John Winthrop's Christian Experience
Reprinted in Early American Writing
Published in 1994
Edited by Giles Gunn
"I had also a great striveing in my heart to draw others to God."
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded in 1630 by a group of Puritans (Protestant Christians who advocated strict moral and religious codes). Like the Pilgrims who settled the nearby Plymouth Colony in 1620 (see "The Pilgrims' Landing and First Winter"), they were fleeing persecution (punishment or discrimination because of their beliefs) they had faced in England. The Massachusetts Bay Puritans saw their venture as an opportunity to enjoy religious freedom and to establish an "ideal" community that would serve as a model for Puritans in England. In the ideal community, inhabitants would form separate congregations (groups who worship together) devoted to strict adherence to Puritan doctrines. Guided by ministers and members of the "elect" (certain people who had been chosen by God for salvation, or forgiveness of sins), they would live in harmony and glorify God. Within fifteen years, however, the ideal community was beset by political and religious turmoil, and by the late 1600s the Massachusetts Bay experiment was a failure.
The Massachusetts Bay Puritans were led by John Winthrop (1588–1649), a wealthy Englishman and member of the elect, and the first governor of the colony. Winthrop was born into the aristocracy (upper or ruling class) in Suffolk, England. In 1603, at age fourteen, he entered Cambridge University. Although he left after two years without a degree, he was following the custom of most young gentlemen of the time. He also briefly attended Gray's Inn, where aristocrats studied law, but again he left without a degree. When Winthrop returned to the family estate, Groton Manor, in 1605, he had become a Puritan. Immediately he entered into an arranged marriage to Mary Forth of Great Stambridge, Essex. Over the next decade the couple had six children. Six months after Mary died in 1615, Winthrop wed Thomasine Clopton; unfortunately, she died within a year. He married for a third time in 1618, at the age of thirty. His new wife was Margaret Tyndal, a woman who shared his religious convictions, and they lived happily together for nearly thirty years.
By 1617 Winthrop had inherited Groton Manor. While serving as a justice of the peace (local judge who handles minor legal offenses), he began to study law more seriously. In 1627 Winthrop took a position as a government attorney. By this time, the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church; the official state religion) began to promote good works as a means of salvation (forgiveness of sins). In other words, church members would perform good deeds and clergymen would then forgive their sins. Puritans were horrified at this new development, since they believed only God could determine who had earned salvation. Consequently, many Puritans felt so strongly about this issue that they left England for European countries such as the Netherlands. Others, including Winthrop, looked toward America.
In 1629 Winthrop joined the New England Company, a group of investors planning to start a settlement near the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. King Charles I (1600–1649) had granted the company a parcel (section) of land between the Charles and Merrimack rivers in Massachusetts, which was owned by the Council for New England (a private organization that promoted trade and settlement in New England). A small group of Puritans, under the leadership of John Endecott (1588 –1665), had already gone to Massachusetts to pave the way for a "great migration" of Puritans. Winthrop and his associates, who would be part of that migration (moving from one country to settle in another), received a royal charter (the right to found a colony that would be ruled by the king) under the new name of "Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England."
Although the Massachusetts Bay Company had initially planned to promote trade in the colony, their emphasis soon shifted to religion. Before leaving for America, Winthrop organized the signing of the Cambridge Agreement. It stated that, once they reached America, they would buy out the company, take over the charter, and govern the colony independently. Thus the Massachusetts Bay Company was the only colonizing venture that did not come under the control of governors in England—a situation that would lead to serious problems within only a few years. In 1629 Winthrop was chosen to head the company and he began assembling the fleet of eleven ships that would take the settlers to America. To help meet expenses he sold his estate. After arranging for his wife and children to join him in 1631, he set out with the first Massachusetts Bay settlers on the lead ship Arbella.
The Puritans arrived at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1630. As head of the Massachusetts Bay Company, Winthrop took over the position of governor from Endecott. The first order of business was to organize the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the basis of separate religious congregations that chose their own ministers. This decision led to diversity among congregations, which later became a severe problem in the colony. Winthrop also established a government, keeping power in his own hands with the aid of a few assistants. He gave some authority to freemen (men with the full rights of citizens; women had no rights), who served on a general assembly (law-making body). In 1634, when the freemen challenged Winthrop to show them the company's charter, they realized they were entitled to more power than he had allowed them. The freemen then formed a new assembly, elected members from each town, and voted Winthrop out of office in 1635. He was replaced by colonist John Haynes (1594–1654).
Winthrop's political fortunes over the next several years reflected the chaos in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although he was continually voted in and out of office during this time, he held his seat on the council (officials who administered the government) and continued to be a powerful force. Along with Endecott and others, Winthrop supported a strict theocracy (control of the government by the church) and bitterly opposed the activities of religious dissidents (those who disagree with church practices). The Massachusetts Bay charter, which organized the colony on the basis of separate congregations, had opened the way for religious diversity. Many colonists were now refusing to conform to Puritan doctrines (established opinions). The problem was that the traditional Puritans (those who shared the vision of the founding fathers of the colony) would not tolerate any views but their own. Therefore, they were greatly disturbed by the protests of such dissidents as the Anabaptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers. All of these groups had their own Puritan congregations, but they followed different versions of Puritanism.
The Anabaptists (later called Baptists) opposed the baptism of infants, believing this ritual should be reserved only for adults who understood the meaning of religious conversion. (Baptism is a Christian ceremony in which a person is admitted to the church by being immersed in water or having water sprinkled on the head.) They also demanded complete separation of church and state. The Presbyterians asserted that church membership should be open to all people who agreed to live according to God's commandments rather than those who claimed to have achieved salvation (being saved from sin). But most threatening to the traditional Puritans were the Quakers (Society of Friends), who challenged not only the Puritan beliefs practiced in the colony but also its society and government. They advocated direct communication between the individual Christian and God, without the aid of ministers or a formal church, a belief that was the basis of the Massachusetts Bay community.
In 1636 the colony faced yet another crisis: Native American resistance to English settlement. As a result of the "great migration," the New England population was rapidly rising (it was four thousand in 1634 and would reach eleven thousand in 1638). The Puritans began to move west onto land that was controlled by the Pequots, a neighboring Native American tribe. For instance, the Hartford settlement (in present-day Connecticut) was established by Baptist minister Thomas Hooker (1586–1647), and nearby Fort Saybrook was built by the English Saybrook Company near the Pequot village of Mystic.
The Puritans' main goal was to rid the area of all Native Americans. Even though the colonists had signed a treaty with the Pequots, they hoped to provoke the Native American group into breaking the agreement. Their opportunity came when Native Americans from an unknown tribe killed two English colonists, John Stone and John Oldham. The Puritans accused the Pequots of committing the murders, but the Pequots denied any involvement and even offered to negotiate with the colonists. The Puritans responded by demanding that the Pequots turn over the killers to prove they were not doing the work of the devil. (The Puritans believed that any disaster or misfortune was caused by the devil, or Satan, against whom they were constantly waging a battle.) The Pequots could not produce the killers. In September 1636, Endecott—now the military commander in Massachusetts—therefore led an attack on the Pequots and their allies on Block Island (off the coast of Rhode Island), thus beginning the Pequot War. After the Pequots retaliated by laying siege to Fort Saybrook, the conflict remained low-key for some time. When western settlers became worried that the Pequots would win the war, however, fighting soon escalated. The war finally ended at Mystic in 1637, after the settlers burned the village and exterminated nearly all the Pequots. The few survivors were either killed later by the Puritans or they fled to other parts of the country. (In 1638 the Treaty of Hartford declared the Pequot nation dissolved.)
Making matters even worse for Massachusetts Bay was the fact that the English government was trying to gain control of the colony. Fernando Gorges (1566–1647), head of the Council for New England, belatedly realized Charles I (1600–1649) had permitted the colonists to settle on land that was still in the possession of the council. Gorges did not approve of their independent charter and he wanted them to abide by the New England Council's plan of government. In 1634 William Laud (1573–1645), the Archbishop of Canterbury (the highest official in the Church of England), was appointed head of a committee to investigate the charter. Laud had been instrumental in removing Puritans from positions of power in England, so he was interested in keeping American congregations under the control of the English church. All Puritans, except the Nonconformists in the Plymouth Colony, had remained Anglicans, which ordained (officially appointed) Puritan ministers. (The Puritans were certain they could reform the church from within.)
When the committee discovered that the charter was not tied to any governing body in England, they began proceedings to terminate the Massachusetts Bay Company. In 1637 Charles I announced that he would rule Massachusetts through a royal governor and council, and Gorges would be his deputy (first representative). This was a victory for Gorges, who was supported by Massachusetts Bay trader and adventurer Thomas Morton (c. 1590–c. 1649; see "The Maypole of Merry-Mount"). The new royal government was never put in place, however, since England was also in turmoil at the time. Charles I had dismissed the Parliament in order to prevent Puritans from holding office and he was unsuccessfully trying to manage his empire alone. Gorges was left with wilderness territory in Maine, north of Massachusetts Bay.
In the meantime, Puritan leaders had been struggling to maintain harmony in Massachusetts Bay. They thought they might solve some of their problems by getting rid of religious dissidents (people who refuse to accept the beliefs or practices of an established religion). Their strategy involved trying to pressure the rebels into accepting traditional Puritan doctrine. If that method was a failure, they forced the trouble-makers to leave the colony. For instance, in 1635 Haynes banished Roger Williams (1603–1683), an advocate of the separation of church and state, who later founded the Rhode Island colony. In 1636 Massachusetts officials also confronted Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), a prominent figure in the community, who was challenging basic Puritan teachings (see Exerpt From the Trial of Anne Hutchinson). Some of Hutchinson's supporters were working for political as well as religious change. Among them were merchants who opposed tax and trade policies of the council. They scored a victory in the election of 1636, replacing Haynes with a new governor, Henry Vane (1613–1662), a member of Hutchinson's congregation.
Winthrop was again elected governor in 1637, and he immediately convened the Massachusetts General Court (a panel of judges that decided the laws of the colony) to review dissident cases. When the court ruled in favor of the traditional Puritans, government leaders moved to put Hutchinson and others on trial for sedition (resistance against lawful authority). Winthrop was actively involved in the trials. In 1637, at the height of the religious and political chaos in the colony, he wrote "John Winthrop's Christian Experience."
Things to Remember While Reading John Winthrop's Christian Experience:
- John Winthrop's Christian Experience is a famous spiritual autobiography (record of an individual soul's struggle between God and Satan). Puritan ministers encouraged church members to write about intense personal suffering, and Puritan leaders presented their own lives as models for the inspiration of others. By portraying himself as a flawed human being who struggled to resist the temptations of the world, Winthrop intended to help average Massachusetts Bay colonists overcome evil in their own lives. The goal was to achieve the Puritan ideal of moral and spiritual perfection.
- In his spiritual autobiography Winthrop traced his religious development from childhood to 1637 (the year he wrote the essay), when he was forty-nine years old. The excerpts included here begin with his student days at Cambridge, when he converted to Puritanism, then move on to his early marriage, his first encounter with the covenant of grace, and other significant events. (The covenant of grace was a Puritan belief that those who were willing to strictly obey God's laws were granted the state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.) Throughout Christian Experience, Winthrop portrayed an unrelenting struggle with evil, which frequently threatened to overwhelm him. Although he made no direct mention of the recent political and religious crises in Massachusetts Bay, he remarked that he had "gone under continuall conflicts between the flesh and the spirit, and sometimes with Satan himself (which I have more discerned of late then I did formerly)."
John Winthrop's Christian Experience
About 14 years of age, being in Cambridge [University] I fell into a lingring feaver, which took away the comfort of my life. For being there neglected, and despised, I went up and down mourning with myself; and being deprived of my youthfull joyes, Ibetook my self to God whom I did believe to bee very good and mercifull, and would welcome any that would come to him, especially such ayongue soule, and so well qualifyed as I took my self to bee; so as I took pleasure in drawing neer to him. But how my heart was affected with my sins, or
Betook: Caused to go or move
Christ: Jesus of Nazareth; founder of Christianity
Essex: A country in England
what thoughts I had ofChrist I remember not. But I was willing to love God, and therefore I thought hee loved mee. . . .
About 18 yeares of age (being a man in stature, and in understanding as my parents conceived mee) I married into a family under Mr. Culverwell his ministry inEssex; and living there sometimes I first found the ministry of the word [of God] to come to my heart with power (for in all before I found onely light) and after that I found the like in the ministry of many others. So as there began to bee some change which I perceived in my self, and others took notice of. Now I began to come under strong exercises of Conscience: (yet by fits only) I could no longerdally with Religion. God put my soule to sad tasks sometimes, which yet the flesh would shake off, andoutweare still. . . .
Now came I to some peace and comfort in God and in his wayes, my chief delight was therein, I loved a Christian, and the very ground hee went upon. I honoured afaythful minister in my heart and could have kissed his feet: Now I grew full of zeal (which outranne my knowledge and carried mee sometimes beyond my calling) and very liberall to any good work. I had anunsatiable thirst after the word of God and could not misse a good sermon, though [even if it was] many miles off, especially of such as did search deep into the conscience. I had also a great striveing in my heart to draw others to God. It pittyed my heart to see men so little to regard their soules, and to despise that happines which I knew to bee better then all the world besides, which stirred mee up to take any opportunity to draw men to God, and by successe in my endeavors I took much encouragement hereunto. But those affections were not constant but very unsetled. . . .
Dally: Waste time
Unsatiable: Incapable of being satisfied
Wrought: Put together
Approbation: An act of officially approving
Plunges: Situations entered into suddenly
But as I grew into employment andcredit thereby; so I grew also in pride of myguifts, and under temptations which sett mee on work to look to my evidence more narrowly then I had done before (for the great change which God hadwrought in mee, and the generallapprobation of good ministers and other Christians, kept mee from makeing any great question of my good estate, though my secrett corruptions, and some tremblings of heart (which was greatest when I was among the most Godly persons) put me to someplunges; but especially when I perceived a great decay in my zeale and love, etc.).. . . I was ashamed to open my case to any minister that knew mee; I feared it would shame my self and religion also, that such aneminent professour as I was accounted, should discover such corruptions as I found in my selfe, and had in all this time attained no better evidence of salvation; and I should prove ahypocrite it was too late to begin anew. . . .
While I wandred up and downe in this sad and doubtful estate (wherein yet I had manyintermissions, for the flesh would often shake off thisyoake of the law, but was still forced to come under it again) wherein my greatest troubles were not the sense of Gods wrath or fear of damnation, but want of assurance of salvation, and want of strength against my corruptions; I knew that my greatest want was fayth in Christ, andfaine would I have been united to Christ but I thought I was not holy enough. . . .
Being in this condition it pleased the Lord . . . to manifest unto mee the difference between theCovenant of grace, and the Covenant of workes (but I took the foundation of that of workes to have been with man in innocency, and onely held forth in the law ofMoses to drive us to Christ). This Covenant of grace began to take great impression in mee and I thought I had now enough. . . .
I was now about 30 yeares of age, and now was the time come that the Lord would reveale Christ unto mee whom I had long desired, but not so earnestly as since I came to see more clearely into the covenant of free grace. First therefore hee laid a soreaffliction upon mee wherein hee laid mee lower in myne owne eyes then at any time before, and showed mee the emptines of all my guifts, and parts; left mee neither power nor will, so as I became as aweaned child. I could now no more look at what I had been or what I had done nor bee discontented for want of strength or assurance mine eyes were onely upon his free mercy in Jesus Christ. I knew I was worthy of nothing for I knew I could doe nothing for him or for my selfe. I could only mourn, and weep to think of free mercy to such avile wretch as I was. . . .
Eminent: Distinguished, well known
Hypocrite: A person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
Intermissions: Temporary suspensions of activities
Yoake: Yoke; a collar put on work animals
Covenant of grace
Covenant of grace: The Puritan belief that those who were willing to strictly obey God's laws were granted the state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God
Moses: In the Old Testament of the Bible, the Hebrew prophet who led the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt; significant to Winthrop because at Mount Sinai Moses also delivered to the Israelites the law establishing God's covenant with them
Affliction: To inflict suffering upon or to cause distress to
Weaned: Detached from a thing of dependence
Vile: Disgusting; unpleasant
Wretch: A miserable or unfortunate person
Since this time I have gone under continuall conflicts between the flesh and the spirit, and sometimes with Satan himself (which I have morediscerned of late then I did formerly) many falls I have had, and havelyen long under some, yet never quiteforsaken of the Lord. But still when I have been put to it by anysuddaine danger or fearefull temptation, the good spirit of the Lord hath notfayled to beare witnesse to mee, giveing mee comfort, and courage in the verypinch, when of my self I have been very fearefull, and dismayed. My usuall falls have been through dead heartedness, andpresumptuousnesse, by which Satan hath taken advantage to wind mee into other sinnes. When the fleshprevayles the spirit withdrawes, and is sometimes so greived as hee seemes not to acknowledge his owne work. . . . .
Forsaken: To leave or abandon
Pinch: A difficult situation
Presumptuousness: Overstepping due bounds
Prevayles: Prevails; wins
What happened next . . .
Winthrop was elected governor for the final time in 1646, and he was still in office when he died three years later. Challenges to Puritan control of New England gained momentum. By 1660 more people were settling on isolated farms, away from churches and the guardians of strict morality. Merchants and laborers were putting their own individual needs above the community good. Non-Puritans arrived in greater numbers, seeking economic opportunity rather than joining the religious community. Church membership was declining rapidly, and soon there were few people who could claim to be saved. In desperation, some Puritan churches adopted the Half-Way Covenant, whereby children of any baptized person could be admitted to the church regardless of whether their parents were church members. Others took the Presbyterian position that anyone who led a moral life could join the church.
Meanwhile, Puritan officials were still fighting English threats to place them under royal control. Finally, in 1686, King James II (1633–1701) united Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York into the Dominion of New England. He appointed Edmund Andros (1637–1714), an Anglican, as the royal governor. Andros was an unpopular leader who suppressed the rights of colonists. After James was overthrown in 1688 and the monarchs William III (1650–1702) and Mary II (1662–1694) took the throne in a transition called the Glorious Revolution. Now that Andros had no backing in England and could not defend himself against a rebellion, the colonists sent him and other officials to England as prisoners. Although the Dominion of New England had been dissolved, William and Mary did not restore the original charters to the colonies. Instead, in 1692, Massachusetts Bay was placed under a royal charter with Plymouth, forming the single colony of Massachusetts.
Did you know . . .
- During the voyage to America, Winthrop delivered one of the most famous sermons in American history, "A Modell of Christian Charity." In his speech he compared the Puritans' new venture to "a Citty upon a Hill," and he proclaimed that the eyes of the world were upon them.
For more information
Dunn, Richard S. Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England 1630–1717. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962.
Gunn, Giles, ed. Early American Writing. New York: Penguin Books, 1994, pp. 113–18.
Middleton, Richard. Colonial America: A History, 1585–1776. Second edition. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, pp. 81–89.
Morgan, Edward S. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. Boston: Little, Brown, 1958.
Puritan leader, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony
" . . . the eies of all people are uppon us. . . . "
John Winthrop was a stern Puritan (member of a Christian group that held strict moral and spiritual views) and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Prior to emigrating (moving from one country to another) to America, he led a comfortable life as a wealthy lawyer and landowner in England. Then in the 1620s the country became embroiled in religious, economic, and political turmoil. Times were especially difficult for Puritans, who pressed for reforms in the Anglican Church (the official religion; also known as the Church of England) and took a dim view of the moral climate of England. Consequently, they were deprived of political rights, such as serving in Parliament (the British legislative body). Their religious practices were suppressed and held up to ridicule. Winthrop was among the thousands of Puritans who decided to leave their homeland for a place that would allow them religious and political freedom. Leading the Massachusetts Bay Company, Winthrop arrived in Massachusetts in 1630. Although he was an autocratic (dictatorial) governor, he made significant contributions to the survival of the young colony for nearly two decades. His book The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 remains a valuable resource for scholars.
Born to life of privilege
John Winthrop was born in 1588 in Suffolk, England, into a life of privilege as a member of the English gentry. His father, Adam Winthrop, was trained as a lawyer and was a shrewd businessman. After inheriting an estate called Groton Manor from his own father, Adam rented and bought land in the area, growing cash crops that he sold in nearby London. Adam's second wife, John's mother, was Anne Browne, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. As the couple's only son, John would one day inherit the manor at Groton.
In keeping with his station in life Winthrop received a good education. During his early years his teacher was a local minister, who prepared Winthrop for Cambridge University, the college his father had attended. In 1603, at the age of fourteen, Winthrop entered Cambridge. Although he left within two years without a degree, he was following the custom of most young gentlemen of the time. Winthrop also briefly attended Gray's Inn, one of the famed Inns of Court where the elite studied law. Again he left without a degree. College had apparently been an unpleasant experience, as he later wrote: "For being there neglected, and despised, I went up and down mourning with myself."
Winthrop returned to Groton Manor in 1605, at the age of seventeen. By that time he had also become a Puritan. Immediately he entered into an arranged and advantageous marriage to Mary Forth of Great Stambridge, Essex. Again he was doing what was expected of a man of his social rank. The following year the Winthrops had a son, John Jr., and over the next decade they had five more children. Six months after Mary died in 1615, John wed Thomasine Clopton. Yet this marriage lasted only a year because Thomasine also died. Winthrop married for a third time in 1618, when he was thirty years old. His new wife, Margaret Tyndal, shared his religious convictions, and they lived happily together for nearly thirty years.
By 1617 Winthrop had inherited Groton Manor. While serving as a justice of the peace, he began to study law more seriously. Legal knowledge was essential to his duties as lord of Groton Manor, which included presiding over court for his tenants. After he and Margaret were married, they lived first at Groton and then on lands in Essex that she had contributed as a dowry (the money or land brought by a bride to her husband at marriage). At both places Winthrop gained extensive experience in managing large estates. Thus he had embarked on a life as a country squire (gentleman) when events took him in an entirely unexpected direction.
The Puritan movement began around 1560, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Pressing for reform of the Church of England, many Protestants claimed that Elizabeth had allowed the Church to remain too much like the Roman Catholic Church. They believed the Scriptures (books that make up the Bible) did not allow for the appointment of bishops, who wore elaborate robes and conducted complex rituals. They also believed in predestination (the doctrine that all events are destined by God) and argued that the Bible did not permit the establishment of a state church. Setting out to purify the Church of England, they dressed simply and observed strict moral and religious codes—thus earning the name "Puritans." At first the Puritans had no intention of separating from the Anglican Church, hoping to change it from within, but gradually small groups began holding private worship services. Early Puritans followed the doctrines of French Protestant theologian John Calvin, organizing their church into parishes in which members elected their own ministers. Soon the major Puritan denomination was the Presbyterian Church, which had a central government. Other denominations were the Separatists and Congregationalists, who differed from the Presbyterians in regarding a single congregation as a church in its own right. The Separatists and Congregationalists also asserted that people could interpret the Scriptures on their own, without the aid of a clergyman or a formal worship service. During the reigns of King James I and King Charles I the Puritans experienced intense persecution. This led them to flee England in search of religious and political freedom in other European countries and in America.
Encounters hard times
During the 1620s England was embroiled in religious and economic turmoil. The religious conflicts began in 1534 when King Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Church of England as the official religion in England. English Protestants continued to press for church reforms. Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, upheld his policies and the Puritan movement originated during her reign. The Puritans claimed the Church of England was as corrupt and excessive as the Catholic Church. Elizabeth's successor, King James I, disliked Puritans, seeing them as a threat to the church and to the Crown (monarchy or royal family). The Puritans predicted the moral and economic ruination of England. Economic problems seemed to bear out their dire warnings when the textile (cloth) industry, the basis of the English economy, went into a decline that rippled through the entire country. Suffolk, the county where Groton Manor was located, was hit especially hard. As a result, Winthrop's financial situation became bleak. To make matters worse his family was growing. Four of his six children from his first marriage had survived, and he had three sons from his third marriage. (Eventually Winthrop fathered sixteen children.)
In 1627, through connections in the royal government, Winthrop obtained a position as an attorney in His Majesty's Court of Wards and Liveries. The court controlled the estates of orphaned children until they came of legal age. This job took Winthrop away from his wife and family, but enabled him to witness governmental corruption firsthand. In 1625 King Charles I, son of James I, ascended the English throne. Charles was not only more rigid and less tolerant of Puritans, but he also was married to a Roman Catholic, which was a source of great anxiety for Puritans. Charles accepted a new direction for the Church of England that promoted good works as a means of salvation (forgiveness of sins). In other words, Church members would perform good deeds and clergymen would then forgive their sins. Puritans were horrified at this development, since they believed only God could determine who had earned salvation. Consequently, many Puritans left England for European countries such as the Netherlands. Others, including Winthrop, looked toward America.
In 1629 Winthrop joined the New England Company. The previous year the Council for New England (a private organization that promoted trade and settlement in New England) had granted the company a parcel of land between the Charles and Merrimack Rivers in Massachusetts. One of the negotiators of the patent (title or deed) was John Endecott (see entry), who was then living in Massachusetts. In 1629 the New England Company received a royal charter (a right to land granted by the king) under the new name of "Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England." It became known as the Massachusetts Bay Company. Although the group had initially planned to promote trade in the colony, their emphasis soon shifted to religion. Winthrop and other Puritans saw the venture as an ideal opportunity to start a settlement in which they could enjoy religious and political freedom.
In 1629 a group led by Winthrop signed the Cambridge Agreement. The document stated that, once the group reached America, they could buy out the company and take over the charter and government of the colony. Thus the Massachusetts Bay Company was the only colonizing venture that did not come under the control of governors in England. In August 1629 Winthrop pledged to move his whole family to Massachusetts. In October, when he was chosen head of the company, he organized the fleet that would take them to America. To help meet expenses he sold Groton Manor. After arranging for his family to join him in 1631, he and the first Massachusetts Bay settlers set out on the ship Arbella. During the voyage Winthrop delivered one of the most famous sermons in American history, "A Modell of Christian Charity." In his speech he compared the Puritans' new enterprise to "a Citty upon a Hill," and he warned that the eyes of the world were upon them. For Winthrop the trip to America was a holy mission, a vision that helped him lead the settlers through subsequent hard times. Yet his sense of divine purpose also made him a fanatic who lost sight of human needs and tolerated few opinions that did not conform to his own.
Named first governor
The Arbella arrived at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1630. Shortly thereafter, Winthrop founded a settlement on the Shawmut peninsula. As head of the Massachusetts Bay Company he took over leadership of the colony from Endecott and became governor. Winthrop held the position for four years (he was eventually elected governor twelve times). The first order of business was to organize the colony on the basis of religious congregations (known as congregationalism), whereby each congregation could establish itself and choose its own minister. This decision was later blamed for unwanted religious diversity. Winthrop also established the colony's government, keeping power in his own hands with the aid of a few assistants. He gave little authority to men called freemen, who served on a general assembly. In 1634, when the freemen challenged Winthrop to show them the company's charter, they realized they were entitled to more power than he had allowed them. The freedmen then formed a representative assembly, elected members from each town, and voted Winthrop out of office.
Winthrop's "Citty upon a Hill"
In 1631 John Winthrop sailed with the Puritans, the first Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers, aboard the ship Arbella. During the voyage he delivered one of the most famous sermons in American history, "A Modell of Christian Charity." Near the end of his sermon Winthrop likened the Puritans' new enterprise to "a Citty upon a Hill," with the eyes of the world upon them:
. . . the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake. . . .
Reprinted in: Gunn, Giles, ed. Early American Writing. New York: Penguin Books, 1994, p. 112.
During the next three years Massachusetts was torn apart by religious dissension. In 1637 the colony turned to Winthrop and elected him governor again. Winthrop's political fortunes over the next several years reflected the chaos in the colony. In 1640 he was replaced as governor, only to be reelected in 1642. After serving for two terms he was demoted to deputy-governor for a year. During this time Winthrop adhered to strict theocratic principles (rule of the church by the government) and bitterly opposed the activities of religious dissidents (those who question church doctrines). Among the most troublesome were Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson (see separate entries), whom Winthrop was instrumental in banning from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Finally, in 1646, Winthrop was elected governor again. When his wife Margaret died in 1647, he married a fourth time, to Martha Coytmore. Within a year she bore him a son, his sixteenth child. Winthrop was still serving as governor when he died in 1649 at the age of sixty-eight. Although the colony had survived under his leadership, Massachusetts soon outgrew the narrow authoritarianism that had been useful to him during the first years of its founding. Winthrop made a lasting contribution to American history with his journal, which was published as The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 in 1908.
For further research
Dunn, Richard S. Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England 1630–1717. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1962.
Gunn, Giles, ed. Early American Writing. New York: Penguin Books, 1994, p. 112.
"John Winthrop" in The Puritans: American Literature Colonial Period (1608-1700).http://www.falcon.jmu.edu/-ramseyil/amicol.htm Available July 13, 1999.
Morgan, Edward S. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. Boston: Little, Brown, 1958.
Winthrop, John (1588-1649)
Governor of massachusetts bay
Youth. John Winthrop was born to privilege as a member of the English gentry. His grandfather had benefited from Henry VIII’s confiscation of Roman Catholic monasteries by buying Bury Saint Edmunds in Groton, Suffolk. John’s father, Adam Winthrop, was also a shrewd businessman, and in addition to his Groton estate he rented and bought lands close by and grew cash crops that he sold to nearby London. He was trained in the law although he did not have a legal practice; presumably he dispensed justice on his estate. Adam’s second wife, John’s mother, was Anne Browne, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. John was Adam’s only son, so he knew that the manor at Groton would one day be his. His education befitted his station. His first years were spent under the tutelage of a local minister, but he was being groomed for Cambridge University, where his father had gone and was auditor for Trinity and Saint John’s Colleges. In 1603, at the age of fifteen, John entered college. He left within two years without a degree, but such was expected of a young gentleman such as himself. He also spent some time at Gray’s Inn, one of the famed Inns of Court where the elite studied law. Again he left without a degree. College had apparently been an unpleasant experience, “For being there neglected, and despised, I went up and down mourning with myself.”
Country Squire. Winthrop returned to Groton Manor at the age of seventeen and quickly made the arranged and advantageous marriage expected of a man of his estate. His wife was Mary Forth of Great Stambridge, Essex. He became a Puritan, and at the age of eighteen he was a father. Before his wife died in 1615 they had six children. He married Thomasine Clop ton within six months of Mary’s death, but she lived only another year. Winthrop married for a third time in 1618 when he was thirty years old. His new wife, with whom he lived for almost thirty years, was Margaret Tyndal, daughter of Sir John Tyndal of Much Malstead, Essex. Margaret shared his religious convictions. The couple lived first at Groton and then on the lands in Essex that she had brought him as a dowry. At both places Winthrop learned through hands-on practice how to manage large estates. By 1617 he was a justice of the peace and began a more serious study of the law since as lord of Groton Manor he would hold manorial court for his tenants. Winthrop was thus on his way to living his life as a pious but nonetheless provincial country squire when larger events brought Puritanism to the center of his life and took him far from Groton.
Difficult Times. Both religiously and economically the England of the 1620s was heading for trouble. Since Henry VIII’s break with Rome, Protestants in England had wanted further reforms in the church. Queen Elizabeth had followed in her father’s footsteps. James I, Elizabeth’s successor, lacked her strength and political skills. He disliked Puritans, seeing them as a threat to the church and to the Crown. Puritans predicted the ruin of England. Economic problems seemed to bear out their dire warnings as textiles, England’s major industry, suffered a depression that rippled through the entire economy. Suffolk, where Groton Manor lay, was hit especially hard, and Winthrop saw his own finances decline. To make matters worse his family was growing. Four of his six children from his first marriage had survived, and the oldest, John Jr., came of age in 1627. Winthrop already had three sons from his third marriage, and more children would come. In 1627 his connections rewarded him with an appointment as attorney in His Majesty’s Court of Wards and Liveries—the board that controlled the estates of orphaned children until they came of legal age. This job took him away from his wife and family and also let him see governmental corruption firsthand. In 1625 Charles I replaced his father, James I. Charles was not only more rigid and less tolerant of both Puritans and Parliament but also married to a Roman Catholic. Charles accepted a new direction for the Church of England that promoted good works as a means of salvation. Puritans were horrified since they believed that human beings could not affect their future and God had predestined who was saved and who was damned. It seemed to them as though England were headed straight down the path to ruin. Puritans began to look for a place where a saving remnant might keep faith with both God and human beings. They looked toward America.
New England. Winthrop was not among the earliest promoters of the Massachusetts Bay Company, but once it was clear that the charter did not have to remain in England and that any colony the company founded would be self-governing, he joined and quickly became one of its leaders. In August 1629 Winthrop pledged to move his whole family to Massachusetts. In October he was chosen governor of the company and took charge of organizing the fleet that would sail. To help underwrite it he sold Groton Manor. Leaving most of his family behind to come in 1631, he sailed with the first settlers aboard the Arbella and while on ship delivered one of the most famous sermons in American history, “A Modell of Christian Chanty,” in which he likened their new enterprise to “a Citty upon a Hill,” with the eyes of the world upon them. For Winthrop it was a holy errand, and this sense of providential responsibility would allow him to lead others through hard times. It would also make him a fanatic who lost sight of human needs and tolerated few other opinions.
Colonial Leadership. Winthrop arrived in America as governor of the new colony, and he remained so for four years. The first order of business was how to organize the colony religiously. The decision that each congregation establish itself and call its own minister (Congregationalism) set the stage for what would become an unwanted religious diversity. Winthrop also established the colony’s government, keeping power in his own hands with the aid of a few assistants. He gave little authority to those men called freemen who sat as a general assembly. In 1634 the freemen challenged Winthrop to show them the company’s charter and saw that they had been granted more power than he had allowed them. They formed a representative assembly, elected men from each town, and voted Winthrop out of office. During the next three years Massachusetts was racked by religious controversy. In 1637 the colony turned to Winthrop and elected him governor again. Three years later he was replaced only to be elected again in 1642, demoted to deputy-governor in 1644–1645, and elected governor again from 1646 to his death at age sixty-one. His wife Margaret had died in 1647, and he quickly married a fourth time. Within a year Martha Coytmore Winthrop had borne him a son, his sixteenth child. John Winthrop died in 1649, the same year that Charles I was beheaded. His colony had survived, but he was a member of an older generation, schooled in the religious persecution of pre-Civil War England. Massachusetts would outgrow the narrow authoritarianism that Winthrop brought to America and that had been useful in the precarious first years of its founding.
Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston: Little, Brown, 1958).
John Winthrop (1588-1649) was an American colonial political leader and historian. He was a very effective governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and his journal constitutes an important historical record.
John Winthrop was the dominant figure in the early years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His actions and ideas gave the Puritan colony much of its essential character. He had close dealings with other important Puritan leaders, such as John Cotton, minister of the church to which he belonged, and Roger Williams, with whom he disagreed.
Winthrop was born on Jan. 22, 1588, near the family seat at Groton in Suffolk County, England. He was the only son of a prosperous landowner, Adam Winthrop. After an education near home, John was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1602; he studied there less than two years. At the age of 17, by family arrangement, he was married to Mary Forth. Sometime during his early years Winthrop had a religious experience. He adopted a zealous Puritanism as a result, although he decided not to enter the ministry.
Winthrop's wife produced six children before she died in 1615. He remarried but his wife died a year later. In 1618 he married Margaret Tyndale, and their relationship is one of the most attractive in history. During these years Winthrop devoted himself to the tasks of a country landholder and also to the study of law; he was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1613 for legal studies. In 1617 he was made a justice of the peace in Suffolk, where he lived at Great Stambridge on dowry lands. In 1627 he was appointed attorney in the Court of Wards and Liveries. But Winthrop found several sources of dissatisfaction. The government's religious and political policies and his unprosperous personal circumstances led to a concern to provide for his sons.
Massachusetts Bay Colony
In 1629 Winthrop agreed to go to America with the Massachusetts Bay Company, and in October, after a decision had been reached to put the government of the colony in the hands of resident leaders, he was elected governor. He was involved in all of the elaborate financial arrangements and preparation of supplies, and in April 1630 he sailed on the Arbella, one of the four ships that brought 400 Puritan men, women, and children to America. Under his direction the colonists settled in the area around the Charles River. Despite courageous and able leadership, 200 colonists died during the first winter, and 80 returned home in the spring. Among the earliest deaths was that of Winthrop's son Henry. Because of the discouragement that resulted among the colony's backers, Winthrop was obliged to invest increasing amounts of his money to provide supplies. The rest of his family did not arrive until the fall of 1631, by which time the colony was solidly established.
Winthrop provided a rationale for the colony in a sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," which he delivered on the Arbella. Here he argued for the creation of a community covenanted with God, and "a due form of government civil and ecclesiastical." The colony was to be "as a city upon a hill" for all to observe. The key provision was that full citizenship in the colony was to be available only to church members. The churches first established adopted a congregational polity, and thenceforth only congregational churches were permitted. The government took great authority unto itself, though it was based on a principle of representative government. Though in 1634 the citizens elected Thomas Dudley as the colony's governor, Winthrop continued to be the most influential man in the colony.
In 1630 Winthrop had begun keeping a diary, which he continued to the year of his death. It is a dry, cold, and impersonal document in style, but it is of immense interest because of its contents. He referred to it as a journal, though it has been called The History of New England. In it he reports nearly all important events of the day; he also offers profound insights into the essential nature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Among the problems that Winthrop and the colony had to deal with was the highly individualistic Roger Williams. The separatist religious tendencies that Williams had demonstrated in Salem (he urged the church there to renounce the other churches of the colony) led to his being banished. But Winthrop, who recognized that Williams's views were potentially destructive to the colony he had helped create, also recognized the virtues of the man and maintained a friendship with him.
Winthrop was much less sympathetic to another member of the church in Boston, Anne Hutchinson. She had arrived in Massachusetts in 1634 to enjoy the preaching of the Reverend John Cotton, whom she had admired in England. As early as 1636 Winthrop began to record a list of the theological errors that she was teaching in weekly meetings. Her fundamental teaching was that "the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in a justified person," in a person called to eternal salvation, and that the presence of the indwelling spirit, not good works, was the evidence that one was of the elect. This antinomianism undercut the Puritan emphasis on the Bible as interpreted by learned ministers, and Mrs. Hutchinson went so far as to declare that only two ministers in the colony, Cotton and John Wheelwright, were among the elect.
At this time, 1636, Winthrop was not governor; the man who held the post was Henry Vane, also a member of Cotton's church and an admirer of Mrs. Hutchinson. Many of the other members of the church also admired her, but she and her views were much less popular outside Boston. Eventually Winthrop was reelected governor, replacing Vane, and Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson were banished. Though Winthrop had been in the minority in his church, his position once more triumphed. In both the Williams episode and the antinomian controversy Winthrop's role was to create unity within the colony, unity necessary for survival.
Winthrop's governorship was intermittent (he served 1630-1633, 1637-1639, 1642, 1646-1648). The General Court recognized his services in 1637 by granting him substantial acreage in Concord. Unfortunately his incapable overseer brought Winthrop deeply into debt. When he put up his Boston house and much of his land for sale, the colony gave him gifts of land and money.
The Puritan Revolution in England in the early 1640s led many American colonists to feel a sense of responsibility to their mother country. Some of Winthrop's friends urged his return. But Winthrop felt that it was his duty to remain in Massachusetts. When Dr. Robert Child announced that he was asking Parliament to reduce the colony's independence and abolish the right to limit the vote to church members, Child was promptly fined for contempt, and Winthrop announced that the colony recognized no appeal to higher authority.
One of Winthrop's most important roles in the life of the colony was his spokesmanship for its political position; he sometimes created public policy as well. In July 1645 he delivered a speech to the General Court in which he defined two kinds of liberty: natural (liberty to do as one wishes, "evil as well as good," a liberty that should be restrained) and civil (liberty to do good). It is only the latter, according to Winthrop, that is "the proper end and object of authority." In other words, it is the duty of government to stop corruption and to promote justice, not to promote the general welfare.
Winthrop died on March 26, 1649. Although circumstances in time changed the nature of the colony, many of the features of the New England way he had established remained. He more than anyone else gave the colony its distinctive character, and he was largely responsible for the flourishing state of its 15,000 inhabitants at the time of his death. Of his several children, the most notable was John, who became governor of the colony of Connecticut.
The best edition of Winthrop's journal, The History of New England, 1630-1649, is that of James Savage (2 vols., 1825-1826; rev. ed. 1853). The Massachusetts Historical Society's Winthrop Papers (5 vols., 1929-1947) is also of great value. Other important sources are Robert C. Winthrop, Life and Letters of John Winthrop (1864-1867), and the splendid biography by Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958). A valuable discussion of Winthrop in relation to Boston's growth is Darrett B. Rutman, Winthrop's Boston: A Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630-1649 (1965). □
(b. Boston, Massachusetts, 19 December 1714; d, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 3 May 1779)
One of sixteen children of Adam Winthrop and Anne Wainwright. John Winthrop was born into a New England family that was already famous both politically and scientifically. His great-granduncle and namesake, the son of Winthrop the elder, who immigrated to Massachusetts in 1630, was a founding member of the Royal Society of London, and governor of Connecticut from 1660 until his death in 1676. He was a notable administrator of the new settlements and a practical student of chemistry. It is interesting to note that one of his communications to the Royal Society concerned a fifth satellite of Jupiter. Here he anticipated his descendant’s far more extensive astronomical studies.
Winthrop attended the Boston Latin School and Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1732. For the next six years he lived at home and studied privately to such effect that in 1738, at the age of twenty-four, he was appointed the second Hollis professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Harvard, succeeding Isaac Greenwood. His duties included giving illustrated public lectures and taking charge of the considerable collection of philosophical instruments in Harvard Hall, used for demonstrations.
During his long tenure of the Hollis chair, which ceased only with his death, Winthrop established the first experimental physics laboratory in America; taught the laws of mechanics, optics, and astronomy according to Newton’s principles; and introduced into the mathematics curriculum the study of the calculus. Perhaps his most important work for Harvard followed the disastrous fire that destroyed Harvard Hall on the night of 24 January 1764. The fire gutted the last of Harvard’s original buildings and wiped out the valuable collection of scientific instruments. It fell to Winthrop to arrange for the replacement of the collection, which he was well equipped to do, both because of his scientific knowledge and because of his family connections and many friends on both sides of the Atlantic. The most active and influential of these friends was Franklin, who knew many of the finest instrument makers in London. The first orders for new apparatus went to London in June 1764, and over the next few years, instruments bearing such names as John Ellicott, Jeremiah Sisson, James Short, Peter Dollond, Benjamin Martin, Edward Nairne, and George Adams were dispatched to Harvard. The two major shipments were valued together at about £540. Among the instruments were two telescopes produced by Short. Winthrop himself owned a telescope by Short (made ca. 1755), which appears in the portrait of him painted by John Singleton Copley about 1773.
After 1739 Winthrop carried out many astronomical observations, the majority of which were reported in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. He observed the transits of Mercury in 1740, 1743, and again in 1769; and he used his observations to help determine the difference in longitude between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Greenwich, England. In April 1759 he delivered lectures on the return of Halley’s comet of 1682. Perhaps his most important astronomical work was concerned with the two transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769, which engaged astronomers all over the world. For the 1761 transit Winthrop organized an expedition from Harvard to St. John’s, Newfoundland, which provided the material for one of his most important papers. In 1769 he published the results of further work in Two Lectures on the Parallax and Distance of the Sun, as Deducible From the Transit of Venus. Winthrop was also interested in magnetism and meteorology, and carried out systematic observations over a period of twenty years, reporting in 1756 on the effects of the severe earthquake in New England.
A number of honors were awarded to Winthrop in his later years. On 27 June 1765 he was proposed as a fellow of the Royal Society at the instigation of Franklin; Short was another of his supporters. Winthrop must have been closely associated with both men at this time, over replacement instruments for his college, and in work on the transits of Venus. Not only did Short make telescopes for observatories throughout the world, but he was also closely concerned with the Royal Society’s plans for observing the phenomena. Winthrop’s election was delayed until February 1766, when the ballot finally took place. Franklin signed a bond for his contributions, and the Harvard records show that his fees, not exceeding fifty-two shillings, were paid out of the treasury of the society in return for his placing a volume of the Philosophical Transactions annually in the library. In 1769 Winthrop became a member of the American Philosophical Society. He received the honorary degrees of L.L.D. from the University of Edinburgh and from Harvard in 1771 and 1773, respectively.
Winthrop’s first wife, whom he married in 1746, was Rebecca Townsend; and three years after her death in 1756, he married Hannah Fayerweather, a widow, who survived him. Winthrop was an ardent patriot, and a friend and adviser of George Washington. His career maintained the family tradition of public service allied with learning.
I. Original Works. Winthrop’s works include “Concerning the Transit of Mercury Over the Sun, April 21, 1740 and of an Eclipse of the Moon Dec. 21, 1740,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,42 (1742–1743), 572–578; “An Account of the Earthquake Felt in New England, and the Neighbouring Parts of America, on the 18th of November 1755,” ibid.,50 (1757–1758), 1–18; “An Account of a Meteor Seen in New England, and of a Whirlwind Felt in That Country,” ibid.,52 (1761–1762), 6–16; “An Account of Several Fiery Meteors Seen in North America,” ibid.,54 (1764), 185–188; “Extract of a Letter . . . to James Short,” ibid., 277–278, on longitude and the equation of time; “Observations on the Transit of Venus, June 6, 1761, at St. John’s, Newfoundland,” ibid., 279–283; “Cogitata de Cometis,” ibid.,57 (1767), 132–154; “Observations of the Transit of Venus Over the Sun, June 3, 1769,” ibid.,59 (1769), 351–358; “Observations of the Transit of Mercury Over the Sun, October 25, 1743,” ibid., 505–506; “Extract of a Letter . . . to B. Franklin,” ibid.,60 (1770), 358–362, on the transit of Venus and the aberration of light; “Observations of the Transit of Mercury Over the Sun, November 9th 1769,” ibid.,61 (1771), 51–52; and “Remarks Upon a Passage in Castillione’s Life of Sir Isaac Newton,” ibid.,64 (1774), 153–157.
Some of the material in the above papers was published separately including Relation of a Voyage From Boston to Newfoundland for the Observation of the Transit of Venus, June 6, 1761 (Boston, 1761); and Two Lectures on the Parallax and Distance of the Sun, as Deducible From the Transit of Venus, Read in Holden-Chapel at Harvard-College in Cambridge, New England, in March 1769 (Boston, 1769).
II. Secondary Literature. On Winthrop and his work, see I. Bernard Cohen, Some Early Tools of American Science. An Account of the Early Scientific Instruments and Mineralogical and Biological Collections in Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass., 1950), passim (225 ff.): Raymond Phineas Stearns, “Colonial Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 1661–1788,” in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London,8 (1951), 178–246; Raymond Phineas Stearns, Science in the British Colonies of America (Urbana, Ill., 1970), esp. 642–670; G. L’E. Turner, “The Apparatus of Science,” in History of Science,9 (1970), 129–138, an essay review of David P. Wheatland, The Apparatus of Science at Harvard 1766–1800. Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), written with Barbara Carson; and Dictionary of American Biography, X, pp. 414–416.
G. L’E. Turner
(b. Groton, Suffolk, England, 12 February 1606; d. Boston, Massachusetts, 5 April 1676)
natural philosophy, medicine.
Winthrop, who has frequently been called John Winthrop, Jr., by historians to distinguish him from his father, was the son of John Winthorp and Mary Forth. Born into the Puritan landed gentry, he studied for two years at Trinity college, Dublin read law at the Inner Temple, and toured Europe, In 1631 he married his cousin Martha Fones and emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, following his father, who had been chosen governor of the Puritan company.
Thereafter the younger winthrop held various colonial offices. culminating in a long tenure as governor of Connecticut. His first wife died in 1634, and he married Elizabeth Reade the following year. Winthrop’s moderate but fluctuating means gave him a certain degree of independence, and in his spare time he was able to undertake a wide range of scientific activities and to carry on an extensive correspondence with other investigators.
To meet the needs of New England’s settlers and in the hope of providing commodities for export, Winthrop frequently searched for mineral resources. He used processes familiar from reading and observation to produce iron, salt, indigo, saltpeter, and other substances, and he promoted the development of a graphite mine. With the exception of his infant iron and graphite industries, which eventually were brought to fruition by others, these efforts did not achieve lasting success.Nevertheless, Winthrop is widely recognized as one of the founders of American industrial chemistry
Winthrop’s was a devoted student of the Hermetic philosophy, which helped to form his early attitudes toward science. Little is known about his alchemical experiments, which began during hisresidence at the Inner Temple and continued, at least peripatetically, for a long while. Although there is no evidence that Winthrop ever claimed the alchemical secret, he had the reputation of an “adept.” Circumstantial evidence has involved him in the problem of the authorship of the treatises on the theory and practice of alchemy published underthe pseudonym “Eirenaeus Philalethes,” , even though George Starkey probably used Winthrop only as an inspiration for the American adept from whom he claimed to have obtained some of the manuscripts. Winthrop amassed a large collection of alchemical and other scientific books within a general library of considerable extent. Portions of it are in various repositories.
Winthrop’s medical records show that although he dispensed a wide variety of herbal preparations, he depended heavily on chemical medicines, especially antimonials and niter. At first his practice was limited to family and friends, but as word of his skill and willingness spread, he received medical requests from many parts of New England. Frequently his remedies were given free to the poor; and at his death Winthrop was undoubtedly New England’s foremost physician.
His astronomical observations were of little consequence, although in 1660 Winthrop was operating what was probably the first large telescope in the American colonies, a ten-foot refractor. Several years later he was using a smaller instrument, and in 1668 he was attempting to perfect a telescope with a focal length of eight or ten feet.
Winthrop’s letters reveal his interest in scientific phenomena as diverse as waterspouts and the metamorphosis of insects. During one of his voyages to England and Europe, he was admitted in 1662 to the group soon to be chartered as the RoyalSociety, and he was the first fellow resident in North America. While in London (1661–1663) he read papers on diverse subjects at the Society’s meetings and was a faithful correspondent after returning to New England. Several of his communications were printed in the Philosophical Transactions. Although Winthrop contributed little to the history of scientific thought, he was the first scientific investigator of note in British America.
I. Original Works. Most of Winthrop’s scientific observations were reported in his correspondence, new being printed by the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of The Winthrop Papers (Boston, 1929– )Earlier selections of his letters are cited below. Cromwell Mortimer, secretary of the royal Society, asserted that Winthrop wrote “several learned Pieces . . . in Natural Philosophy; which indeed his innate Modesty would not suffer him to publish immediately, and when prevailed on by Friends to impart some of them to the Public, he concealed his Name, not being solicitous of the Reputation they might reflect on their Author” (PhilosophicalTransactions of the Royal Society,40 [1737–1738]). The only publications traditionally credited to Winthrop are excerpts from his letters in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,5 (1670), 1151–1153; and 6 (1671), 2221–2224; as well as a paper, “The Description, Culture, and Use of Maiz,” ibid.,12 (1678), 1065–1069, presented to the Royal Society in 1662.
II. Secondary Literature. The first extensive biography is Robert C. Black, The Younger John Winthrop (New York–London, 1966). The only full-length study of Winthrop’s scientific activities is Ronald S. Wilkinson. The Younger John Winthrop and Seventeenth-Century Science ([London], 1975). E. N. Hartley, Ironworks on the Saugus (Norman, Okla., 1957), examines his ironmaking endeavors. Among other specific modern studies are Ronald S. Wilkinson, “‘Hermes Christianus’: John Winthrop, Jr. and Chemical Medicine in Seventeenth Century New England,” in Allen Debus, ed., Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance:Essays to Honor Walter Pagel (New York, 1972), I, 221–241; John W. Streeter, “John Winthrop, Junior, and the Fifth Satellite of Jupiter,” in Isis,39 (1948), 159–163; supplemented by Ronald S. Wilkinson, “John Winthrop, Jr. and America’s First Telescopes,” in New England Quarterly,35 (1962), 520–523; and Ronald S. Wilkinson, “The Alchemical Library of John Winthrop, Jr. and His Descendants in Colonial America,” in Ambix,11 (1963), 33–51, and 13 (1966), 139–186.
Ronald S. Wilkinson
J. A. Cannon