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John Winthrop (12 January 1587/8– 26 March 1649 obtained a royal charter, along with other wealthy Puritans, from King Charles for the Massachusetts Bay Company and led a group of Englishmarker Puritans to the New World in 1630. . He was elected the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony the year before. Between 1639 and 1648, he was voted out of the governorship and then re-elected a total of 12 times. Although Winthrop was a respected political figure, he was criticized for his obstinacy regarding the formation of a general assembly in 1634, and he clashed repeatedly with other Puritan leaders like Thomas Dudley, Rev. Peter Hobart and others.


Winthrop married his first wife, Mary Forth, on 16 April 1605 at Great Stambridge, Essex, England. Mary bore him six children; the oldest son of that marriage was John Winthrop, the Younger, a future governor/magistrate of Connecticutmarker. Mary died in June 1615. Winthrop (elder) married his second wife, Thomasine Clopton, on 6 December 1615 at Groton, Suffolkmarker, England. Thomasine died on 8 December 1616. On 29 April 1618 at Great Maplestead, Essex, England, Winthrop married his third wife, Margaret Tyndal. In the Spring of 1630, Winthrop (elder) led a fleet of eleven vessels and 700 passengers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the New World, sailing aboard the Arbella and accompanied by his two young sons, Stephen (12) and Samuel (4). . Winthrop's wife, Margaret, sailed on the second voyage of the Lyon in 1631, leaving their small manor behind. Their baby daughter, Anne, died on the Lyon voyage. Two more children were born to them in New England. Margaret died on 14 June 1647 in Boston, Massachusettsmarker. Winthrop (elder) then married his fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough, widow of Thomas Coytmore and sister of the famous Levellers Thomas and William Rainborowe, sometime after 20 December 1647 and before the birth of their only child in 1648, he died of natural causes.


Though rarely published and relatively unappreciated for his literary contribution during his time, Winthrop spent his life continually producing written accounts of historical events and religious manifestations. Literary scholars and historians often turn to two works in particular for analytical inspection. Winthrop’s 1630 A Modell of Christian Charity and The Journal of John Winthrop are considered to be his most profound contributions to the literary world.

John Winthrop wrote and delivered the sermon that would be called A Modell of Christian Charity en route to America with a group of puritans in the year 1630. It described the ideas and plans to keep the puritan society strong in faith as well as the struggles that they would have to overcome in the New World.

At the start of his sermon he points out three objectives for a healthy puritan life. The first stated that there is a need for differences to arise within the people of a community for it to survive. Secondly, he made was that everyday activities should bring about spiritual resonance within the community, keeping the faith strong between the puritans and to keep the structure of the lives they have built for each other. The final point that Winthrop made was that each member of the puritan community shouldn’t hold themselves higher than others for the reason that equality breed’s kindness within the community. It shows that everyone is part of the larger community of Christ and shouldn’t take too much pride in their own personal identities.

As most of the puritans came from wealthy and business backgrounds Winthrop wasn’t partial to wealthy patrons of the church. In fact, he didn’t see them as inferior but as a crucial part to the puritan society. Later in his sermon he stated that wealth and love share a correlation. He argues that a certain amount of wealth is needed in order for one to love his or her neighbor as well as the community. Additionally, there is an obvious theme of love that surrounds A Modell of Christian Charity. Winthrop shows this with his talk of sacrifices for the greater good even if it isn’t beneficial to one’s self. Love is also shown with the work one does in the community, with efforts to keep the puritan society alive and working as a perfect model of charity between Christians in a New World.

From 1630 to 1649 John Winthrop, was the first governor of Massachusetts. During this time, he kept an ongoing journal of his life and experiences in colonial era New England. Written in three volumes or, notebooks, his account remains the "prime source for the history of the Bay Colony from 1630 to 1649" (Dunn 186). This journal is the first major work by Winthrop.

The first two volumes of Winthrop's journal were published in 1790, however, the third volume was lost and not recovered until 1816. In 1825 all three volumes were published together for the first time under the name The History of New England from 1630-1649. By John Winthrop, Esq. First Governor of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay. From his Original Manuscripts. (Dunn 187)

According to Richard Dunn, Winthrop began by keeping a daily journal in 1630, then recorded entries less frequently and regularly and wrote them up at a greater length, so that by the 1640's he had converted his work into a form of history" (Dunn 186). What started as a simple journal would later turn into a first-hand account of early colonial life.Upon his arrival in New England in 1630, Winthrop writes primarily of his private accounts: i.e. his journey from England, the arrival of his wife and children to the colony in 1631, and the birth of his son in 1632 (Dunn 197). The majority of his early journal entries were not intended to be literary, but merely observations of early New England life.

Gradually, the focus of his writings shifts from his personal observations to broader spiritual ideologies. Evidence of this can be found in the second half of his first notebook, mainly between the years of 1634 and 1637 when Winthrop was no longer in office. It is his later writings for which he is remembered.

In addition to his more famous works, Winthrop produced a plethora of writings, both published and unpublished. While living in England, Winthrop articulated his belief “in the validity of experience in his work “Experiencia” (Bremer). Later in his life, Winthrop wrote “A Short Story of the rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists and Libertines, that Infected the Churches of New England,” accounting for the Antinomian controversy surrounding Anne Hutchinson in the colony. The Short Story which was first published in London: 1644 (Schweninger). Both works further illustrate puritan religious philosophy with regards to political and social events during the seventeenth century.

The legacy of Winthrop’s literature is evident in American compositions following his death. “William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation (unpublished until 1856), Edward Johnson 's Wonder-Working Providence of Sions Saviour in New England (1654), Cotton Mather 's Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), and Winthrop's Journal were efforts both to discern the divine pattern in events and to justify the role New Englanders believed themselves called to play” (Bremer).


Winthrop is most famous for his "City upon a Hill" sermon (as it is known popularly, its real title being A Model of Christian Charity) in which he declared that the Puritan colonists emigrating to the New World were part 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 coining these concepts, Winthrop was merely repeating what were widely held Puritan beliefs in his day. The work was not actually published until the nineteenth century, although it was known and circulated in manuscript before that time. Winthrop did publish The Humble Request of His Majesties Loyal Subjects (London, 1630), which defended the emigrants’ physical separation from England and reaffirmed their loyalty to the Crown and Church of England. This work was republished by Joshua Scottow in the 1696 compilation MASSACHUSETTS: or The first Planters of New-England, The End and Manner of their coming thither, and Abode there: In several EPISTLES.

Modern American politicians, like Ronald Reagan, continue to cite Winthrop as a source of inspiration. However, those who praise Winthrop fail to note his strident anti-democratic political tendencies. Winthrop stated, for example, "If we should change from a mixed aristocracy to mere democracy, first we should have no warrant in scripture for it: for there was no such government in Israel ... A democracy is, amongst civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government. [To allow it would be] a manifest breach of the 5th Commandment."

Winthrop was not governor at the outset of the Pequot war and bore only an indirect responsibility for its outcome. The decision to sell the survivors as slaves in the Bahamas was a societal response and not a personal choice.

The Town of Winthrop, Massachusettsmarker, is named after him, as is Winthrop Housemarker at Harvard Universitymarker, though the house is also named for the John Winthrop who briefly served as President of Harvard.

Winthrop is also briefly immortalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter in the chapter entitled "The Minister's Vigil."

John Winthrop's descendants number thousands today, including current U.S. Senator from Massachusetts John Kerry.

See also



  • Bremer, Francis J. "John Winthrop." American Historians, 1607-1865. Ed. Clyde Norman Wilson. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 30. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Longwood University. 4 Nov. 2009.
  • Bremer, Francis J. John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 299
  • Reich, Jerome R. Colonial America. 5th ed. Ed. Charlyce J. Owen and Edie Riker. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.
  • Schweninger, Lee. "'In Response to the Antinomian Controversy,' 'The Journal: A New Literature for a New World,' and 'Cheerful Submission to Authority: Miscellaneous and Later Writings'." John Winthrop. Ed. Barbara Sutton Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990. 47-66
  • The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Apr., 1984), pp. 186-212.
  • Winthrop, R.C. Life and Letters of John Winthrop (Boston, 1869), vol. ii, p. 430.
  • Wood, Andrew. "Summary of John Winthrop's "Modell of Christian Charity.

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