Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM American National Biography Online. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in American National Biography Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Winthrop, Johnfree

(12 January 1588–26 March 1649)
  • Charles L. Cohen

John Winthrop.

Oil on canvas, c. 1800.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Winthrop, John (12 January 1588–26 March 1649), first governor and chronicler of Massachusetts-Bay, was born in Edwardstone, Suffolk, England, the son of Adam Winthrop, lord of Groton Manor, and Anne Browne. His early life befitted a scion of the aspiring lesser gentry: matriculation at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1603; marriage in 1605 to Mary Forth (she died in 1615), a wealthy landowner’s sole heiress (shortcircuiting his college career); subsequent advantageous matches to Thomasine Clopton in 1615 (she died a year later) and Margaret Tyndal ( Margaret Winthrop) in 1618; and responsibility for managing the family lands, culminating with his becoming lord of the manor by 1618. He also took up law, entering Gray’s Inn at age twenty-five and sitting as a county justice at twenty-eight. By the late 1620s he had attained minor prominence in London legal circles, drafting bills for Parliament, winning appointment as common attorney to the king’s Court of Wards and Liveries in 1627, and gaining entrance to the Inner Temple the next year. Business trips from Groton made him pine for Margaret, his helpmate, consort, and affectionate “freinde” (Winthrop Papers, vol. 1, p. 253); their correspondence reveals a profound mutual passion enhanced by faith that in loving each other they loved God best. At her death in 1647 he married Martha Coytmore, widow of a Charlestown merchant; she died in 1660. Winthrop fathered sixteen children, eight of whom died young; the achievements of John Winthrop, Jr., his firstborn, as governor of Connecticut, entrepreneur, technologist, and scientist solidified the family’s prominence in New England.

Winthrop embraced Puritanism, a Reformed Protestant temperament stressing humans’ innate depravity and the necessity of undergoing conversion, a psychologically intense “new birth” into salvation effecting Saints’ (regenerates’) vocation to God and empowering them to carry out His commands. Winthrop’s scruples about sin, agitated spasmodically in adolescence, intensified under the preaching of Ezekiel Culverwell, rector of Great Stambridge, Essex. At nineteen Winthrop began recording his spiritual travails and continued intermittently for thirty years; in his “Christian Experience,” a classic text of Puritan introspection penned on his forty-ninth birthday, he decried his transgressions, admitted his incapacity to amend them unaided, and celebrated Christ’s free grace, recapitulating his conversion to fortify his campaign against iniquity in general and Anne Hutchinson, whose heresies were riving Massachusetts, in particular. Puritans channeled personal devotion into collective activity to purge England’s church of “papist” habits and its society of moral decay. In Massachusetts Winthrop made creating a godly polity and protecting the true church paramount concerns.

Governor of the Massachusetts Settlement

Puritans interpreted mundane events as evidence of God’s Providence, and like fellow Saints Winthrop in the 1620s construed multiplying signs of His controversy with England. Depression unhinged the economy, Charles I feuded with Parliament, Arminians spoke liberal theology in the king’s ear, and their leader, Bishop William Laud, hunted nonconformists down. The economic tailspin depleted Winthrop’s rents, enlarged his debts, and frustrated his ability to provide for his elder sons, now coming of age. More income vanished in 1629 when he either lost or quit his position at the Court of Wards. Personal reverses encouraged thoughts of emigration, but he cast them in the context of wider woes. “This lande growes weary of her Inhabitantes,” he lamented; Catholic victories abroad threatened Protestants at home, but God may have preserved New England as “a refuge” from “the generall callamity.” Passing there would spread the gospel, thwart the Jesuits, increase settlers’ prosperity, build fresh congregations, and spurn Old England’s corrupted “Fountaines of Learning and Religion” (Winthrop Papers, vol. 2, pp. 138–39). On 28 July 1629 Winthrop met with heads of the Massachusetts Bay Company to discuss settling a colony and transferring the patent to America, beyond the Crown’s effective grasp. On 26 August he and eleven others signed the “Cambridge Agreement,” pledging to establish a “plantation” provided the corporation’s government moved with them. The Company agreed three days later and on 20 October elected him governor. Aboard the flagship Arbella, Winthrop and six others issued “The Humble Request” (7 Apr. 1630), declaring they did not separate from the English Church and imploring its prayers; by “church” they intended only Saints, not the entire parochial body. Four ships, carrying some 700 passengers, embarked the next day. Winthrop landed at Salem on 12 June. At some point he composed the lay sermon “A Modell of Christian Charity”; traditionally ascribed to the time at sea, it may well date from a communion service celebrated before the fleet departed. Adducing Matthew 5:14 to proclaim “that wee shall be as a Citty vpon a Hill,” he rehearsed his vision of godly elders ruling a highly stratified community dedicated to the common good and pulsing with Christian love. By affirming that “the eies of all people are vppon vs,” he was not, as some historians suggest, broadcasting New England’s putative errand to erect a holy commonwealth others might model but, rather, invoking the world’s witness to underline failure’s cost: dealing “falsely” with “our god in this worke,” he warned, would allow “enemies to speake euill” of His “wayes” (Winthrop Papers, vol. 2, p. 295).

The Massachusetts Bay Company’s charter of 18 March 1629 conferred authority on magistrates—governor, deputy governor, assistants—and freemen—stockholders entitled to elect officers and convene with them in quarterly General Courts to pass laws. Winthrop won the governorship twelve times, serving in 1629–1634 (the first term was prolonged), 1637–1640, 1642–1644, and 1646–1649. His gentry status, piety, and self-possession drew others to his lead, yet his commanding mien and elevated view of magisterial prerogatives raised suspicions that he would make himself the state and resulted in the freemen periodically ostracizing him from the governorship. Yet he never slid far from the governor’s right hand, serving as the deputy in 1636–1637 and 1644–1646 and as assistant in 1634–1636 and 1640–1642. His successful career, given an electorate who respected social prominence and a calling to administer God’s laws while demanding their English rights and mistrusting rulers’ inherent sinfulness, testifies to both his adroitness in accommodating popular pressures and the colonists’ abiding trust that he possessed the “character of a good ruler.”

Winthrop’s political philosophy presumed the superior judgment of a small elite: “the best part is always the least,” he argued, “and of that best part the wiser part is always the lesser” (Winthrop Papers, vol. 4, p. 54). In calling magisterial authority a divine ordinance and judges “Gods vpon earthe,” he demeaned neither the freemen’s privileges nor an individual’s right to justice: the magistrate owed his position (if not its powers) to the voters, who could remove him, and a judge had to display God’s “wisdome and mercye” in prescribing penalties (Winthrop Papers, vol. 4, p. 476). Magistrates exhibited the same infirmities as did any human beings, Winthrop acknowledged, but he preferred to risk hoarding power with a wise few than dispersing it among the self-interested freemen. Hobbling the magistrates would turn Massachusetts into a “meere Democratie,” the “meanest and worst of all formes of Government,” dissolving necessary distinctions between rulers and ruled (Winthrop Papers, vol. 4, p. 383).

Establishment of the Massachusetts Government

During the settlement’s first four years, Winthrop supervised the government’s evolution from the organs of a mercantile corporation into the institutions of a self-proclaimed commonwealth. He was willing to expand popular privileges for pragmatic reasons—conducting the first General Court in America (19 Oct. 1630) as a mass meeting that extended freemanship to the majority of adult males, thereby attaching them to the colony’s interests—but he more often hedged them in. The assembly that enfranchised 108 new freemen also ceded the assistants both legislative authority and sole right to elect the governor and deputy. In May 1631 the Court secured the Saints’ control over the state by restricting freemanship to male church members. Winthrop and seven assistants lowered the quorum necessary to conduct business, and for the next three years he summoned only one Court annually instead of four. Winthrop made numerous decisions unilaterally, arguably to the colony’s benefit. Plotting town sites, obtaining food, warning potential migrants to come adequately prepared, and even spending his own money for public supplies, he held Massachusetts together despite a few hundred deaths and ensured that the colony did not endure the “starving time” others faced.

Once provided with food and shelter, settlers disputed the magistrates’ dominion. Watertowners petitioned in 1632 that the Court had taxed them illegally to pay for fortifying Newtown (Cambridge). Winthrop explained that the Massachusetts government was a parliament, not a self-perpetuating oligarchy, and the townspeople accepted his conclusion that, having elected representatives to the Court, they had duly consented to the levy. The next Court nevertheless restored the freemen’s right to elect the governor and deputy, and authorized the appointment of men from each town to consult about raising public funds. That summer, Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley privately berated Winthrop for reasons both personal—he envied Winthrop’s eminence—and political, alleging that Winthrop’s judgments were too lenient and that his claim as governor to wield greater authority than did the assistants was unwarrantable. Winthrop refuted complaints of malfeasance and maintained that the charter granted him powers customary by common law, but the charges rang true for many voters. Before the Election Court of 1634, some freemen demanded to see the patent and accused him of abrogating their legislative rights. Winthrop temporized, offering to summon representatives annually to review existing laws and consult with the Court about assessments, but he yielded too little too late. On 14 May the freemen demoted him to assistant. The new Court reinstated quarterly meetings and commissioned each town to send deputies to the Court as the freemen’s delegates.

A variant dynamic played out in Boston. The charter made no provisions for municipal jurisdictions, allowing them to grow according to local circumstances. Winthrop’s prominence and friendly ties to many Bostonians made him their natural leader. The assistants appointed him one of the town’s justices of the peace in 1630, and the next year, when he planned to relocate to the colony’s proposed capital at Newtown, his neighbors successfully importuned him to stay. Winthrop’s position combined the duties of an English justice of the peace with the status of a magistrate’s; he tried criminal cases, determined suits, issued licenses, and regulated trade. Simultaneously, an informal town government that accrued powers delegated by the General Court coalesced from meetings of the Boston church. In 1633 William Coddington, himself an assistant, charged Winthrop with taking away inhabitants’ “liberty” by unilaterally naming a committee to distribute town lands, but Winthrop pointed out that he had acted at residents’ behest. By 1 September 1634, a standing committee of ten including Winthrop was managing Boston affairs, and in 1636 the General Court formally recognized town governments.

Winthrop never recovered the expansive authority he enjoyed before 1634. Thenceforth he always upheld the charter, but he continued to urge liberal magisterial discretion. A minor brouhaha ensued over the Court’s creation in 1636 of a Standing Council elected for life to exercise ill-defined powers between Court sessions; fearing a closed oligarchy, the deputies in 1639 forced the Court to limit its powers. Winthrop accepted the restriction grudgingly, and his attitude fueled fears that he coveted a hereditary governorship. Magnified by some ministers, this disquietude helped oust him from the office in 1640. A more substantive issue involved the deputies’ desire for a system of positive law to check the magistrates’ judicial license. Laws, Winthrop argued, should emerge from precedents and acquit judges from rendering prescribed penalties, which could contravene both human justice and scriptural example. Massachusetts’s statutes might cross England’s, imperiling the charter; it would be better to base law on custom, unpleadable against the patent, than to devise a potentially unconstitutional code. The magistrates stalled, but the deputies insisted, and the Court approved a “Body of Liberties” in 1641. Winthrop thought this compilation sufficient, but Robert Child’s charges that Massachusetts did indeed violate English law changed his mind. A new compilation, the “Laws and Liberties,” appeared in 1648.

The struggle between magistrates and deputies intensified over whether the former could exercise a “negative voice,” that is, veto the latter’s actions. The issue climaxed in 1642 when the magistrates ruled that a contested sow belonged to Robert Keayne, a wealthy merchant previously fined for usury, blocking the deputies’ determination for Goodwife Sherman. The decision spawned popular grumbles that the negative voice had hindered justice and deserved abolition. Winthrop justified the veto power in a treatise that also aspersed some of his opponents, for which remarks he apologized; subsequent efforts conveyed the case more diplomatically. “Defense of the Negative Vote” (1643) fixed that power as a fundamental part of the government, sanctioned by the charter and consonant with Scripture. In 1644 the Court divided assistants and deputies into separate houses, giving each a veto. Almost immediately, the deputies questioned the extent of the magistrates’ authority between Court sessions and their judicial discretion in the absence of express law. The two sides submitted their quarrel to clerical mediation; in November 1644 the elders recognized that interim juristic power lay solely with the magistrates but allowed the deputies competence in other areas and recommended judicial discretion within prescriptively legislated bounds. This qualified support for the magistrates’ pretensions deflated the deputies’ drive for a select committee to govern between sessions, but the affair excited one last campaign against Winthrop and his views.

Return to the Governorship (1646)

The deputies’ carping about despotism drove Winthrop in July to circulate a “Discourse on Arbitrary Government.” Defining “arbitrary” as a government where people neither chose the authorities set over them nor enjoyed the rule of law, Winthrop denied that either condition applied to Massachusetts, educing its patent, statutes, and history as evidence. The deputies hoped to censure the book. Failing that, they bided their time until they thought Winthrop had blatantly exceeded his authority. An occasion appeared the next spring. Acting as a justice of the peace, Winthrop bound over to the Court of Assistants some participants in a dispute concerning the captaincy of the Hingham militia. Eighty-one petitioners protested that by issuing warrants forcing some townspeople to answer charges and summoning others to appear in court he had infringed their liberties. Winthrop allowed the General Court to try him on a criminal complaint, and after it fully acquitted him, he improved the occasion by reminding the assembly that magistrates may err but that the people owe them obedience unless they willfully do wrong. For Winthrop the trial ended in at least partial political victory and personal vindication. Cognizant of his popularity, perhaps crediting his supposed tyranny less and their own accreted powers more, the deputies ceased their remonstrations for two decades. Returned to the governorship in 1646, Winthrop was continually reelected until his death.

Winthrop’s economic dealings occasioned less discord. Believing that moral law should frame economic transactions, he accepted just price theory—a vendor should sell at a cost determined by communal consensus of an item’s worth—favored wage limits, and condemned excessive profit-taking. But, against John Cotton, Boston’s teaching elder, he approved commercial loans with interest if the borrower held means to repay. Acquisitiveness was not wicked if moderated, nor wealth achieved in one’s calling improper, since it resulted from honest labor cultivating God’s munificence in His service. Winthrop’s own income came from his offices and estates. The Court extended him yearly salaries, but in turn he shared his pockets with the state; a committee appointed in 1634 to audit his public expenditures discovered the commonwealth substantially in his debt. He owned extensive lands on which servants raised crops and livestock but sold most of them in the early 1640s to liquidate a £2,500 debit incurred by his steward’s defalcations, a financial embarrassment that helped coax him from the governorship in 1640. Voluntary contributions from friends, his church, and some of the towns helped him recover solvency. Besides agricultural ventures, Winthrop built the first ship in Massachusetts, operated a windmill and a weir, and invested in Narragansett lands.

Winthrop’s concern that market operations would derange social relations if left unchecked by moral superintendence predisposed him to favor extensive governmental intervention in the economy. He aimed principally to preserve social order but additionally to facilitate appropriate enterprise and encourage growth. In the 1630s the General Court fought inflation with wage and price controls, which collapsed under the high demand for labor. To offset the depression induced by England’s civil war in the 1640s, the Court passed anti-debt legislation and attempted to stimulate domestic production through grants, bounties, tax incentives, and monopoly privileges.

Church and state occupied separate spheres in seventeenth-century Massachusetts—ministers could advise but not sit on the General Court—yet they cooperated intimately to insure moral and political order. Magistrates had authority to punish religious error. Winthrop welcomed the responsibility and, in Roger Williams’s case, exercised it judiciously. Salem’s teaching elder, Williams challenged the validity of land titles held without the Amerindians’ assent, denied the magistrate’s right to punish offenses against the First Table (the first four commandments), refused communion with congregations he considered impure, and called Charles I a minion of Anti-Christ—a “strange boldnesse,” Winthrop mused, and he pressed Williams to keep his opinions private (Winthrop Papers, vol. 3, p. 148). When Williams persisted, the General Court in October 1635 banished him as of the following spring, but he continued preaching nevertheless. In January the magistrates decided to ship him to England. Winthrop leaked their plans, allowing Williams to escape and earning his undying gratitude.

The Antinomian Controversy

Winthrop displayed far less lenity toward Anne Hutchinson, the “American Jesabel ” (Antinomian Controversy, p. 310) whose Antinomian posture that grace frees Saints from the moral law undermined the Puritan state’s foundations. By denying that good works can witness to one’s salvation, Hutchinson challenged the churches’ ability to identify regenerates, thus exploding freemanship’s religious rationale, and by insisting that orthodox doctrine devalued the Holy Spirit, she encouraged followers to denounce the colony’s ministers for preaching a dead faith. Winthrop could do little at first. A founding pillar of the Boston church, he was isolated by its Antinomian majority, barely deflecting a motion to install Hutchinson’s kinsman John Wheelwright as a second teaching elder. Elected deputy governor in 1636, Winthrop could not overrule Governor Henry Vane, an ardent Hutchinsonian. Frustration ended in 1637 when the freemen, in an election fraught with potential violence, returned him to command. Under Winthrop’s aegis, a ministerial synod denounced Hutchinson’s heresies, and the General Court expelled Wheelwright from the colony. That November, Winthrop presided over her climactic examination before the Court and pronounced its sentence of banishment; next March the Boston church excommunicated her. Winthrop understood her subsequent passage of a hydatidiform mole (a mass of cysts) as a “monstrous birth” providentially signifying her errors, his insensitivity to her human suffering betraying, perhaps, his horror at how great a threat to Massachusetts’s social order she posed (Hosmer, Winthrop’s Journal, vol. 1, p. 277).

The Antinomian controversy intensified efforts to quash dissent. In 1643 Winthrop dispatched soldiers to arrest Samuel Gorton, claiming jurisdiction over Gorton’s settlement in Rhode Island and charging his adherents primarily with civil offenses. Their letters to the Court vented heresy, however, and on trial Gorton asserted a radical human divinity established by Christ’s indwelling presence that freed true Christians from instituted authority. The Gortonists “could not write true English,” Winthrop fumed, but did not balk at parsing difficult scriptures (Hosmer, vol. 2, p. 147). The assistants urged executing them for blasphemy, but the deputies demurred, so the Court sentenced them to chains and hard labor in several towns, only to find them attracting the townsfolk. Ultimately, the Court sent them away. Anabaptists fared no better. Appalled by their increasing number, the Court in 1644 decreed banishing anyone who persevered in condemning infant baptism or denying the magistrate’s right to prosecute First Table offenses. Winthrop sympathized with a petition to repeal the law and pursued uniformity more temperately than did many magistrates. When the majority expelled a Captain Partridge and his family during winter even after he renounced some errors, Winthrop averred that “hospitality” and hope for further reformation ought to inspire “more moderation and indulgence of human infirmity.” According to traditions current in the eighteenth century, he refused on his deathbed to sign an ejection warrant, insisting that “I have done too much of that work already” (Hosmer, vol. 1, p. 260, 177n).

Keeping the Holy Commonwealth’s political and ecclesiastical arrangements Puritan meant holding England at bay. To Winthrop, the charter gave Massachusetts total sovereignty over its internal affairs while subscribing formal allegiance to England, a position he held against Crown and Parliament alike. Disturbed by reports that the Bay Colony had cast off England’s church and law, Charles I in 1634 appointed Archbishop Laud chair of the Commission for Regulating Plantations. Massachusetts prepared to fight, and the Court named five commanders, including Winthrop, to lead troops should war ensue, but the commission had no resources to mount an invasion and instead took action against the charter. Winthrop evaded or ignored repeated requests to return the patent, even after the commission claimed to have condemned it. Procrastination worked. The commission’s legal proceedings were faulty, and the agency collapsed in the civil war. The colonists’ sympathies in that conflict lay with Parliament, but in England the spread of presbyterianism and widespread clamor for religious toleration exposed New England’s exclusionary congregationalism to increasing criticism from erstwhile allies. Winthrop watched warily as Parliament created the Warwick Commission, which granted self-government to Roger Williams’s plantation and recognized Gorton’s title. He refused to concede Parliament any control over Massachusetts law, a stand tested in 1646 when Robert Child, a wealthy doctor, and six other Remonstrants petitioned the General Court to lift the religious restrictions on freemanship and to allow presbyterianism. Winthrop preferred to negotiate with them privately, but the Remonstrants appealed for Parliament to impose English law and liberty of conscience, forcing a confrontation. Winthrop detained Child just before he could leave for England, preferred new charges on the basis of documents discovered in Child’s baggage, delayed trial until the Court dispatched an agent to England, and fined Child heavily before finally releasing him. By the time Child reached England, the Warwick Commission had already endorsed Massachusetts’s authority. Uneasy about presbyterian influences on both sides of the Atlantic, the ministers applied to the Court for a synod to codify their ecclesiology. Against the deputies, Winthrop urged the Court’s right to summon them; a compromise gave it power to “invite.” The elders issued the “Cambridge Platform,” a comprehensive statement of congregational church governance and discipline, in 1648.

Winthrop's Pragmatic Diplomacy

Winthrop conducted a pragmatic diplomacy calculated to expand Massachusetts’s territory and commerce. In 1643 Charles de La Tour, a claimant to the governorship of French Acadia, solicited aid against his rival Charles, Sieur d’Aulnay. Winthrop weighed the dangers of meddling in French affairs and consorting with “papists” against the possible benefits of trade, the risk of offending a possible enemy to the colony’s shipping, and assurance in God’s management of dealings even with Catholics before allowing La Tour to recruit men and supplies. Winthrop acted after consulting only a rump of the magistrates, a precipitousness he regretted when the expedition failed; the resulting outcry helped drop him to deputy governor in 1644. When d’Aulnay gained the upper hand, Winthrop opened relations with him. Toward the Dutch in New Netherland he proceeded guardedly, encouraging trade and protesting territorial encroachment in the Connecticut River valley.

Winthrop’s course with Amerindians was complex. Like most seventeenth-century Europeans, he considered them cultural inferiors living at a primitive stage of civilization and lacking true religion—but he supported proselytizing efforts only when tribes submitted politically to Massachusetts. He attended some of John Eliot’s earliest sermons to native audience, but Eliot’s enterprise received little direct assistance from the General Court. Winthrop adopted the doctrine of vacuum domicilium to justify Massachusetts’s territorial possessions—the Amerindians had a natural right only to such land as they could improve, and the colonists could take the rest. This theory, although defining “use” more narrowly than did the natives, did not extinguish their title. Winthrop negotiated the submission of several bands to Massachusetts’s dominion, but in criticizing Acadian trading policy he called the Amerindians “a free people” whose commercial affairs the French should not limit (Hosmer, vol. 2, p. 326). He accorded independent tribes sovereignty and dealt with them as such, shifting alliances as bands came to support or inhibit the colony’s interest. He accepted the Pequots’ offer to trade with Massachusetts—at the cost of their becoming tributaries—but in 1637 committed the colony to helping Connecticut and Plymouth destroy the tribe, thereby encouraging both intercolonial cooperation and Massachusetts’s claims in the Connecticut River valley. He defended a treaty with Miantonomo, sachem of the Narragansetts, in 1636, then connived at his assassination by Uncas, sachem of the Mohegans, in 1643 when the Narragansetts conspired against New England. This plot helped precipitate the Confederation of New England, an entente among Massachusetts, Connecticut, Plymouth, and New Haven. A leading advocate of intercolonial union, Winthrop signed the articles of confederation for Massachusetts with Dudley and served as president in 1643 and 1645.

Winthrop’s most significant writing is his manuscript history of New England, unpublished until the nineteenth century. Begun probably as a sea journal to inform family and friends about voyaging across the ocean, and then continued as a chronicle of God’s acts in New England, the “History” begins with the fleet weighing anchor on 29 March 1630 and concludes on 11 January 1649 with a providential review of recent drownings. In between, it provides indispensable commentary on New England’s development. Scholars have read it both as an autobiography cataloging the spiritual advances of self and community and as a defense of Winthrop’s administration. However construed, the document is fundamental for understanding the “Puritan experiment.”

Preeminent Figure of Early New England

Contemporaries regarded Winthrop as the preeminent figure of early New England, and historians concur. The rapidity with which Massachusetts’s political, social, and religious institutions cohered derives from numerous factors, but to the degree that individuals mattered, Winthrop was the person most responsible for ensuring the colony’s survival, shaping its institutions, and securing its public order. That prominence has made him the first generation’s representative figure and subjected him to caricature: Cotton Mather apotheosized him as “Nehemias Americanus” governing the erection of a new Jerusalem, but others have pilloried him for evincing a persecutory self-righteousness inimical to the tolerant, democratic, and secular society America became. The tendency to transform man into symbol is epitomized by incessant invocations of his identifying Massachusetts as a “city on a hill” in order to certify and exalt a special providence for the United States, whereas he employed the phrase in a far more limited sense. A realistic appraisal would assess him as having lived according to his culture’s highest standards and governed arbitrarily but broad-mindedly. Ruthless in defending his ideal commonwealth—witness Hutchinson and Child—he ordinarily ruled with moderation and equity, for which other civil and ecclesiastical leaders sometimes upbraided him. His bankruptcy proceedings displayed both his personal integrity—he insisted on honoring every obligation though he might well have contested many—and the respect he earned even from opponents: Richard Dummer, a principal Hutchinsonian disarmed for his activities, gave Winthrop £100. Having mastered himself, he could master others; self-confident but not complacent, he set down in the “History” good deeds and misdeeds alike for humans and God to judge.


The Massachusetts Historical Society has published the majority of its Winthrop manuscript holdings in the Winthrop Papers, 1498–1649 (5 vols., 1929–1947), ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford (vol. 1), Stewart Mitchell (vol. 2), and Allyn B. Forbes (vols. 3–5); see Malcolm Freiberg, “The Winthrops and Their Papers,” Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings 80 (1968): 681–705. One should also consult Robert C. Winthrop, The Life and Letters of John Winthrop (2 vols., 1864–1867). Winthrop’s manuscript history has been edited by James Savage as The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 (2 vols., 1825; 2d ed., 1853) and by James K. Hosmer as Winthrop’s Journal “History of New England” (2 vols., 1908); scholars use both. Also see “John Winthrop Writes His Journal,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 41 (1984): 185–212. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, vols. 1–2 (1853), compiles the General Court’s proceedings during Winthrop’s lifetime. David D. Hall, ed., The Antinomian Controversy, 1636–1638: A Documentary History (1968; 2d ed., 1990), includes Winthrop’s “A Short Story … of the Antinomians … .” The standard biography, very sympathetic, is Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958); see also James G. Moseley, John Winthrop’s World (1992); Lee Schweninger, John Winthrop (1990); Samuel Eliot Morison, Builders of the Bay Colony (1930); and J. H. Twichell, John Winthrop (1891). On the Winthrop family see Richard S. Dunn, Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England 1630–1717 (1962), a counterpoise to Morgan, and Lawrence Shaw Mayo, The Winthrop Family in America (1948); see also Joseph James Muskett, ed., Evidences of the Winthrops of Groton, co. Suffolk, England (4 pts., 1894–1896). On Winthrop’s spirituality, see Charles L. Cohen, God’s Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (1986), and Daniel B. Shea, Jr., Spiritual Autobiography in Early America (1968). Virginia DeJohn Anderson, New England’s Generation (1991), covers the Great Migration; for Winthrop in particular, see Darrett B. Rutman, John Winthrop’s Decision for America, 1629 (1975). For political developments in early Massachusetts, see Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, vol. 1 (1934); for their social context in Boston, Darrett B. Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston (1965). Winthrop’s political ideas receive attention in T. H. Breen, The Character of the Good Ruler (1970); Stephen Foster, Their Solitary Way (1971); M. Susan Power, Before the Convention: Religion and the Founders (1984); and Stanley Gray, “The Political Thought of John Winthrop,” New England Quarterly 3 (1930): 681–705. On economic policy, see E. A. J. Johnson, “Economic Ideas of John Winthrop,” New England Quarterly 3 (1930): 235–50, and Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (1955). For the relationship of church and state, see Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts 1630–1650 (1933), and David D. Hall, The Faithful Shepherd (1972); Philip F. Gura, A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory (1984), details the sectarian critique. For Winthrop as Puritan historian, see Peter Gay, A Loss of Mastery (1966); as emblem of Puritan history, Sacvan Bercovitch, Puritan Origins of the American Self (1975).