1588 - 1649
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2001 by VirtualologyTM
governor of Massachusetts, born in Edwardston, near Groton, Suffolk,
England, 22 Jan., 1588; died in Boston, Mass., 26 March, 1649. The manor of
Groton had been purchased in 1544 by his grandfather, Adam Winthrop, a rich
clothier of Suffolk, who had also a city home in St. Michael's. Cornhill, and
who was for several years master of the famous Cloth-workers' company of
London. A portrait of him, ascribed to Hans Holbein, indicates a man of
culture, decision, and great strength of character. One of his daughters
became the wife of Sir Thomas Mildmay, nephew of the founder of Emmanuel
college; and another was the mother of Dr. William Alabaster, who is styled,
in "Fuller's Worthies," "a most rare poet as any our age or
nation has produced witnessed his Tragedy of Roxana."
Of this Adam Winthrop the third son, also named Adam,
was a lawyer by profession, a graduate of Magdalen college, Cambridge, and for
many years the auditor of Trinity and St. John's colleges. His first wife was
a sister of Dr. John Still, bishop of Bath and Wells, but she died early
without offspring. His second wife was Anne Browne, of Edwardston. and of this
marriage John Winthrop, the subject of this notice, was the only son. His
parents lived until within a few years of his coming to this country, his
mother dying only one year before he embarked. Of the school or schools, which
he attended as a boy, there is no record, but we find him admitted to Trinity
college, Cambridge, on 18 Dec., 1602, when he was not quite fourteen years of
age, and he remained there for more than two years. But his college life was
brought prematurely to a close, before he was entitled to a degree, by his
early engagement and marriage. On 26 April, 1605, he married Mary Forth,
daughter and sole heir of John Forth, of Great Stambridge, in Essex. She was
of a wealthy family, one of whom was knighted in 1604, and is said to have
brought to her husband "a large portion of outward estate."
It is matter of tradition that he was made a justice
of the peace on arriving at eighteen years of age, and that "he was
exemplary for his grave and Christian deportment." As early as 1609,
when he had just attained his majority, he is recorded in his father's diary
as holding "his first court in Groton Hall." The wife of his
youth was taken away within eleven years after their marriage, having borne
him six children, of whom two had died in their earliest infancy: and a second
wife, of the old Clopton family, had been buried, with her infant, only a year
and a day after wedlock. He was sorely oppressed by such successive
bereavements, and found consolation only in a more earnest cultivation of the
Christian hope and faith that he had cherished from his childhood. There is
reason for thinking that he had contemplated becoming a clergyman at this
period, and his " Experiences," as written at the time and
still extant, evince a deep susceptibility to religious impressions, not
without a tinge of superstition. But he gradually gave himself up to the
profession of his father, engaged actively in the practice of the law and in
the discharge of his duties as a magistrate, and in 1626 was appointed by Sir
Robert Naunton one of the attorneys in the court of wards and liveries, over
which Sir Robert presided.
His professional services brought him also into
connection with the parliamentary proceedings of the time, in preparing bills
for legislative committees; and as late as 1628 we find record of his special
admission to the Temple, of which his eldest son had been admitted a member
four years previously. Meantime he was once more established in domestic life,
having married in 1618 Margaret, daughter of Sir John Tyndal, knight, of Great
Maplested, in Essex, who was happily spared to him for nearly thirty years,
and who was to be his companion and support for seventeen of those years in
the New World.
The coming over of John Winthrop to America seems not
to have been the result of any long previous deliberation. The earliest
intimation of such a step is found in a letter dated 15 May, 1629, in which he
says: "My dear wife, I am verily persuaded God will bringe some heavye
Affliction upon this lande, and that speedylye: but be of good comfort, the
hardest that can come shall be a meanes to mortifie this bodye of corruption,
which is a thousand twnes more dangerous to us than any outward tribulation,
and to bring us into nearer communion with our Lord Jesus Christ. and more
assurance of his kingdome. If the Lord seeth it will be good for us, he will
provide a shelter and a hidinge place for us and others, as a Zoar for Lott,
Sarephtah for his prophet," etc. At this moment he was privately
preparing a careful statement of the "Reasons to be considered for
juste-tieing the undertakeres of the intended Plantation in New England, and
for incouraginge such whose hartes God shall move to joyne with them in
This is the paper that he communicated for
consideration to his eldest son (afterward governor of Connecticut) in August
of the same year, and which elicited from him the memorable response: "For
the business of New England I can say no other thing but that I believe
confidently that the whole disposition thereof is of the Lord, who disposeth
all alterations by his blessed will, to his own glory and the good of his; and
therefore do assure myself that all things shall work together for the best
therein .... The Conclusions which you sent down I showed my uncle and aunt,
who liked them well. I think they are unanswerable."
In less than a year from the date of that letter John
Winthrop, the father, was established in New England, having been elected
governor of Massachusetts by the company in London, on 30 Oct., 1629, and
having arrived at Salem, with the charter and company, in a fleet of eleven
ships, of which the "Arbella" was "the admiral,"
on 22 June, 1630. A few days later he went to what is now called Charlestown,
and soon afterward to the site and settlement of Boston.
Both the religious and the political condition of Old
England at that period were repulsive to minds like those of Winthrop and his
associates. The king was systematically assuming and asserting despotic
authority, and reducing the power of parliament to a nullity. Indeed, from
March, 1629, no parliament was convoked for eleven years. It was the period of
high commission, star chamber, tonnage and poundage, forced loans, and
taxation without representation. Not a few distinguished men who opposed such
a policy and resisted such exactions were seized and imprisoned. Sir John
Eliot, to whom Winthrop was no stranger, was sent to the Tower for free speech
in parliament, to die there after several years of suffering. The Puritan
spirit, with which Winthrop strongly sympathized, was sternly repressed. Laud,
as bishop of London, was already manifesting the bigoted and proscriptive
policy that he displayed a few years later as archbishop of Canterbury, and
which at last brought him to the block. Meantime the New World was open to
freedom, and the little pioneer Pilgrim band was already sending over tidings
of religious liberty from Plymouth Rock. All this will sufficiently explain
the great Suffolk emigration, of which Winthrop was the chosen leader. The
Massachusetts company had already established a plantation at Salem, and John
Endicott had been deputed by them to govern the little colony in subordination
to the governor and company in London. But they now solemnly resolved to
transfer the whole government to the American soil, and Winthrop was made tile
leader and governor to effect and carry out that transfer, the com-party "having
received, as the record says, extraordinary great commendations of his
integrity and sufficiency."
Nineteen years intervened between the arrival of Gov.
Winthrop at Salem and his death in Boston in 1649, during twelve of which he
was the governor of the colony, and during every year of which he was actively
engaged in its affairs. He was annually elected governor till 1634, and held
the office again in 1637-40, 1642-'4, and from
1646 till his death.
In 1636, when Sir Harry Vane was chosen Governor,
Winthrop was deputy, and he led the opposition to Vane in the Anne Hutchinson
controversy, on; which issue he was elected over Vane in 1637. He was an
earnest opponent of the new Antinomian doctrines, and was active in the
banishment of Mrs. Hutchinson and her followers. In 1644-'5 he was again
deputy governor. During that year he was virtually impeached, but his
acquittal and the speech that followed it, with his celebrated definition of
liberty, are among his most memorable triumphs. Winthrop lived to see Boston,
which he had founded, a thriving and prosperous capital; and the state, of
which he brought over the charter, extended by successive settlements over a
wide territory, and represented, in its little legislature, by deputies from
nearly thirty separate towns. Other colonies had planted themselves around
Massachusetts, and a New England confederation had been formed under his
auspices, of which he was the first president. Free schools had been
established, and a college incorporated and organized. Above all, religion had
taken deep root in all the settlements, and churches were gathered wherever
there was an adequate population.
Although he was a member of the Church of England as
long as he resided in the mother country, and had united in an affectionate
farewell to that church on his departure, he was a man who held Christianity
to be above all churches. He soon saw clearly that Congregationalism was the
best and only mode of planting and propagating Christianity in this part of
the country and in those old Puritan times, and he was henceforth a
Congregationalist until his death. Bancroft says of him: "It was
principally the calm decision of Winthrop which sustained the courage of his
companions." Palfrey concludes a notice of him, in his "
History of New England," as follows: " Certain it is that,
among the millions of living men descended from those whom he ruled, there is
not one who does not, through efficient influences, transmitted in society and
in thought along the intervening generations, owe much of what is best within
him and in the circumstances about him to the benevolent and courageous wisdom
of John Winthrop."
He kept a careful journal of all that was done by
himself and others, which he designed to have revised and perfected at his
leisure; but no leisure ever came to him. The first volume was published from
family manuscripts (Hartford, 1790). The continuation was discovered in 1816
in the tower of the Old South church in Boston, and placed in the hands of
James Savage, who published the whole journal as "The History of New
England from 1630 to 1649, by John Winthrop," with notes (2 vols.,
Boston, 1825-'6 ; 2d ed., with additions, 1853). It furnishes the most
authentic record of the early days of Massachusetts. Among other writings is
an essay entitled " Arbitrary Government described; and the Government
of the Massachusetts vindicated from that Aspersion." It was written
by him in 1644, but it saw the light, only in 1869. His "Modell of
Christian Charity,''~ written on board the " Arbella," on
his way to this country, is printed in the "Massachusetts Historical
Collections. His "Life and Letters " were published by Robert
C. Winthrop (2 vols., Boston, 1864-'7). There is a portrait of him, ascribed
to Van dyck, in the senate-chamber of Massachusetts, and reproduced in the
accompanying steel engraving; a statue
by Richard Greenough in the U. S. capitol at Washington, another in Boston
and one in the chapel at Mount Auburn cemetery, seen in the illustration on
His eldest son, John, known as John Winthrop the
younger, born in Groton Manor, 12 Feb., 1606; died in Boston, Mass., 5 April,
1676, after being educated at Bury St. Edmunds school and Trinity college,
Dublin, entered the Inner Temple, but, finding the study of law little to his
taste, obtained temporary employment in the naval service and sailed under the
Duke of Buckingham in the unfortunate expedition for the relief of the
Protestants of Rochelle. A little later he made a prolonged tour of Europe,
passed some time in Padua, Venice. And Constantinople, returning home
in 1629, to find his friends busy with the great Massachusetts enterprise, in
which he was soon actively enlisted. In 1631 he followed his father to New
England, and he was shortly afterward elected an assistant of the
Massachusetts colony, which post he retained for eighteen successive years.
In 1633 he took the chief part in the settlement of
Ipswich, Mass., where he acquired a considerable estate. In 1634 he went to
England on public business, and he returned, in 1635, with a commission from
Lords Say, Brooke, and others, empowering him to build a fort at the mouth of
Connecticut river, and constituting him governor of that region for one year
from his arrival. At the expiration of this term he preferred to return to
Massachusetts, where he busied himself in scientific researches, in trying to
develop the mineral resources of the colony, and in building salt-works. The
journal of Gov. Winthrop the elder speaks of his son John at this period as
possessing in Boston a library of more than 1,000 volumes, several hundred of
which are still preserved, and bear testimony to the learning and broad
intellectual tastes of their original owner. In 1640 he obtained a grant of
Fisher's island, which was subsequently confirmed by royal patent. In 1641 he
went again to England on a long absence, bringing back with him, in 1643,
workmen and machinery with which lie established ironworks at Lynn and
Braintree. In 1646 he began the plantation at Pequot, better known as New
London, and, having gradually acquired much landed property in that
neighborhood, he transferred thither his principal residence in 1650,
exchanging the duties of a Massachusetts for those of a Connecticut
magistrate. In 1657 he was elected governor of Connecticut, and, with a single
year's exception, he held that office till his death, nineteen years later.
From the autumn of 1661 till the spring of 1663 he was
chiefly in London on business of the colony, where he became widely known as
an accomplished scholar, one of the earliest and most active members of the
Royal society, and the personal friend of many of the chief natural
philosophers of Europe, his correspondence with whom is in print. The ability
and tact that he displayed at the court of Charles II. resulted in his
obtaining from that monarch a charter uniting the colonies of Connecticut and
New Haven. with the most ample privileges, under which the freemen of that
colony became entitled to all the rights and immunities of Englishmen. In this
charter Winthrop was named first governor, and in the administration of it he
passed his remaining years. His death occurred in Boston, where he had gone to
attend a meeting of the commissioners of the united colonies and where he was
buried in his father's tomb. He had not the latter's heroic cast of character,
and his tastes were rather those of a student than a statesman; but he was a
man of singularly winning qualities and great moderation, whose Puritanism was
devoid of bigotry or asceticism, and who knew how to retain the esteem of
those from whom he differed most widely in opinion. By Indians he was revered
for his justice, and by Quakers gratefully remembered for his lenity. In
chemistry and medicine he was particularly skilled, and in the dearth of
medical practitioners in the colony his advice was sought far and wide. He
married, in 1631, his cousin Martha, daughter of Thomas Fones, of London, and
stepdaughter of Rev. Henry Painter; she died in Ipswich, without surviving
issue, in 1634. He married, in 1635, Elizabeth, daughter of Ednmnd Reade, of
Wickford in Essex. and step-daughter of the famous Hugh Peters; this lady, so
lovingly alluded to in the letters of Roger Williams, died in Hartford in
1672, leaving two sons and five daughters. Much of the correspondence of her
husband and sons is printed in the publications of the Massachusetts
historical society.-- -
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John, 1606 76, colonial governor in America
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