John Winthrop


     "John Winthrop was born in Suffolk, England in 1587. He was his parents' only son. His father, Adam Winthrop, was the lord of Groton Manor, a small estate in the English countryside. John grew up on his father's estate, amid gently rolling hills, fields of wheat and rye, and shallow ponds. In his childhood he as educated by a private tutor, and at the age of fourteen his father enrolled him in Trinity College in Cambridge. He studied there for two years and then returned to Groton to begin practical training in running his father's estate.     Soon Adam Winthrop saw his son's hidden marriage problem and introduced him to Mary Worth (Forth - see below), the daughter of a distinguished Essex nobleman. Three weeks later John was married at the age of seventeen. Ten months later, just after his eighteenth birthday, he became a father. John and his wife Mary worked hard and had six children in ten years. Then Mary suddenly died. After six months John remarried, but on his first wedding anniversary his second wife died. One year later John married his third wife, Margaret. By all accounts, Margaret was one of the most appealing women in all of American history. She was beautiful and gracious. She was also a woman of faith. John Winthrop treasured her as his greatest possession. When he traveled away from home, he never failed to send her love letters.
     In seventeenth-century England there was no such thing as freedom of religion. There was only the Church of England. But as the Church grew more politicized and hostile to Puritan ideas, it became clear to John that there was little or nothing he could do to reform the Church from within. He did not want to start a war that he could never win. Also, his son Henry became somewhat rebellious, and John began to worry that he might lose his children to the godless popular culture. At the age of forty-two, after a painful struggle, John decided that the only real choice was for him to take his family and move away from England. Rather than fighting political battles with the authorities, he would quietly move away to a new land where he could worship God freely and raise his children in an environment of faith.
     In 1629, John Winthrop heard about a new venture called the Massachusetts Bay Company. In those days, groups of investors would put their money together and establish trading companies. The company would send workers to the New World to obtain furs, spices, and other exotic goods and ship them back to England for a profit. Each company had to be specially chartered by the King to receive authority and land to establish a colony in the New World. The colony would have a governor, but the board of directors and chief executive officer would stay in England, overseeing the operation and collecting the profits. On paper, the Massachusetts Bay Company appeared to be just another trading company. But there was a small technical detail that made it different from the other companies: The board of directors was not required to meet in London. In fact, the charter did not mention where the Company would meet. The King of England didn't notice this fact when he signed the Company charter. But the implications of this small oversight were enormous. The whole company, including the board of directors and the governor, could move to the New World and effectively set up their own autonomous government. They could establish their own laws and operate without any direct supervision by the King's authorities in London. Most of the members of the Massachusetts Bay Company were Puritan. They had the full legal authority, if they so desired, to move to New England and build an independent society where they could govern themselves according to the dictates of their conscience.
     When members of the Massachusetts Bay Company realized what a remarkable opportunity had come, they seized it and decided to go to the New World. But there were many obstacles to overcome. First of all, they needed leadership. They needed one man of faith and vision who could lead them to the New World and govern them once they arrived. John Winthrop was recognized by all as a man of ability, maturity, and faith, and the Company elected him as its governor. Next, they had to raise an enormous amount of money to transport themselves to the New World. They had to obtain funds from private investors, not all of whom were Puritan, to support them in this venture. Then they had to organize a group of settlers who would live in the colony and support its purpose. There were many non-Puritans who were eager to go to the New World for purely economic reasons, and they had to be weeded out as much as possible.

     John Winthrop sold all his possessions and arranged to move his whole family from comfortable England to the rugged and dangerous New World. John's wife Margaret was expecting a baby, so he decided to leave her and his oldest son at home for the first year while he went with the first group of settlers. John could barely stand the thought of being separated from his beloved wife, so they made an agreement that they would think of each other every Monday and Friday, between 5 and 6 pm. On April 7, 1630, four ships with four hundred people set out from England across the stormy Atlantic. This was later referred to as the Winthrop Fleet.

     On board the ship, John Winthrop began to keep a diary. This remarkable document was lost after his death, but it resurfaced one hundred years later. The contents of the diary are astounding. From the ship, Winthrop laid out the Puritan vision for the New World. America was to become a city on a hill. He wrote (paraphrase, in modern English):

The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword throughout the world; we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all believers for God's sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us, until we are consumed out of the good land to which we are going...

     Two months later they arrived in Salem, Massachusetts. The settlers could scarcely believe their eyes. It was a total wilderness; except for a few huts and clearings made by previous settlers, there was nothing but forest. How could they raise crops to supply themselves in the coming winter? When the settlers saw what the new land was like, scores of them refused to get off the ships and decided to sail back to England immediately. Others were so weakened by malnutrition that they were already dying. Within a few days of their arrival, John's son Henry drowned in a river. The situation was more than a mortal man could bear. But John Winthrop refused to give up. He seized control of the situation, confident that God was with them and would see them through. Rather than giving orders, he rolled up his sleeves and began to build shelters. He led by example and soon the whole company was working as hard as he.
     Winthrop decided to move the colony away from Salem, someplace where they would have room to build houses and raise crops. After exploring the coast he led the colonists to what is now called Boston harbor. He ordered them to fan out, and they settled throughout the areas of Charlestown, Cambridge, Boston, Watertown, Roxbury and Dorchester. Governor Winthrop collected provisions while the settlers made shelters for the winter. They carved caves in the hillsides and dug holes in the ground. When autumn came, many began to fall sick and die. By November, Winthrop had lost eleven servants from his household. But he never wavered; he set the example in bravery. In his letters to his wife there was no hint of despair, and he never suggested that the rest of his family should stay in England. Fall turned to winter, and hundreds died. The whole company was tottering on the brink of starvation. In February, their supplies totally ran out. John Winthrop reached into a barrel to pull out their last handful of grain to give to a starving settler. Just as his hand was coming out of the barrel, someone shouted, "It's here!" At that very moment a ship arrived, bringing new supplies of food. John Winthrop distributed the food and proclaimed a day of thanksgiving.
     Out of one thousand who had come to the New World, two hundred died the first winter. When spring came, another two hundred gave up and went back to England. Many of the British investors decided this was a losing business and pulled out, leaving the colonists without support or supplies. John Winthrop took his own money which he had acquired from the sale of his estate and used it to buy more provisions. In that first year, Winthrop almost singlehandedly fed the colony out of his own pocket. Later that year, his wife Margaret and the rest of his children arrived. Winthrop found that two more of his children had died that year, including the newborn baby daughter whom he never saw. But he praised God for bringing his family to the New World, and he never wavered in his conviction that the Lord was with them.

From Winthrop Papers text  .

Descendant Note:
Subject: John Winthrop
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 00:19:23 EST
 I am a direct descendant of John Winthrop,Senior (and John W. Jr.).  I respectfully wish to correct you in regards to the name you have given for John, Senior's first wife.  In your writings about John on  the net, the name you have given for his first wife is Mary Worth and this is incorrect.  Her correct name is Mary Forth, and she was the daughter of John Forth, esq. of Essex, England.  If you will check The Genealogical Register of the First Settlers of New England by John Farmer (Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore - revised from the original publication of this book, published in Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1829) you will see that John's first wife was, indeed, Mary Forth.  My sister, who is an LDS genealogist, has thoroughly researched our John Winthrop ancestral line, and all of the centuries old records she has researched state that John's first wife was Mary Forth (old English was Forthe).  Please correct maiden surname in the writings you have about John Winthrop on the net.Millions of people do their genealogical research on the net and it is only fair that they receive the correct information.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I promise you I will not pester you anymore about this.  I just want the record set straight, not only for those millions who do their ancestral researches, but for present day historians who do not always have the time to delve into all of the old records in dusty genealogy books and must rely, instead, on more recent writings, such as yours, when they do their own historical research.   Sincerely,   Mary Donato

see Arbella Page 1. for information on ship Arbella and settlement in Salem, MA.
Below are some links relating to Gov. Winthrop, by noted academicians:
The Winthrop Papers project of Prof. Frank Bremer of Millersville University.
A role for Winthrop in today's schools by Prof. D. Williams of George Mason U.
A short text about Winthrop by Prof. Fred Shafer of Pennsylvania State University,
This is the text I obtained most of the information above....ROD 1997.

Here are some links to other organizations of interest to family historians:
Cyndi Howells' wonderful Massachusetts genealogy resources and vast links.
IMC genealogy links.
US Gen Web.
The National Genealogical Society.
The Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore: the world's best.
Ancestry, Inc. --- a large resource. A reputable service with nominal prices.
Check out the pages by some of the Members of The Winthrop Society!

To request an application to The Winthrop Society send e-mail by clicking here.

Rod Bigelow (Roger Jon12 BIGELOW)

8 Prospect Circle
Massena, N.Y. 13662 Rod Bigelow at SLIC