Here to return to
FROM every point of view that was a remarkable group of men who boldly declared at Cambridge their resolution to found a state in the new world. Sir Richard Saltonstall was descended from a former lord mayor of London and occupied a place of no little importance in the England of his time; the ancestors of Thomas Dudley had all been men honoured in English history; John Nowell was related to the dean of St. Paul's in the reign of Elizabeth; John Humfrey married a daughter of the Earl of Lincoln; William Vassall was endowed with a positive genius for trade; William Pynchon possessed unusual learning and piety; Isaac Johnson was a man of very large wealth and another son-in-law of the Earl of Lincoln, and Thomas Sharpe, Michael West, Killam Browne and William Colbron were all English country gentlemen of no inconsiderable fortune and of university breeding. But the greatest man of the group was, of course, John Winthrop, who had been chosen to be its head. And Ins peer in every womanly respect was Margaret, his noble wife.
As a lad Winthrop had received
a good education and had been admitted in 1602 into Trinity
Cambridge. An early love match prevented him from staying to take his
however, and when only a youth of eighteen, we find him living at Great
Stambridge in the County of Essex with his first wife's family, —
people for that day and of high standing in the community. Six children
born to the happy young pair and then, when the husband and father was
twenty-five, he was left a widower. Within a year he was married again,
according to the customs of that period. Then, in another year, this
her infant child were also committed to the grave. Up to this time
profession had been that of a. lawyer but these successive and severe
made him full of misgivings as to his religious condition and he
contemplated the abandonment of the law with a view to taking orders as
clergyman. His introspection at this stage of his development is
recorded in a
manuscript of "Religious Experiences" which covers a period of three
years and makes intensely interesting reading.
To understand these "Religious Experiences" and the subsequent life of the man who wrote them it is necessary to appreciate the fact that Winthrop came of intensely religious parentage. Adam Winthrop, his father, was a man of deep personal piety and Anne Winthrop, his mother, could not live happily away from the daily inspiration of her Bible, as we see from a letter sent to her husband before their son was born. The mingling of love for God with ardent human affection which we shall find to be a constant trait in the letters of her son is present here also: "I have reseyved, Right deare and well-beloved," she writes her absent husband, " from you this week a letter, though short, yet very sweete, which gave me a lively tast of those sweete & comfortable wordes, whiche alwayes when you be present with me, are wont to flowe most aboundantlye from your loving hart — where-bye I perseyve that whether you be present with me or absent from me, you are ever one towardes me, & your hart remayneth allwayes with me. Wherefore layinge up this perswaision of you in my brest, I will most assuredly be, the Lord assistynge me by his grace, beare a1wayes the lyke loving hart unto you agayne, untyll suche tyme as I may more fully enjoye your loving presence: but in the meane tyme I will remayne as one having a great inheritaunce, or riche treasure, and it beinge by force kept from him, or hee beinge in a strange Contrey, and cannot enjoye it; longethe contynually after it, sighinge and sorrowinge that hee is so long berefte of it, yet rejoyseth that hee hathe so greatt tresure pertayninge to him, and hopeth that one day the tyme will come that hee shall enjoye it, and have the wholle benyfytt of it. So I having a good hoope of the tyme to com, doe more paciently beare the time present, and I praye send me word if you be in helthe and what sucesse you have with your letters.... I send you this weke by my fathers man a shyrte and fyve payer of hoses.... I pray send me a pound of starch by my fathers man. You may very well send my byble if it be redye — thus with my verye hartye commendacions I byd you farewell comittinge you to almightye God to whom I commend you in my dayle prayers as I am sure you doe me, the Lord kep us now & ever Amen
"Your loving wife
From his mother, then, Winthrop inherited a nature of quite unusual affectionateness for a man of his time and from his father an enduring tendency toward introspection and stern self-discipline. His Diary, as frank and often as pathetic as Amiel's, constantly displays the warring of a passionate tendency with a consecrated other-worldliness. "The Love of this present world!" he exclaims in the course of an exquisite love-letter to the wife from whom his work has parted him, "how it bewitches us & steales away our hearts from him who is the onely life & felicitye. O that we could delight in Christ our Lord & heavenly husband as we doe in each other, & that his absence were like greivous to us!" Winthrop could leave home and friends, yes, even his adored Margaret, — to come to a foreign land. But it would not be easy for him. The step would be taken in that same frame of mind which his Diary of Jan. 1, 1611, reflects when it says: "Beinge admonished by a christian freinde that some good men were ofended to heare of same gaminge which was used in my house by my servants I resolved that as for my selfe not to use any cardings etc, so for others to represse it as much as I could, during the continuance of my present state, & if God bringe me once more to be whollye by my selfe, then to banishe all togither." This resolution is particularly interesting when placed alongside of the first New England temperance pledge later fathered by Governor Winthrop.1
When in the heydey of his youthful vigour (he was then only twenty-five!) Winthrop wrote, "Finding that the variety of meates drawes me on to eate more than standeth with my healthe, I have resolved not to eate of more then 2 dishes at any one meale, whither fish, flesh, fowle or fruite or whittemeats etc: whither at home or abroade; the lorde give me care & abilitie to performe it." A year later when, by the death of his second wife's father, he had come into considerable wealth and therefore felt again keen temptation to selfindulgence he makes twelve resolutions, so interesting in the light of his after life that I give them here in full:
"1. I doe resolve to give myselfe, my life, my witt, my healthe, my wealthe to the service of my God and & Savior, who by givinge himselfe for me & to me, deserves whatsoever I am or can be, to be at his Comandement & for his glorye :
"2. I will live where he appoints me.
"3. I will faithfully endeavour to discharge that callinge wch he shall appoint me unto.
"4. I will carefully avoide vaine & needless expences that I may be the more liberall to good uses.
"5. My property, & bounty must goe forthe abroade, yet I must ever be careful that it beginne at home.
"6. I will so dispose of my family affaires as my morning prayers & evening exercises be not omitted.
"7. I will have a speciall care of the good education of my children.
"8. I will banish profanes from my familye.
"9. I will diligently observe the Lords Sabaoth bothe for the avoidinge & preventinge worldly business, & also for the religious spendinge of such tymes as are free from publique exercises, viz. the morninge, noone, & evening.
"10. I will endeavour to have the morninge free for private prayer, meditation & reading.
"11. I will flee Idlenes, & much worldly busines.
"12. I will often praye & conferre privately wth my wife."
Just here seems as good a place as any to observe that Winthrop was wonderfully fortunate in each of the three women whom he successively called "my wife." The bride of his youth, the wife of his young manhood, — with whom he lived only one short year, — and Margaret, who was his faithful spouse for more than a quarter of a century, were all women who could respond richly to the aspirations of his soul as well as to the cravings of his heart. Margaret, of course, was peculiarly his mate. The daughter of Sir John Tyndal, knight, she it was who made him what he now became. "From the day that his faith was plighted to her" as one sympathetic historian has said... "he learned to step boldly out among his equals, to take his share in the world's work."
After his marriage and up to the time when he engaged upon the New England enterprise Winthrop's business was that of an attorney practising in London and on the circuit. This, naturally, took him much away from Groton where Margaret and his young children lived and as a result we find in the correspondence which passed between Groton Manor and the " Chamber at the Temple Gate "an almost complete record of the temporal, spiritual and affectional development of this remarkable pair. Tender love-letters, every one of these epistles!" I wish thy imployments coulde suffer thee to come home," writes the wife, to which her husband responds promptly, "such is my love to thee my deare spouse, as were it not that my imployment did enforce me to it, I could not live comfortably from thee halfe thus long.... so I kiss my sweet wife & rest alwayes Thy faithfull husband
For a dozen years of this correspondence there is, however, no thought that Winthrop's "imployment" would ever be such as to put the ocean between them. He was not a member of the original Massachusetts Company; one may search in vain for his name along with those of Cradock, Saltonstall and Endicott on the Massachusetts Charter of March, 1629. But the early summer of that year found him thinking very seriously of emigration as one sees between the lines of a letter to Margaret dated June 22, 1629. "My comfort is that thou art willinge to be my companion in what place or condition soever, in weale or in woe. Be it what it may, if God be with us we need not feare; his favour, & the kingdome of heaven wilbe alike & happiness enough to us & ours in all places." Evidently the writer of this felt a crisis to be at hand both in the affairs of his country and in his own personal life. But it was not in John Winthrop's nature to lightly decide upon any serious step. From his paper "General Considerations for the Plantations of New England" it is plain that he thought carefully and prayerfully upon every phase of the enterprise.
Then finally it became to him clear that he had fallen upon disastrous times; that fountains of learning in his own country were corrupted; that all arts and trades were carried on in such deceitful and unrighteous ways that it was well-nigh impossible for a good man to live by any of them; that the land was weary of her inhabitants; that man. had become of less importance than beasts, children, — who ought to have been considered blessings, — being counted the greatest burdens; that the kingdom of anti-christ was increasing; that, in a word, the Lord had begun to frown upon England and cut its inhabitants short. To John Winthrop, therefore, New England seemed a place provided by God "to be a refuge for many whome he meanes to save out of the generall call amity."
His friends, of course, were not nearly so sure as he was that the new country was beckoning him and Robert Ryece, whose advice he asked in the matter, replied in a letter which is full of interest because it marshals all the prudent considerations which. should have persuaded Winthrop to stay just where he was and let other people be pioneers in this difficult and dangerous enterprise. "The Church & Common welthe heere at home," he begins, "hathe more neede of your beste abyllytie in these dangerous tymes then any remote plantation, which may be performed by persons of leser woorthe & apprehension.... Agyne, your owne estate wylbe more secured in the myddest of all accidents heere at home, than in this forreine expedition, which discovereth a 1000 shipwrackes which may betyde. All your kynsfolkes & moste understandinge friendes wyll more rejoyce at your stayenge at home with any condition which God shall sende, then to throwe your selfe upon vayne hopes, with many difficulties & uncertaynties. Agayne, you shalbe more acceptable in the service of the Hieste, & more under His protection whiles you walke charely in your vocation heere at home, then to goe owte of your vocation, comyttinge your selfe to a woorlde of dangers abroade.
"The pype goeth sweete tyll the byrde be in the nett; many bewtifull hopes ar sett before your eyes to allewer you to danger. Plantations ar for yonge men, that can enduer all paynes & hunger. Yf in your yewthe you had byn acctuaynted with navigation, you mighte have promised your selfe more hope in this longe vyadge, but for one of your yeeres [Winthrop was now forty-two] to undertake so large a taske is seldome seene but to miscarry. To adventure your wholle famylly upon so manifeste uncerteynties standeth not with your wysdome & longe experience. Lett yonger yeeres take this charge upon them, with the advyse of that which elder yeeres shall directe them unto, the losse shalbe the lesse yf thay myscarry; but there honor shalbe the more if thay prosper. So long as you sytt at the helme, your famylie prospereth, but yf you shoold happen to fayle, your flocke woolde be at the least in hazarde, if not totally to myscarrye. Yonge men directions thowghe sometymes with some successe, do not all wayes succeede. These remote partes will not well agree with your yeeres; whiles you are heere you wyll be ever fytter by your understandings & wisdome to supply there necessities. But if it shoolde happen that you shoolde gett safely thither, you shall soone fynde, how necessitie wyll calle for supplies from these parts. I pray you pardon my boldnes, that had rather erre in what I thinke, then be sylente in what I shoolde speake. How harde wyll it bee for one browghte up among boockes & Learned men, to lyve in a barbarous place, where is no learnynge & lesse cyvillytie...."
This counsel of prudent cowardice was written just a fortnight before the memorable compact at Cambridge. But it did not deter Winthrop from signing that brave Agreement. For, in the meantime his son, — that John Winthrop who was afterwards renowned as Governor of Connecticut, — returned from a protracted journey in foreign lands and heartened him with these words: "For the business of New England, I can say no other thing, but that I believe confidently, that the whole disposition thereof is of the Lord.... And for myself, I have seen so much of the vanity of the world, that I esteem no more of the diversities of countries, than as so many inns, whereof the traveller that hath lodged in the best or in the worst, findeth no difference, when he cometh to his journey's end; and I shall call that my country, where I may most glorify God, and enjoy the presence of my dearest friends. Therefore, herein I submit myself to God's will and yours, and with your leave, do dedicate myself ... to the service of God and the Company...."
Best of all the gentle Margaret did not fail her husband in this hour of need. Letters full of cheer and sympathy found their way to him from Groton Manor and in them all she expressed conviction that the good Lord would "certainly bless us in our intended purpose." His tender appreciation of her pluck is reflected in all the letters he sent her during the months preceding his departure. "I must now begin to prepare thee for our long parting, which grow very near," he writes early in January, 1629. "I know not how to deal with thee by arguments; for if thou wert as wise and patient as ever woman was, yet it must needs be a great trial to thee and the greater because I am so dear to thee;" and then he goes on to point out that she must find her comfort in religion, as where else could she find it, poor thing! when the husband with whose soul hers was peculiarly knit was for venturing to a foreign land, leaving her behind. Her replies to his brave attempts at consolation are indeed touching, and immensely pathetic also are his answers. He has, been arranging to leave with friends fifteen hundred pounds for her support until she should be able to follow him to the New World and now he writes, "MY SWEET WIFE, The Lord hath oft brought us together with comfort, when we have been long absent; and if it be good for us he will do so still. When I was in Ireland he brought us together again. When I was sick here in London he restored us together again. How many dangers, near death, hast thou been in thyself! and yet the Lord hath granted me to enjoy thee still. If he did not watch over us we need not go over sea to seek death or misery: we should meet it at every step, in every journey. And is not he a God abroad as well as at home? Is not his power and providense the same in New England as it hath been in Old England?... My good wife, trust in the Lord, whom thou hast found faithful. He will be better to thee than any husband and will restore thee thy husband with advantage. But I kiss my sweet wife and bless thee and all ours and rest Thine ever Jo. WINTHROP
February 14, 1629 — Thou must be my valentine... "
The picture of him whom we
are wont to call "the stern John Winthrop" remembering, even in the
midst of hurried and troubled preparations to embark for the New
perennial sentiment concerning such festivals as St. Valentine's Pay is
striking as to be worth bearing in mind. And when we have placed
it the series of farewell letters sent to his wife from Cowes and
the Isle of
Wight where the ships were detained by bad weather, we have a complete
of one side of the man's character. "Mondays and Fridays, at five of
clock at night, we shall meet in spirit till we meet in person," he
promises her. Shakespeare, not long before, had put the same thought
mouth of Imogen, when, on having parted with Posthumus, she complains
had been torn apart
"Ere I could tell him,
How would I think on him, at certain houre,
Such thoughts, and such;
...or have charged him,
At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight,
To encounter me with orisons; for then
I am in heaven for him."
But Posthumus, as Robert C. Winthrop, the editor of his Progenitor's remarkable letters, points out, was not in his forty-third year, as was the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; nor Imogen in her thirty-ninth. More-over, one can scarcely fancy either of Shakespeare's lovers admitting, as Winthrop does in one of the first New England letters which he sent his wife, "I own with sorrow that much business hath made me too often forget Mondays and Fridays."
1 see p. 9 "Old New England Inns."Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.