THE FIRST EDITION OF THE EARLIEST DETAILED ACCOUNT OF MASSACHUSETTS. At twenty-three William Wood (fl.1629-35) had travelled to America with his father in 1629, and spent four years living at Sagus, or Lynn as it is known today. On 15 August 1633, he returned to England, presumably for the purpose of publishing the ‘New Englands Prospect’, which was entered at Stationers Hall on 7 July 1634.
The book provided the first detailed description of the territory of the Massachusetts Bay Company. The climate, the native Indians, flora and fauna are all related; the final five pages even include a list of Indian vocabulary. The most fascinating chapter, however, is about the individual settlements. Boston is described as follows: ‘[its] situation is very pleasant, being a Peninsula … It being a necke and bare of wood, they are not troubled with three great annoyances, of Woolves, Rattle-snakes, and Musketoes’, followed by a prophetic line ‘the place being too small to containe many, and fittest for such as can Trade into England’. Dorchester is ‘the greatest towne in New England, well wooded and watered, very good arable grounds’, and Roxberry, ‘a faire and handsome Countrey-towne, the inhabitants of it being all very rich’. Cambridge, known then by its earlier name was a ‘New-towne … first intended for a City, but upon more serious considerations it was not thought fit, being too farre from the Sea … This is one of the neatest and best compacted Towns in New England, having many faire structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants most of them are very rich.’
The Massachusetts Bay Company received its royal charter from Charles I in 1629. The following year John Winthrop led the largest colonising fleet yet seen in the Americas with seventeen ships and 1000 men and women. These were the people who founded many of the towns referred to, including Boston. This began a period of rapid expansion; within fifteen years the population of the region would reach some 20,000 souls. Wood himself states in the preface of the book that he ‘intend[s] God willing to returne shortly againe’. One William Wood is known to have crossed in the ‘Hopewell’ and served on the General Court in 1636. The following year he took part in the establishment of Sandwich on the Cape Cod peninsula. This is believed to be the one and the same man.
Provenance: Sotheby’s, London 10 July 2003 lot 1; Burden Collection. Burden (1996) 239; Church (1907) nos. 427; Fite & Freeman (1926) pp. 136-40; Labaree (1979); ODNB; Sabin (1868) nos. 105074; Schwartz and Ehrenberg (1980) p. 100; Suárez (1992) p. 133; Winsor (1880-81) pp. 380-3.