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The Life of John White

The Rev. John White, Patriarch of Dorchester and Founder of Massachusetts, was born in 1575 in Stanton St. John, Oxfordshire. He was one of seven children. At the age of eight John went to Hart Hall, a prep. school for Winchester College. He moved in due course to Winchester College, a stronghold of Puritanism. This experience during his formative years no doubt had a big influence on his later religious development.

Stanton House: John White's Birthplace

New College Oxford c. 1670

In 1593, John progressed to New College, Oxford. His family had strong links with New College. His uncle Walter White had been Warden of New College, other family members also had links.. John graduated M.A. in 1600 and remained a Fellow until 1606. New College was, by then, a centre for Puritan thinking. John was drawn to moderate Puritanism, which wanted reform within the Church of England.

Plaque on John White's Rectory in Dorchester

In 1605, John White (by now a Reverend) was appointed Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Dorchester, Dorset. The Rector of Holy Trinity also had care of St. Peter's church, and the Rectory still exists in Colliton Street Dorchester. The doorway was removed to what is now the 'Superdrug' store in the town. Rev. John White took up his post in 1606. He rapidly became a notable figure in the town.

Doorway from the Rectory

While in Dorchester, Rev. White made his mark in two quite different areas. Firstly, he was a leader in an attempt to turn Dorchester into a Godly town governed by the principles of the Christian faith (as seen by Puritans). This included a social welfare system that was 300 years ahead of its time. Hence 'The Patriarch of Dorchester'. Secondly, he encouraged and organised emigration to the New World. This resulted in the founding of a new colony - Dorchester, now a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Hence John White 'The Founder of Massachusetts'. 

John White was also an important figure in the national church. In 1643, he was appointed to the Westminster Assembly of Divines. This body was set up to decide how the Church of England should be reconstituted and governed. John White represented the moderate Puritans. He was assigned to the Committee that examined the first four articles of faith. He was also given the prestigious appointment of Assessor - one of only two such appointments. Commentators on the Assembly noted that John White was "a grave man who would yet willingly contribute his shot of facetiousness on any just occasion" and that on one occasion "After a psalm... Mr. White prayed near upon an hour". 

John White died in Dorchester in 1648. He is buried beneath the porch in St. Peter's church. A plaque proclaims that he was 'A man of Godliness, good scholarship, and wonderful ability and kindness'.

The legacy of John White remains, however. His great-grandchildren include John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Church. Social welfare eventually developed in England in the 19th century, strongly influenced by Christian principles. Meanwhile, the colony at Dorchester grew, joined with others and became what is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

See a timeline of John White's life.