Exploros_logo

John Winthrop

In the year 1588, John Winthrop was born into a prosperous middle-class family from Suffolk. As a young man, Winthrop became convinced that England was in trouble: inflation coupled with population growth had led men to pursue wealth at the cost of their souls. Efforts to reform the Church of England had failed Puritans like Winthrop were persecuted. As he worried about his future, Winthrop became intrigued by a new venture, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which offered the chance for religious freedom in the New World.

Winthrop struggled with the decision to abandon his homeland. He was aware of the hardships that had claimed the lives of half the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth 10 years earlier. He survived a bad horse-riding accident, which he took as a divine signal: God was calling him to create a holy community in the wilderness of New England.

In Boston, Winthrop was chosen to serve as governor of the fledgling Puritan colony. Repeatedly elected governor, he was responsible for maintaining civic and social order. Political unity demanded religious conformity. Yet Winthrop understood that a measure of dissent and disagreement was inevitable. By temperament, he was a moderate, inclined to seek compromise, as he did when his friend Roger Williams began testing the patience of the authorities. At the same time, Winthrop recognized there were limits to dissent, for challenges to religious authority could undermine political order and social stability. Roger Williams was eventually banished, and when Anne Hutchinson tested those limits, Winthrop took action. Hutchinson, too, was banished from Massachusetts for the rest of her life.


Source: John Winthrop
Copyright ©1995-2012 WGBH Educational Foundation

Back to top