Monsterful Stuff

Only the best...

Puritans, Treason, and Fraud: The First Fundraising Drive in America

Posted by on
  • Font size: Larger Smaller

In 1628, a group of Puritans looking to build their shining city upon a hill (and maybe make a fortune on the side), formed their own start-up venture called the Massachusetts Bay Company and took themselves off to the New World. The early years were difficult and colonists were very dependent on funds and supplies from wealthy investors. By 1639 more than 20,000 people had moved to the colony and they were doing well enough to create an institute higher learning - New College - but not quite well enough to have any buildings, instructors, or students.

Luckily some unknown planned giving officer was on it. Just in time, John Harvard died and left the college his library and half of his money and New College became Harvard College. But the little colony that could was still working on its earned income sources through the shipbuilding and fur trading industries, and Harvard's money could only go so far. Not to mention that their investors were beginning to wonder when they were going to get a final report.

So they developed their campaign brochure, New England's First Fruits, and sent three trustees (Hugh Peters, Thomas Weld, and William Hibbins) back to jolly old England to get some donors to help their noble mission to, among other things, "educate the heathen indians." The colonists called the operation the Weld-Peters Mission. The press called it the Weld-Peters Begging Mission.

Hugh Peters immediately became distracted by the English Civil Wars, fought on the side of the Parliamentarians, participated in regicide, and was later executed for high treason. Thomas Weld went off the rails by creating a totally fake Narragansett Patent in some kind of land annex scheme to stick it to some rival Puritans who had already settled the area. He was eventually fired as a colonial agent. So...I guess you could say they were not successful in their fundraising efforts.

The only person who actually raised any money didn't even get top billing or a page on Wikipedia. William Hibbins returned within the year with about 500 pounds in donations (approx. $96,000 in today's U.S. money) and died a well-respected man. Not so much his wife, though. Once she no longer had his protection, she was accused of witchcraft and hanged in 1656. Fun Fact: She was the inspiration for the character of Mistress Hibbins in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter.

So what's the moral of the story? Avoid mission drift, adhere to the Code of Ethics, and don't take your spouse to any place that believes in witches.

For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

Featured in Alltop