DUDLEY, Joseph (1647-1720), of Cowes, I.o.W. and Roxbury, Massachusetts

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Dec. 1701 - 1702

Family and Education

b. 23 Sept. 1647, 4th s. of Thomas Dudley of Roxbury, gov. Massachusetts, by his 2nd w. Catherine Dighton, wid. of Samuel Hackburn of Roxbury.  educ. free sch., Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard c.1662–5.  m. 1688, Rebecca, da. of Edward Tyng, judge and member of ct. of assts., Massachusetts, 8s. (6 d.v.p.) 5da. (1 d.v.p.).1

Offices Held

Freeman, Massachusetts Bay Co. 1672; member, gen. ct. Massachusetts 1673–6, ct. of assts. 1676–84; agent for Massachusetts in Eng. 1682–3; v.-adm. New England 1685; pres. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Narragansett May–Dec. 1686; member, council of Massachusetts 1686–9; judge of superior ct. New England 1687–9; pres. of council and c.j. New York 1690–2; commr. inquiring into complaints against Gov. Sir William Phipps 1694; gov. and capt.-gen. Massachusetts and New Hampshire 1701–15; capt.-gen. Rhode Island and Narragansett 1702–15, v.-adm. 1702–15.2

Lt.-gov. I.o.W. 1694–1701; freeman, Newport 1694; dep. mayor, Newtown, I.o.W. 1694.3


Dudley’s father, the son of a sea captain, migrated to Massachusetts for religious reasons, rising to be governor of the province. Dudley himself held office in Massachusetts as early as 1673 and his role in colonial government was rather more significant than his short time in the English House of Commons. In 1689, having been imprisoned in Boston on suspicion of opposing the Prince of Orange, his case was considered in England and dismissed. Dudley then rose to become chief justice in New York in which capacity in 1691 he presided at the trial for treason of Jacob Leisler, who had led an uprising in New York in 1690 against the administration appointed by James II. Leisler was attainted and executed. In 1692 New York’s new governor removed Dudley from his offices for non-residence, claiming he was ‘very unacceptable to the people’. Dudley returned to Boston and in 1693 came to England, hoping to use the influence of his friends to secure another colonial office, preferably the governorship of Massachusetts. His wife and family remained in New England.4

In England Dudley gained a new patron in the person of Lord Cutts (John*), and when Cutts was made governor of the Isle of Wight in 1693, he appointed Dudley as his deputy. Their arrangement was that Cutts supported Dudley for a colonial governorship and in return Dudley would handle the governor’s personal affairs in the Isle of Wight and act as his electoral manager for the three parliamentary boroughs on the island, while Cutts was away with his regiment on campaign. In January 1694 Dudley had been appointed one of the commissioners to investigate complaints against the governor of Massachusetts, Sir William Phipps. Giving evidence before the Board of Trade, he affirmed that Phipps ‘had not done one good thing since he had been governor’. When Phipps was recalled to London the following year to answer the charges, Dudley had him arrested in an action for £20,000. Before anything was done, Phipps died. Immediately, Dudley, aided by Cutts, tried to secure the office for himself, and on 21 Feb. 1695 it was reported that he ‘stood fairest’ to succeed. However, the Massachusetts agents in England, aided by Sir Henry Ashurst*, thwarted their plans by supporting attempts by Jacob Leisler’s son to have his father’s attainder reversed. When the bill came before the Commons in April 1695 Dudley had to give evidence before the committee, which was chaired by Ashurst, thus drawing attention to his part in the trial. After the bill was passed on 30 Apr. it was reported that Dudley was ‘not so much talked of to be governor’. Eventually Lord Bellomont (Richard Coote*) was appointed.5

Cutts continued to encourage Dudley, writing on 20 Sept. 1696 to congratulate him on the successful handling of affairs at Newtown and Yarmouth:

If you can carry the point of these two corporations, I’ll improve it so much to your advantage to the King and everybody else (and I promise you to do it) that it shall be the best card you ever played . . . Whatever expenses you are at (public or private) as far as £200 goes, I’ll willingly repay you immediately at my return. This will be a matter of greater moment than you imagine, and you’ll have a large share in the advantage of it.

On 1 Apr. 1698, however, Cutts complained of Dudley’s neglect, writing:

Your personal civilities are most certainly your own, and dispose on ’em how much you please; provided you trouble me no more if fortune should chance to smile on me, than you do now, she seems at least to do otherwise. That which I have just reason to complain of is your real neglect of the King’s service in your station. For if I neither see nor hear of a lieutenant-governor in a week, I would fain know (when so many things are to be discovered now the spring comes on) what you are paid for. You have the 4s. per diem which I give you gratis; which no other governor ever had (I mean the captain at Cowes, which captain always took some notice of me) and you have 2s. per diem out of my own pocket; both which you know I can stop when I please; and really I can employ ’em better if you treat your employment so remissly.

The quarrel had been patched up by June 1698 when Cutts was pressing Dudley’s claim to the governorship of Maryland, but James Vernon I* informed the Duke of Shrewsbury: ‘I think the person he recommends is none of the fittest, and those employments at least should not be carried by solicitation only.’ Dudley did not get the office.6

By 1700 Dudley was experiencing financial difficulties and on 23 Dec. wrote to his son, Paul, who had joined him in England:

I see no way for my own return [to New England] and think it absolutely necessary that you return this year. I shall lose what I have there and my respects and hopes and family, for want of a head; nor shall I be able to support myself and you here much longer, but shall fall into contempt, and that will be what I cannot bear and live . . . If my arrears fail me, I must sell my land under my feet to pay my debts, and that will please those in New England, who do not love my name.

The death of Lord Bellomont the following year at last saw the realization of his hopes, and on 18 June 1701 he was appointed governor of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire. He resigned as lieutenant-governor of the Isle of Wight, but before he could take up his new appointment his old enemy, Sir Henry Ashurst, intervened by presenting a memorial against him to the lords justices. When the matter was heard in the Privy Council, the charges were dismissed and Dudley received his commission as governor of Massachusetts in December. While the decision was pending Cutts had secured Dudley’s return at Newtown in the November 1701 election. He was listed as a Tory in Robert Harley’s* analysis of the new House of Commons, but did not involve himself much in parliamentary proceedings. William III’s death delayed his departure for New England, but Anne duly renewed his commission and he sailed for Boston in April 1702.7

Dudley’s term as governor of New England was somewhat controversial, and his support of the 1711 Quebec expedition was enthusiastic but apparently ineffective. However, he survived several complaints of maladministration from his opponents, only being removed from the governorship after the accession of George I. He died on 2 Apr. 1720.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Paula Watson


Unless otherwise stated, this biography is based on E. Kimball, Public Life of Joseph Dudley.

  • 1. D. Dudley, Dudley Gens. and Fam. Recs. 83–84; G. Adlard, Sutton-Dudleys of Eng. and Mass. 61–94; HMC Lords, n.s. v. 80–81.
  • 2. CSP Col. 1681–5, pp. 410, 587; 1685–8, pp. 98, 117, 375; 1689–92, pp. 322, 397–8, 699, 714; 1701, pp. 304, 670–1; 1714–15, pp. 512–13; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 128; 1700–2, pp. 365.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 96; Mass. Hist. Soc. Colls. ser. 6, iii. 512–13.
  • 4. Dict. Am. Biog. v. 481–3; Adlard, 61–94; CSP Col. 1681–5, pp. 587, 610, 628, 669; 1689–92, pp. 33, 102, 111, 206, 246, 251, 322, 397, 612, 699, 714; 1693–6, pp. 20, 141; Mass. Hist. Soc. Colls. ser. 6, iii. 502–3.
  • 5. Mass. Hist. Soc. Procs. ser. 2, ii. 172–98; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 312; CSP Col. 1693–6, pp. 224, 295.
  • 6. Mass. Hist. Soc. Procs. ser. 2, ii. 184, 188–9; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 93, 96, 101–2.
  • 7. CSP Col. 1701, p. 610.
  • 8. CSP Col. 1706–7, pp. 234–5; Adlard, 81; Walker Expedition to Quebec (Navy Recs. Soc. xciv), 6, 105, 107, 226–8.