John Winthrop


Born: 12 Jan 1587/88 in Edwardstone, County Suffolk, England

Died: 26 Mar 1649 in Massachusetts Bay Colony

Father: ?

Mother: ?

Family #1

Spouse/Partner: ?

Married: ? in ?

Child: Henry Winthrop ( – 1630)


Born into the gentry of England, John was a member of the dominant class of his time. He entered Trinity College in Cambridge at 15, he studied law, served as a justice of the peace, and was an attorney in the Court of Wards and Liveries from 1627 to 1629. For 20 years he was a country squire at Groton (England) and seemingly had no interest in the American colonies.

He was ardently religious, gradually enveloping himself in the Puritan belief system. By 1629, increasing irritation at the anti-Puritan policies of Charles I and an economic slump that reduced his income and any legacy for his children, he joined the Massachusetts Bay Company.

As part of this, he was one of the signers of the Cambridge Agreement, and pledged to sell his estate in England and take his family to the American colonies. During all of these negotiations, in which the shares of the non-emigrating individuals were bought out by those who were emigrating, John was elected as leader of the emigrating individuals and understood to be the first emigrating of the new colony on 20 Oct.

In 1630 the group sailed (Winthrop was on the "Arbella") for the New World.

John was the primary driving force of strict Puritan orthodoxy in the settlements around Massachusetts Bay, though he was not without opponents, including the decision of the freemen in 1634 to elect a representative assembly to share in decisions, the criticisms of Roger Williams regarding church/state relations, the migration of colonists from Massachusetts Bay Colony to Connecticut Colony, and of course, the "blasphemous" Anne Hutchinson, whom he succeeded in prosecuting and banishing. He also encountered significant resistance to his ideal of a theocratic government, and the excesses and rigidity involved in such.

Despite these problematic social issues, John was quite intelligent, and many of his ideas survived him to the founding of the Republic, and through today. These are things that he believed were required to lead a more Christian life, and are seen by many today as basic requirements to any society of thinking individuals.

Perhaps his most famous statement of some of these ideals can be seen in his famous sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity," also known as the "City Upon a Hill" speech. (The sermon was believed to have been written on board the Arbella during his 1630 voyage, but this may not be correct, and it may actually have been written and first given in England before this.) This speech was quoted by both John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

From his arrival in the Massachusetts Bay in 1630 until his death in 1649, he was elected governor 12 times (elections were held every year). For the years he was not governor, he sat on the court of assistants or on the colony council.

Change Date

This data was last changed on 17 Jun 2007, and is stored in datafile B.

Primary and Secondary Sources

(see About Sources)

Encyclopedia Brittanica (15th edition)
Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1979 [applies to name, birth, death, notes]
Palmer Families in America
by Hon. Horace Wilbur Palmer, Ph.B., LL.B.; Neshanic, N.J.: Neshanic Print. Co., 1966. [applies to name, notes]