American biography: or, An historical account of those persons who have been distinguished in America, as adventurers, statesmen, philosophers, divines, warriors, authors, and other remarkable characters .. (Volume 2) online

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to its fituation. On the fixth of December,
they refolved to fortify the ifthmus of that

peninfula j

W r N T H R O P. 339

peninfula ; but changing their minds before
the month expired, they agreed upon a place
about three miles above Charleftown, which
they- called firft Newtown, and afterwards
Cambridge, where they engaged to build hou-
fes the enfuing fpring. The reft of the winter
they fuflfered much by the feverity of the
feafon, and were obliged to live upon acorns,
ground-nuts and fhell-iifh. One of the poor
er fort coming, to the Governor to complain,
was told that the laft batch was in the oven,
but of this he had his {hare. They had ap
pointed the 22d of February for a faft ; but,
before it came, a (hip arrived with provifions,
and they turned it into a day of thankfgiv-

In the fpring of 1631, in purfuance of the
intended plan, the Governor fet up the frame
of an houfe at Newtown ; the Deputy-Gov
ernor alfo built one, and removed his family.
About this time Chicketawbu, the Chief of the
Indians in that neighbourhood, made a.vifit'
to the Governor, with high profeilions of
friendfhip. The apprehenfion of danger
from the Indians abated, and the icheme of
a fortified town was gradually laid aiide ;
though, if it had been retained, the pcninfu-


340 W I N T H R O R

la would have been a fituation far preferable
tp Newtowru The Governor took down his
frame and removed it to Shawmut, which
was finally determined upon for the metrop
olis, and named Bofton.

The three following years he was contin
ued, by annual ele&ion, at the head of the
government, for which office he was emi
nently qualified, and in which he ihone with
a luftre, which wquld have done him honour
In a larger fphere and a more elevated fitua
tion. He was the father, as well as govern
or, of an infant plantation. His time, his
itudy, his exertions, his influence, and his
intereft were all employed in the public fer-
vice. His wifdom, patience and magnanim
ity were coafpicuous in the moil fevere trials,
and his exemplary behaviour as a chriftian
added a fplendor to all his rare qualifications.
He maintained the dignity of a Governor
with the obliging condefcenfion of a gentle*-
man, and was fo defervedly refpecled and
beloved, that when Archbifhop Laud, heark
ening to fome calumnies raifed againft the
country on account of their puritan princi
ples, fummoned one Mr. Cleaves before King
Charles I. in hopes of getting fome accufa-


W I N T H R O P. 341

tion againft the Governor, he gave fuch an
account of his laudable deportment in his
ftation, and withal of the devotion with
which prayers were made, both in private
and public, for the King, that Charles
exprefled his concern, that fo worthy a per-
fon as Mr. Winthrop fhould be no better
accommodated than in an American wilder-r

He was an example to the people of that
frugality, decency and temperance which
were neceffary in their circumftances, and
even denied himfelf many of the elegancies
and fuperfluities of life, which his rank, and
fortune gave him a juft title to enjoy, both
that he might fet them a proper example,
and be the better enabled to exercife that
liberality in which he delighted, even, in
the end, to the actual impoveriihment of
himfelf and his family. He would often
lend his fervants on foine errand, at meal
times, to the houfes of his neighbours, to
fee how they were provided with food ; and
if there was a deficiency, would fupply them
from his own table. The following fmgular
inftance of his charity, mixed with humour,
will give us an idea of the man. In a very


342 \V I N T H R O P.

fevere winter, when wood began to be fcarce
in Bofton, he received private information,
that a neighbour was wont to help himfeif
from the pile at his door. " Does he," faid
the Governor, " call him to me, and I will-
take a courfe with him that (hall cure him
of dealing." The man appeared, and the
Governor addreflcd him thus. " Friend, it is
a cold winter, and I hear you are meanly
provided with wood, you are welcome to
hdp yourfelf at my pile till the winter i&
ever." A ad then merrily afked his friend
whether he had not put a Hop to the man's,
ftealing ?

In the adminiftration of juftice, he was for
tempering the feverity of law with the exer-
cife of mercy. He judged that in the infancy
of a plantation, juftice fhould be adminifter-
ed with more lenity than in a fettled ftate.
But when other gentlemen of learning and
influence had taken offence at his lenity, and
adopted an opinion that a ftricter difcipline
was neceffary, he fubmitted to their judg
ment, and ftridly adhered to the propofals
which were made to fupport the dignity of
government, by an appearance of union and



firmnefs, and a concealment of differences
and diflenfions among the public officers.

His delicacy was fo great, that, though he
could not without incivility decline accept
ing gratuities from divers towns, as well as
particular perfons, for his public fervices, yet
he took occafion in a public fpeech, at his
third election to declare, that " he received
them with a trembling hand in regard of
GOD's word, and his own infirmity," and
defired them, that for the future they would
not be offended, if he fhould wholly refufe
fuch prefents.

In the year 1634, and the two years fol-
lowing, he was left out of the magiftracy.
Though his conduct, from his firft engaging
in the fervice of the Colony, had been irre
proachable, yet the envy of fome, raifed a
fufpicion of his fidelity, and gave him a fmall
tafte of what, in other popular govern ments,
their greateft benefactors have had a large
fhare of. An inquiry having teen made of
his receipts and difburfements of the public
money, during his paft administration, though
it was conducted in a manner too harm for
his delicate fenfibility, yet he patiently fub-
mitted to the examination of his accounts,


344 W I N T II R O P.

ended to his honour. Upon which occafioa
he made a declaration which he concluded
in thefe words " In the things which I of
fer, I refer myfelf to the wifdom and juftice
of the Court, with this proteftation, that it
repenteth me not of my coil and labour be-
ftowed in the fervice of this Commonwealth ;
but I do heartily blefs the Lord our God,
that he hath been pleafed to honour me fo far
as to call for any thing he hath beftowed
upon me, for the fervice of his church and
people here ; the profperity whereof, and his
gracious acceptance, mall be an abundant re-
compenfe to me."

The fame rare humility and fteady equal
ity of mind, were confpicuous in his beha
viour, when a pretence was raifed to get him
left out of the government, left by the too
frequent choice of one man, the office fliould
ceafe to be elective, and feem to be his by
prefcription. This pretence was advanced
even in the election fermons ; and when he
was in fact reduced to a lower ftation in the
government, he endeavoured to ferve the
people as faithfully as in the higheft, nor
would he fuffer any notice to be taken of
{bme undue methods, which were ufed to


W I N T H R O R 345

have him left out of the choice. An
Inftance of this rare temper, and the happy
fruit of it, deferves remembrance. There
was a time when he received a very angry
letter from a Member of the Court, which
having read, he delivered back to the
meflenger with this anfwer> " I am not
willing to keep by me fuch a matter of
provocation.'* Shortly after, the writer of
this letter was compelled by the fcarcity of
provifion, to fend to buy one of the Govern
or's cattle ; he begged him to accept it as a
gift, in token of his good will. On which
the gentleman came to him with this ac
knowledgment, " Sir, your overcoming
yourfelf, hath overcome me."

But though condefcending and gentle on
every occafion of* perfonal ill treatment, yet
where the honour of government or religion,
and the intereft of the people were concern
ed, he was equally firm and intrepid, (land
ing foremoft in oppofition to thofe whom he
judged to be really public enemies, though
in the difguife of warm and zealous friends.
Of this number was the famous ANNA
HUTCH INS ON, a woman of a mafculine
imderftandirig and confummate art, who
U u held


held private lectures to the women at her
houfe, in which {he advanced thefe doctrines,
viz. " that the Holy Ghoft dwells perfonally
in a juftified perfon, and that fanctification
does not evidence juftification/* Thofe wha
held with her were faid to be " under a cov
enant of grace," and thofe who oppofed her
" under a covenant of works." Into thefe
two denominations, the whole Colony began
to be divided. Her adherents prevailed
in 1636 to choofe for Governor, HENRY
VANE,* a young gentleman of an apparent
ly grave and ferious deportment, who had
juft arrived from England, and who paid great
attention to this woman, and feemed zealouf-
ly attached to her diftinguifhing tenets.
Winthrop, then Deputy-Governor, not only


* This perfon, fo well known afterward in England,
is thus characlerifed by lord Clarendon :

" A man of great natural parts and of very profound'
dilTimulation, of a quick conception and ready, fharp and
weighty expreffion. He had an unufual afpecl, a vultitm
claiifum, that though no man could make a guefs of what
he intenckd, yet made men think there was fomething in
him extraordinary, and his whole life made good that
imagination. There need no more be faid of his ability,
than that he was chofen to cozen and deceive a whole na
tion [the Scots] which was thought to excel in craft ancF
cunning, which he did with a notable pregnancy and dex

W I N T H R O P. 347

differed in fentiment, but Taw the pernicious
influence of this controverfy with regret, and
feared, that if it were fuffered to prevail, it
would endanger the exifteace of the Colony.
Jn the heat of the controverfy r Whelewright,
a zealous Sectarian, preached a fcnnon, which
not only carried thefe points to their utmoft
length, but contained fome expre^ons which
the Court laid hold of as tending to {edition,
for which he w,as examined ; but a more
full inquiry was deferred for that time. Some
warm brethren of Bofton petitioned the
court in Whelewright's favour, reflecting on
their proceedings, which raifed fuch a refent-
menjt in the Court againft the town, that a
motion was made for die next election to
be ma'dc at Cambridge. Vane, the Govern
or, having no negative voice, could only
mew his diflike by refufing to put the quef-
tion. Winthrop the Deputy-Governor, de
clined it, as being an inhabitant of Bofton j
the queftion was then put by Endicot of Sa
lem, and carried for the removal.

At the opening of the election (May 1 7,
1637) a petition was again prefented by ma
ny inhabitants of Bofton, which Vane would
have had read previous to the choice. Win
throp, who clearly faw that this was a con

W I N T H R O P.

trivance to throw all into confufion, and
fpend the day in debate, that the election
might be prevented for that time, oppofed
the reading of the petition until the election
fhould be over. Vane and his party were
flrenuous, but Winthrop called to the peo
ple to divide, and the majority appeared for
the election. Vane ftill refufed, till Win
throp faid they would proceed without him,
which obliged him to fubmit. The election
was carried in favour of Winthrop and his
friends. The ferjeants who had waited on
Vane to the place of election, threw down
their halberds, and refufed to attend the new
ly elected Governor ; he took no other no
tice of the affront, than to order his own fer-
vants to bear them before him, and when
the people exprefTed their refentment, he beg
ged them to overlook the matter.

The town of Bofton being generally in
favour of the new opinions, the Governor
grew unpopular there, and a law which was
pafled in this year, of his reftoration to office,
increafed their diflike. Many perfons who
were fuppofed to favour thofe opinions were
expected from England, to prevent whofe fet-
tlement in the country, the Court laid a pen-,


W I N T H R O P. 349

alty on all who mould entertain any ftran-
gers, or allow them the uie of any houfe, or
lot, above three weeks, without liberty firft
granted. This fevere order was fo ill receiv
ed in Bofton, that on the Governor's return
from the Court of Cambridge, they all refu-
fed to go out to meet him, or mew him any
token of refpect. The other towns on this
occafion increafed their refpect towards him,
and the fame fummer, in a journey to Ip-
fwich he was guarded from town to town,
with more ceremony than he defired.

The fame year a fynod was called to deter
mine on the controverted points, in which
aflembly Winthrop, though he did not pre-
fide, yet as head of the civil magiftracy, was
obliged often to interpofe his authority, which
he did with wifdom and gravity, filencing
paflionate and impertinent fpeakers, deiiring
that the divine oracles might be allowed to
exprefs their own meaning, and be appealed
to for a decifion of the controverfy ; and
when he faw heat and paffion prevail in the
aflembly, he would adjourn it, that time might
be allowed for cool confideration, by which
prudent management, the fynod came to an
amicable agreement in condemning the er

\V I N T H R O P.

rors of the day. But the work was not
wholly done, until the erroneous perfons were
banimed the Colony. This act of feverity
the Court thought necefiary for the peace of
the Commonwealth. Toleration had not
then been introduced into any of the proteft-
ant countries, and even the wifeft and beft
men were afraid of it as the parent of all qr-
ror and mifchief.

Some of the zealous opinionifts in the
church of Bofton, would have had the El
ders proceed againft the Governor in the way
of ecclefiaftical difcipline, for his activity in
procuring the fentence of banifhment on their
brethren. Upon this occafion in a well
judged fpeech to the congregation, he told
them, that " though in his private capacity,
it was his duty to fubmit to the cenfure of
his brethren, yet he was not amenable to
them for his conduct as a magiftrate, even
though it were unjuft. That in the pref-
ent cafe, he had acted according to his con-
fcience and his oath, and by advice of the El
ders of the Church^ and was fully fatisfied,
that it would not have been confiftent with
the public peace to have done otherwife."
Thefe reafons fatisfied the uneafy brethren,


W I N T H k O P. 35*

and his general condefcending and obliging
deportment, fo reftored him to their affec
tions, that he was held in greater efteem
than before ; as a proof of this, upon occa-
fion of a lofs which he had fuftained in his
temporal eftate, they made him a prefent,
amounting to feveral hundred pounds*

A warm difpute having arifen in the Gen
eral Court, concerning the negative voice of
the Upper Houfe, the Governor published his
fentiments in writingj fome paflages of which
giving great offence, he took occafion at the
next meeting of the Court in a public fpeech,
to tell them " that, as to the matter of his
writing, it was according to his judgment,
which was not at his own difpofal, and that
having examined it by the rules of reaibn,
religion and cuftom, he faw no caufe to re-
tradt it ; but as for the manner , which was
wholly his own, he was ready to acknowl
edge whatever was blameable. He faid,
that though what he wrote was on great prov
ocation, and to vindicate himfelf and oth
ers from unjuft afperfion, yet he ought not
to have allowed a diftemper of fpirit, nor to
have been fo free with the reputation of his
brethren ; that he might have maintained

. his


his caufe without cafting any reflection oil
them, and that he perceived an unbecoming
pride and arrogancy in fome of his expref-
{ions, for which he defired forgivenefs of
God and man !" By this condefcending
fpirit, he greatly endeared himfelf to his
friends, and his enemies were afhamed of
their oppofitioiii

He had not fo high an opinion of a dem-
ocratical government as fome other gentle
men of equal wifdom and goodnefs ; but
plainly perceived a danger in " referring mat
ters of counfel and judicature to the body
of the people ;" and when thofe who had
removed to Connecticut, were about form
ing their government, he warned them of
this danger in a friendly and faithful letter,
wherein are thefe remarkable words : " The
befi part of a community is always the leaft^
and of that beft part the wifer is ftill kfs ;
wherefore the old canon was, chufe ye out
Judges, and thou fhalt bring the matter be
fore the Judge."

In 1645, when he was Deputy-Governor,
a great difturbance was raifed by fome pe
titioners from Hingham, who complained,
that the fundamental laws of England were


W I N T H R O P. 353

not owned in the Colony, as the bafis of
government ; that civil privileges were de
nied to men, merely for not being members
of the churches ; and, that they could not
enjoy divine ordinances, becaufe they be
longed to the Church of England. With
thefe complaints, they petitioned for liberty
of confcience ; or, if that could not be grant
ed, for freedom from taxes and military fer-
vices ; the petition concluded with a menace,
that in cafe of a refufaj, complaint would be
made to the Parliament of England, This
petition gave much offence, and the petition
ers were cited to Court, and lined as " movers
of fedition." Winthrop was adlive in their
profccution ; but a party in the Houfe of
Deputies was fo ftrong in their favour as to
carry a vote, requiring him to anfwer for his
conduct in public ; the refult of which was,
that he was honourably acquitted. Then
refuming his feat, he took that opportunity
publickly to declare his ientiments, on the
queftions concerning the authority of the
magiftracy, and the liberty of the people.
" Ton have called us (faid he) to office, but
being called, we have our authority from
GOD, it is the ordinance of GOD, and hath
W w the

354 W I N T H R O P.

the image of GOD ftamped on it ; and the
contempt of it, hath been vindicated by
GOD, with terrible examples of his ven
geance. When you choofe magiftrates, you
take them from among yourfelves, men fub-
ject to the like paflions with yourfelves. If
you fee our infirmities, reflect on your own*
and you will not be fo fevere on ours. The
covenant between us and you is, that we
{hall govern you, and judge your caufes ac
cording to the laws of GOD* and our beft
fkill. As for our Jkill^ you muft rim the
hazard of it ; and if there be an error, not in.
the will, but the (kill, it becomes you to
bear it. Nor would I have you miftake in
the point of your liberty. There is a liber
ty of corrupt nature ; which is inconfifient
with authority, impatient of reftraint, the
grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the
ordinances of GOD are bent againft it. But
there is a civil, moral, federal liberty, which
is the proper end and object of authority, a
liberty for that only which is JUST and
GOOD. For this liberty you are to ftand
with your lives ; and whatever crofles it, is


* It muft be obferved, that the Mofaic law was at
that time confidered as the general ftandard, and moil of
the laws of the Colony were founded on it-

\V I N T H R O P.


not authority, but a diftemper thereof. This
liberty is maintained in a way of fubje&ion
to authority, and the authority fet over you
will, in all adminftrations for your good, be
quietly fubmitted to by all, but fuch as have
a difpofition to {hake off the yoke, and lofe
their liberty, by murmuring at the. honour
and power of authority."

This kind of argument, was frequently
urged by the fathers of New-England, in
j unification of their feverity toward thofe
who diflented from them. They maintained
that all men had liberty to do right, but no
liberty to do wrong. However true this
principle may be in point of morality, yet in
matters of opinion, in modes of faith, wor-
fhip, and ecclefiaftical order, the queftion
is, who mall be the judge of right and
wrong ? and, it is too evident from their
conduct, that they fuppofed the power of
judging to be in thofe who were vefted with
authority ; a principle deftrudUve of liberty
of confcience, and the right of private judg
ment, and big with all the horrors of per-
fecution. The exercile of fuch authority
they condemned in the high church party,
who had opprefled them in England ; and



356 W I N T H R O P.

yet, fuch is the frailty of human nature, they
held the fame principles, and praclifed the
fame oppreflions, on thofe who diflented
from them. Winthrop, before he left Eng
land, was of a more catholic fpirit than feme
of his brethren ; after he had come to Amer
ica, he fell in with the reigning principle of
intolerancy, which almoft all the Reformers
unhappily retained as a relic of the perfecu-
ting church, from w ? hich they had feparated ;
but as he advanced in life, he refumed his
former moderation ; and in the time of his
laft ficknefs, when Dudley, the Deputy-Gov
ernor prefied him to fign an order for the
banifhment of a perfon who was deemed
heterodox, he refufed, faying that " he had
done too much of that work already.'*

Having devoted the greatefl part of hk
intereft to the fervicc of the public, and fuf-
fered many lofles by accidents, and by leav
ing the management of his private affairs to
unfaithful fervants, whilflhis whole time and
attention were employed in the public bufi-
nefs, his fortune was lo much impaired, that,
fome years before his death, he was obliged
to fell. the moft of his eflate for the payment
of an accumulated debt. He alfo met \vith


\V I N T H R O P. 357

much "affliction in his family, having huried
three wives* and fix children. Thefe trou
bles, joined to the oppofition and ill treat
ment which he frequently met with from
fome of the people, fo preyed upon his na
ture, already much worn by the toils arid
hardfhips of planting a colony in a wilder-
nefs, that he perceived a decay of his facul
ties feven years before he reached his grand
climacteric, and often fpoke of his approach
ing diflblution, with a caJtn refignation to
the will of Heaven. At length, when he
had entered the fixty-third year of his age,
a fever occafioned by a cold, after one
month's confinement, put an end to his life
on the 2 6- h of March, 1649.

The ifland called Governor's liland, in the
harbour of Bofton, was- granted to him, and
ftili remains in the poflefTion of his defend
ants. His picture is preferved in the fenate-
chamber, with thofe of other ancient Govern
ors. The home in which he lived, remain
ed till 1775, when, with many other old
wooden buildings, it was pulled down by the
Britim troops for fuel. He kept an exad:
journal of the occurrences and tranfactions in
the Colony during his rcfidcnce in it. This


358 W I N T H R O P.

journal was of great fervice to feveral hiftori-
ans, particularly Hubbard, Mather, and
Prince. It js ilill in pofleflion of the Connecti
cut branch of his family, and was publifhed at
Hartford in 1 790. It affords a more exact and
circumftantial detail of events within that pe
riod, than any compilation which has been or
can be made' from it; the principles and
conduct of this truly great and good man,
therein appear in the light in which he
himfelf viewed them ; while his abilities for
the arduous ftation which he held, the diffi
culties which he had to encounter, and his
fidelity in bufmefs, are difplayed with that
truth and juftice in which they ought to

He had five fons living at his deceafe, all
of whom, notw^ithftanding the reduction of
his fortune, acquired and poflefled large prop
erty, and were perfons of eminence. Many
of his pofterity have borne refpectable char-
afters, and filled fome of the principal places
of truft and ufefulnefs.



JOHN WINTHROP, eldeft fon of ?
Governor Winthrop, by his firft wife, was
born at Groton, in Suffolk, Feb. 12, 1605,
His fine genius was much improved by a
liberal education, in the Univerfities of Cam
bridge and Dublin, and by travelling through
moft of the European kingdoms, as far as
Turkey. He came to New-England with
his father's family, Nov. 4, 1631 ; and
though not above twenty-fix years of age,
was, by the unanimous choice of the free
men, appointed a magiftrate of the Colony,

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Online LibraryUnknownAmerican biography: or, An historical account of those persons who have been distinguished in America, as adventurers, statesmen, philosophers, divines, warriors, authors, and other remarkable characters .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 17 of 24)