John Winthrop

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John Winthrop was the name of several prominent figures in colonial New England. See John Winthrop (disambiguation)

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John Winthrop

John Winthrop (12 January 1587/826 March 1649) was elected governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 and on 8 April 1630 he led a large party from England for the New World.

He was born in Edwardstone, Suffolk, England, the son of Adam Winthrop (1548–1623) and his wife, Anne Browne. Winthrop briefly attended Trinity College, Cambridge, then studied law at Gray's Inn, and in the 1620s became an attorney at the Court of Wards in London.

Winthrop was extremely religious and ascribed fervently to the Puritan belief that the Anglican Church had to be cleansed of Catholic ritual. Winthrop was convinced that God would punish England for its heresy, and believed that English Puritans needed a shelter away from England where they could remain safe during the time of God's wrath.

Other Puritans who believed likewise obtained a royal charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company. Charles I of England was apparently unaware that the colony was to be anything other than a commercial venture to America. However, on March 4, 1629, he signed the Cambridge agreement with his wealthier Puritan friends, essentially pledging that they would embark on the next voyage and found a new Puritan colony in New England.

In the Spring of 1630, Winthrop led a fleet of eleven vessels and seven hundred passengers — The Winthrop Fleet of 1630 — to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the New World, the greatest ever assembled to carry Englishmen overseas to a new homeland.

Winthrop had been elected governor of the colony prior to departure, in 1629, and was re-elected many times. As governor he was one of the least radical of the puritans trying to keep the number of executions for heresy to a minimum and working to prevent the implementation of such innovations as veiling women, which many Puritans supported.

He is most famous for his "City on a Hill" sermon (as it is known popularly), in which he declared that the Puritan colonists emigrating to the New World were members of a special pact with God to create a holy community. This speech is often seen as a forerunner to the concept of American exceptionalism. The speech is also well known for arguing that the wealthy had a holy duty to look after the poor. Recent history has shown, however, that the speech was not given much attention at the time of its delivery. Rather than coin these concepts Winthrop was merely repeating what were widely held Puritan beliefs in his day.

The Town of Winthrop, Massachusetts is named after him.

Biographical Information

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He married his first wife, Mary Forth, on 16 April 1605 at Great Stambridge, Essex, England. She bore him six children and died in June 1615. He married his second wife, Thomasine Clopton, on 6 December 1615 at Groton, Suffolk, England. She died on 8 December 1616. On 29 April 1618 at Great Maplestead, Essex, England he married his third wife, Margaret Tyndal, daughter of Sir John Tyndal and his wife Anna Egerton. She gave birth to six children in England before they immigrated to New England (The Governor, three of his sons, and eight servants in 1630 on the Arbella, and his wife on the second voyage of the Lyon in 1631, leaving their small manor behind). One of their daughters died on the Lyon voyage. Two children were born to them in New England. Margaret died on 14 June 1647 in Boston, Massachusetts. Winthrop married his fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough, widow of Thomas Coytmore, sometime after 20 December 1647 and before the birth of their only child in 1648.


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