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Art. VI. — Life and Letters of John WINTHROP, Governor of
the Massachusetts Bay Company at their Emigration to New England, 1630. By ROBERT C. WINTHROP. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1864. 8vo. pp. xii. and 452.
It is not often that the life of a distinguished man can be written, more than two centuries after his death, from inedited papers which have remained in the family archives for six or seven generations, untouched and wellnigh forgotten. But this piece of good fortune has fallen to the author of the volume now before us, the latest and best biographer of our Governor Winthrop. The first thought of writing his ancestor's life, as we learn from the introductory chapter, occurred to him shortly after his return from a visit to the ancient family seat at Groton, in Suffolk, England. While he was there, he made some inquiries respecting the family, in order to ascertain how far their personal history was known in a place where his ancestors had been for many years lords of the manor. In answer to his questions he was told, among other strange things, that the Winthrops were regicides, who had fled from their native country to escape the punishment of their crime. Inspired in part by the absurdity of this tradition to render an act of filial justice to his progenitors, and in the belief that the time had come for the publication of a more minute and satisfactory account of the life and character of John Winthrop than 'any which had hitherto appeared, he at once set about the preparation of such a memoir. Considerable progress was made in the execution of this design ; and some of the chapters in the volume now published are printed in the precise form in which they were written, fifteen or sixteen years ago. The work was then laid aside, under the pressure of other duties and responsibilities; and it was not resumed until the author's return from a second visit to England in 1860. About this time an immense mass of family papers came into Mr. Winthrop's possession on the death of a kinsman residing at New London, in Connecticut, where they had remained undisturbed through several generations. To the examination of these papers he devoted himself with the zeal of an antiquary,
stimulated as he proceeded by the gratifying discovery that they throw a flood of light on the private life and character of his eminent ancestor.
The result of his labor appears in the very interesting volume before us, in which Mr. Winthrop has, wherever it was possible, allowed the Governor to tell his own story in his own words, thus giving to the memoir much of the charm of an autobiography. At the same time, he has connected the letters and other documents with which his volume is abundantly enriched by a very clear and admirably written narrative, and has further illustrated them by short explanatory notes, wherever such elucidation is required. Beside the letters and other papers now printed for the first time, our author has also inserted in his narrative such of the letters in the Appendix to Mr. Savage's edition of “ The History of New England” as are available for his present purpose. In the new letters the original spelling has been retained, while in those first published by Mr. Savage it is modernized, so that every reader will be able at a glance to determine whether any paper is new or has already appeared in print.
In the volume now before us Mr. Winthrop has brought his selection from the Governor's correspondence down to the period of his embarkation for America : for the illustration of the latter part of his ancestor's life, there remain among the family papers some original letters and other documents which will probably be given to the public hereafter in a second volume. Meanwhile this volume exhibits, in the most ample and satisfactory manner, the circumstances under which Winthrop's character was formed and developed, and “ displays, in greater detail, perhaps, than can be found anywhere else, not merely his outward life, but his inmost thoughts and motives and principles.” Availing ourselves of the opportunity thus afforded, we design in the present article to give some account of the early life of Governor Winthrop, to show how far his previous training had qualified him to be the chief in the settlement of a new country, and to trace to their source in a well-developed Christian character the admirable qualities which he afterward exhibited as Governor of the Massachusetts-Bay Colony.
The name of Winthrop may be found in county records and VOL. XCVIII. — NO. 202.
other documents as far back as the beginning of the thirteenth century ; but it is not until a much later period that we have any positive information concerning that branch of the family from which John Winthrop was derived. From an early period in their history they appear to have resided in the county of Suffolk, on the eastern coast of England, and to have been possessed of some landed property. It was probably, however, with the view of improving his fortune, that Adam Winthrop, the grandfather of John Winthrop, went up to London at the age of seventeen, and bound himself as an apprentice to a clothier or clothworker in that city. Here he rose to wealth and influence, being chosen in 1551 Master of the Clothworkers’ Company, one of the most famous of the London guilds. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII., he received a grant of the manor of Groton in the county of Suffolk, formerly belonging to the monastery of Bury St. Edmond's. In this obscure little village, which has since acquired so much interest for every student of our colonial history, he probably spent a part of every year during the latter portion of his life ; and here he was buried on his death, in 1562, at the age of seventy-four. His portrait, which has been engraved for the volume before us, represents a person of strongly marked features, with a serious and somewhat stern expression, indicating, as it should seem, a resolute will and a fearless temper.
His youngest son, also named Adam, was a scarcely less noticeable person, and was born in London on the 10th of August, 1548. Few particulars of his early life have come down to our time ; but it is certain that his education was not neglected, and, as both of his parents died before he was seventeen, it is not unlikely that his moral and intellectual training was watched over by his elder sister, Lady Mildmay, who was evidently a woman of marked ability. Of his later life we have some very curious and interesting glimpses in “ The Life and Letters of John Winthrop,” especially in the Appendix, which consists of extracts from a diary kept by him for many years, and now first printed, with some extracts from the family almanacs. His profession was that of a lawyer, but he never rose to distinction at the bar, and his practice could not have been very extensive, if we may judge
by the small amount of his “gaynes in law " during the year 1594, - only seven or eight pounds, as appears from his own record. After this period he resided for the greater part of the time at Groton, and devoted himself mainly to agricultural pursuits. For many years he held the office of Auditor at Trinity College, Cambridge, and during the whole or a part of the same period he was also Auditor of St. John's College. His diary shows him to have been a man of strong religious principles, punctual in the discharge of his various duties, and of much general information ; and he had, moreover, humble pretensions as a poet." His verses, indeed, which have been preserved among the family papers or in the British Museum, possess little merit, and are chiefly of interest for the light which they throw on his personal character. He was twice married ; and by his second wife, the daughter of Henry Browne of Edwardston, clothier, he had five children, four daughters and one son, John Winthrop, afterward Governor of Massachusetts. He died at Groton in 1623, at the age of seventy-five.
His third child, and only son, was born at Edwardston on the 12th of January, 1587, Old Style, or the 22d of January, 1588, according to our present method of computing time. Of the first fifteen or sixteen years of young Winthrop's life we know almost nothing; and, from the failure of previous inquirers to find his name on the books of either of the great Universities, it has been commonly supposed that he did not enter college. But among the new facts for which we are indebted to the researches of his descendant is a memorandum showing that he was entered of Trinity College, Cambridge, on the 8th of December, 1602; and there is also evidence that he continued at the University for about a year and a half. While he was at Cambridge he was attacked by a slow fever, from which he suffered severely, and which produced a marked effect on his character. “Being deprived of my youthful joys," he says in a record of his Christian experience drawn up many years afterward, “I betook myself to God, whom I did believe to be very good and merciful, and would welcome any that would come to him, especially such a young soul, and so well qualified as I took myself to be ; 60 as I took pleasure in drawing near to him.” The early termination of his college life, however, was probably owing, not to ill-health, but to his marriage, which took place at Great Stambridge on the 16th of April, 1605, when he was but little more than seventeen. The lady whom he had thus early chosen as his wife was Mary, the daughter and sole heir of John Forth, Esq., of Great Stambridge, in the county of Essex. She was about four years older than her husband; but, as her family possessed both wealth and influence, the disparity of years was easily overlooked. By his marriage he acquired “ a large portion of outward estate"; and to the associations to which it introduced him he attributes still greater benefits. " About eighteen years of age,” he says, in the record of his religious life already cited, “ being a man in stature and understanding, as my parents conceived me, I married into a family under Mr. Culverwell's ministry in Essex; and, living there sometimes, I first found the ministry of the word come home to my heart with power (for in all before I found only light); and after that I found the like in the ministry of many others, so as there began to be some change, which I perceived in myself, and others took notice of.” His chief satisfaction was now found in the contemplation of heavenly things, and in the assiduous performance of the various duties of a Christian life. Such, indeed, was his insatiable thirst after the word of God, as he tells us, that he “ could not miss a good sermon, though many miles off, especially of such as did search deep into the conscience.”
Not long after his marriage, according to the family tradition preserved by Cotton Mather, he was made a justice of the peace; and in October, 1609, he held his first court at Groton Hall, “ doubtless in consequence of his having attained his majority in the early part of that year,” says his biographer. Of the next six or eight years of his life we have few details, except such as relate to his spiritual growth and experience. His wife, who died in June, 1615, bore him six children, three sons and three daughters, the eldest of whom, John Winthrop, Jr., became Governor of Connecticut, and is aptly described by Mr. Savage, in a note to “ The History of New England,” as “the heir of all his father's talents, prudence, and virtues,