The Puritan population in England had been growing for many years leading up to this time. They disagreed with the practices of the Church of England, whose rituals they viewed as superstitions. An associated political movement attempted over many years to modify religious practice in England to conform to their views. King James wished to suppress this growing rebellious movement. Nevertheless, the Puritans eventually gained a majority in Parliament. James' son King Charles came into the greatest possible conflict with the Parliament, and viewed them as a threat to his authority, temporarily dissolving parliament in 1626, and again the next year, and finally dissolving parliament permanently in March 1629. The King's imposition of Personal Rule gave many Puritans a sense of hopelessness regarding their future in that country, and many prepared to leave it permanently for life in New England.
A fleet of five ships had departed a month previously for New England that included approximately 300 colonists, led by Francis Higginson. However, the colony leaders and the bulk of the colonists remained in England for the time being, to plan more thoroughly for the success of the new colony. Later that year, the group who remained in England elected John Winthrop to be Governor of the Fleet and the Colony. Over the ensuing winter, the leaders recruited a large group of Puritan families, representing all manner of skilled labor, to ensure a robust colony.
Seven hundred men, women, and children were distributed among the ships of the fleet. The voyage itself was rather uneventful, the direction and speed of the wind being the main topic in Winthrop's journal, as it affected how much progress was made each day. There were a few days of severe weather, and every day was cold. The children were cold and bored, and there is a description of a game played with a rope that helped with both problems. Many were sick during the voyage.
The Winthrop Fleet was a well planned and financed expedition that formed the nucleus of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However they were not the first settlers of the area. There was an existing settlement at Salem, started in about 1626, populated by a few hundred Puritans, most of whom had arrived in 1629, and who were governed by John Endicott. Winthrop superseded Endicott as Governor of the Colony upon his arrival in 1630.
The flow of Puritans to New England continued for another ten years, during a period known as the Great Migration.
Winthrop's journal lists the eleven ships that were in his fleet:
- Arbella: The flagship, designated 'Admiral' in the consortship; named for Lady Arbella, wife of Isaac Johnson (see below).
- Talbot: Designated 'Vice Admiral'. Henry Winthrop, John Winthrop's son and first husband of Elizabeth Fones, sailed on this ship.
- Ambrose: Designated 'Rear Admiral'.
- Jewel: Designated a 'Captain'.
- Mayflower: A different ship than that of the Pilgrims.
- William and Francis.
Six other ships arrived at Massachusetts Bay in 1630, for a total of seventeen ships that year.
Nine leading men both applied for the charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony and came to New England in Winthrop's Fleet.
- Mr. John Winthrop, Governor, and three of his sons, including two minors and one adult son, Henry Winthrop
- Sir Richard Saltonstall, three sons and two daughters
- Mr. Isaac Johnson Esq. and the Lady Arabella his wife and daughter of Thomas Clinton, 3rd Earl of Lincoln
- Mr. Charles Fiennes the said Earl's son
- Mr. Thomas Dudley, his wife, two sons, and four daughters
- Mr. William Coddington, the first Governor of Rhode Island, and his wife
- Mr. William Pynchon, and his wife and three daughters
- Mr. William Vassall, for whom Vassalboro, Maine was named, and his wife
- Mr. John Revell, merchant, who loaned the Plymouth Colony money, and who was chosen assistant to the Massachusetts Bay Colony
- Mr. Jon Waterbury
Other passengers of historical significance include (in alphabetical order):
- Robert Abell
- Stephen Bachiler Founder of Hampton, New Hampshire. 
- Simon Bradstreet and his wife Anne Bradstreet
- Jehu Burr Great Great Grandfather of Aaron Burr
- Edward Convers
- Thomas Mayhew
- William Phelps, wife Ann Dover and four sons
- William Phelps, a founder of both Dorchester, Massachusetts and Windsor, Connecticut and foreman of the first grand jury in New England.
- Allan Perley
- Robert Seeley
- Captain John Underhill
- John Wilson, first minister of the Boston church
- Captain Edward Johnson (1598-1672) was a leading figure in colonial Massachusetts, and is one of the founders of Woburn, Massachusetts.
- Lane, C. Arthur (1898). Illustrated Notes on English Church History 2. New York: E. & J. B. Young & Co. p. 384. Retrieved 2008-12-15.
- Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 7. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society. 1891. p. 231. Retrieved 2008-12-15.
- Higginson, Thomas (1891). Life of Francis Higginson, First Minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co. p. 69. Retrieved 2008-12-15.
- Banks, Charles Edward (1999) . The Winthrop Fleet of 1630. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0-8063-0020-5. reprint of original 1930 edition.
- Winthrop, John (1853). The History of New England from 1630 to 1649. New York: Little, Brown and co. Retrieved 2008-12-11. Second publication of the original text of John Winthrop's journal.
- Winthrop, John (1853). The History of New England from 1630 to 1649. New York: Little, Brown and co. p. 442.. In a letter to his wife, Winthrop himself put the number of passengers at 700 persons, 240 cows, and 60 horses.
- While the Plymouth Colony preceded both Winthrop and Endicott, they maintained their own system of government and did not fall under the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at this point in time.
- Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, (Article: "Life and Letters of Governor Winthrop"), Vol CII, No DCXXI, August 1867 (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons), p 181
- Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 9. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society. 1804. p. 205. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
- Society, New England Historic Genealogical (1921). "Leaders in the Winthrop Fleet, 1630". The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 25: 236. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
- Selected Biographies of Early Settlers in Northern New England. Portsmouth NH: Peter E. Randall. 2000. Retrieved 20 Aug 2015.
- Winthrop Society