17th Century

Governor Richard Bellingham (1592 – 1672)

Richard Bellingham was born in Boston, England in 1592. He was a lawyer and a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter company. He emigrated to Boston in 1634 and in 1635 was made deputy-governor. In 1641, he was elected governor, in opposition to Winthrop, by a majority of only six votes. He was chosen again in 1654, and again in May 1665, after the death of Governor Endicott, continuing in office for the remainder of his life. He served altogether thirteen years as deputy-governor and ten years as governor. In 1664, he was chosen Major-General, and in the same year the four commissioners sent by Charles II to inquire into the state of the colony ordered him to go to England. By authority of the general court, however, he refused compliance with this command.

After the death of his wife Elizabeth, in 1641, Bellingham then married his young ward, Penelope Pelham, on November 9, 1641. He did not publish the upcoming marriage in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth and acted not only as bridegroom but also performed the ceremony himself. He was prosecuted for these two legal violations but escaped punishment by refusing to relinquish his position as a Judge and thus officiated at his own trial. Gov. Bellingham was considered a very obstinate man who frequently was in conflict with his fellow officials. He was opposed to innovations in religion and was especially severe toward the Quakers.

Bellingham lived in a town house on what is now Tremont Street in Boston, opposite the north end of King’s Chapel Burial Ground. During the summer months, he also spent time in a home believed to have been near the Ferry on Marginal Street, Chelsea. In 1635, he purchased large tracts of land from Samuel Maverick and John Blackleach in the still largely unsettled area around Powder Horn Hill in Rumney Marsh and Winnisimmet, now Chelsea.

Bellingham divided his land into four huge farms, each of which was leased to a tenant farmer. The earliest listing of a tenant for the largest farm was 1663 when Samuel Townsend took occupancy.

About 1659, Gov. Bellingham built a house on the Townsend farm that tradition states was a ‘hunting lodge’ for the governor. A section of that building forms the earliest part of the house that today is known as the Gov. Bellingham-Cary House.

At the time of his death on December 7, 1672, he was the only surviving charter member of the colony. His will stated that, after the death of his son and his granddaughter, the bulk of his property should be spent for the maintenance “of godly ministers and preachers”. The will was contested in the courts for one hundred fourteen years, the longest case of litigation the country has ever experienced. Bellingham’s wishes were finally set aside by the general court as interfering with the rights of his family. He is buried in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston.