritan meetinghouse be used for Anglican services. They wouldn’t agree to that either.

Sir Edmond Andros

Sir Edmond Andros

On March 23, 1687, the Wednesday of Passion Week, Andros ordered his agent to ask for the keys to the Old South Church (then the Third Church) for Anglican services. He was rebuffed. A Puritan delegation visited him to explain why they couldn’t allow it. On Good Friday, he ordered the sexton to throw open the doors of Old South and ring the bell for ‘those of the Church of England.’ Whether the sexton was persuaded or coerced is not known, but the doors were open, the bell rung and the service held.

An Affront

It was an affront the Puritans would not forgive.

Andros wife, Mary Craven Andros, died soon after arriving in Boston. Andros added insult to injury by holding her funeral service at Old South on Feb. 10, 1688, with the pomp and ritual so abhorrent to Puritans.

Andros continued to vex the Massachusetts Puritans. He refused to recognize some of their deeds, restricted town meetings, enforced the Navigation Acts and continued to promote the Anglican Church.

As anger grew against Andros in the colonies, so did it fester against James II in England. English Parliamentarians overthrew his government and invited William of Orange to take his place. William landed in England on Nov. 5, 1688, and by December the bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution was over.

The news reached Boston in late March. Andros wouldn’t last much longer.

Vile Person

Early on the morning of April 18, 1689, the inhabitants of Boston took up arms.  Militias from neighboring towns streamed into the city. They first arrested the captain of the British frigate The Rose, moored in Boston Harbor.  Two thousand Massachusetts militia then marched against Andros’ garrison of a dozen or so redcoats. Andros had no choice but to surrender.

The rebels issued a declaration,

We have been quiet, hitherto, but now the Lord has prospered the undertaking of the prince of Orange, we think we should follow such an example. We therefore, seized the vile persons who oppressed us.

Andros and his agents spent nearly a year in prison, then shipped back to England.

The colonists revived their old charter, and elected Simon Bradstreet governor, the position he held before King Charles revoked the charter.  They pledged their loyalty to the new British king, who supported their rebellion.

Peace would reign between the colony and the Crown, at least for a little while.

With thanks to The Puritan Commonwealth, an historical review of the Puritan government in Massachusetts in its civil and ecclesiastical relations, from its rise to the abrogation of the first charter, etc., edited by F.E. Oliver. This story about the Boston revolt was updated in 2020.

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