In 1629 colonists landed in what is now Salem, Massachusetts. They took possession of the land because they had been granted a Royal Charter of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. The Charter granted permission ''for the planting, ruling, ordering, and governing of Newe England in America." The document was in the possession of John Endicott, the original chief executive of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when he arrived in 1629.
That Royal Charter became a foundational document in U.S. history. Now the Charter could be up for sale to the highest bidder.
In 1810 the document was given to the Salem Athenaeum for safekeeping. The Athenaeum still owns the document nearly two hundred years later. The four-page charter is now stored at the Peabody Essex Museum for safekeeping. The Salem Athenaeum remains as a small library, run mostly by volunteers.
The Athenaeum has a serious financial crunch and is now considering selling the Royal Charter of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. The athenaeum's 85 shareholders will meet April 3 to discuss the possible sale. ''It does have a financial value that, turned to investment dollars and utilized for our endowment purposes, could go a long way to helping us meet many of our goals," according to Salem lawyer Francis Mayo, president of the Athenaeum's board of trustees.
Critics fear that the document could end up in private hands or possibly a foreign country. ''I take it very personally when people try to sell off our history," said Bonnie Hurd Smith, executive director of the Ipswich Historical Society and one of many local history buffs steaming at the news. ''People are just in shock."
The Charter probably is worth millions of dollars. Representatives from several auction houses have visited Peabody Essex Museum to examine the document.
The proposed sale has created much discussion and consternation amongst historians. You can read more here.