John Winthrop

John Winthrop


The first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony, John Winthrop was born at Edwardstone, England, in 1587. Winthrop was educated at Cambridge University, and practiced law in London from 1613-1629. By this time he was financially secure, and his religious faith had shifted to a complete acceptance of the Puritan faith, so he sought a way to worship in greater freedom.

When a group of middle-class Puritans laid the groundwork to create a colony in New England, Winthrop cast his lot with them.Winthrop was a natural leader, and he soon took on the executive work of the group. In 1629—even before they left England—the colonists chose him to be governor of the new colony of Massachusetts Bay.

Winthrop and his family sailed on board the Arbella from Southampton, England on March 22, 1630. They reached Salem, Massachusetts, on June 1 2 and began at once to establish the colony. Winthrop was instrumental in carrying out the move to a peninsula that the Native Americans called “Shawmut,” which soon became known as Boston.

Due to his legal training and great commitment to the Puritan cause, Winthrop remained the most important leader in Boston for the rest of his life. He served as governor of the colony on several different occasions—from 1629-1634, 1637-1640, 1642 -1644, and 1646 -1649.

Winthrop believed in the rule of the “godly elect,” those whose lives and fortunes reflected sobriety, piety, and service to the community. He was no early type of democrat; Winthrop remained a lifetime believer in class distinctions.

Winthrop was deputy governor when the religious case involving Anne Marbury Hutchinson (see no. 26) came to trial in 1637. He read the “guilty” sentence to Hutchinson. When she asked for amplification of the court’s reasons, he responded: “Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied.”

In 1643, Winthrop was also influential in bringing together a number of colonists under the auspices of the United Colonies of New England. One of his dearest hopes was that Puritanism would spread throughout all of New England, but in this he was disappointed.

The Quaker colony in Rhode Island and a number of small dissident communities outlasted both Winthrop and his generation of Puritans.His book, A Journal ofthe Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement ofMassachusetts. 1630 to 1644, published in 1790, is a moving testament to the sincerity of his beliefs and his elegant social graces.