The site for what would become Cambridge was chosen in December 1630, because it was located safely upriver from Boston Harbor, which made it easily defensible from attacks by enemy ships. Thomas Dudley, his daughter Anne Bradstreet, and her husband Simon, were among the first settlers of the town. The first houses were built in the spring of 1631. The settlement was initially referred to as “the newe towne”. Official Massachusetts records show the name capitalized as Newe Towne by 1632 and a single word Newtowne by 1638. Located at the first convenient Charles River crossing west of Boston, Newe Towne was one of a number of towns (including Boston, Dorchester, Watertown, and Weymouth), founded by the 700 original Puritan colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under governor John Winthrop.
In 1636, the Newe College (later renamed Harvard College after benefactor John Harvard) was founded by the colony to train ministers. Newe Towne was chosen for the site of the college by the Great and General Court (the Massachusetts legislature) primarily—according to Cotton Mather—to be near the popular and highly respected Puritan preacher Thomas Shepard. In May 1638 the name of the settlement was changed to Cambridge in honor of the university in Cambridge, England.Hooker and Shepard, Newtowne’s ministers, and the college’s first president, major benefactor, and first schoolmaster were all Cambridge alumni, as was the colony’s governor John Winthrop. In 1629, Winthrop had led the signing of the founding document of the city of Boston, which was known as the Cambridge Agreement, after the university. It was Governor Thomas Dudley who, in 1650, signed the charter creating the corporation which still governs Harvard College.