John Winthrop, First Governor of Massachussetts


John Winthrup


April 16th 1605 was a big day in Great Stambridge.  Mary Forth, who lived at Gt. Stambridge Hall, married John Winthrop in the nearby church.

Born into a wealthy landowning and merchant family, Winthrop was trained in the law and became Lord of the Manor at Groton in Suffolk. Winthrop was extremely religious and subscribed fervently to the Puritan belief that the Anglican Church had to be cleansed of Catholic ritual. He was convinced that God would punish England for its heresy and believed that English Puritans needed a shelter away from England where they could remain safe during the time of God's wrath.

Mary had six children, one of whom was destined to greatness but Mary died in June 1615. Within six months he had married his second wife, Thomasine Clopton, at Groton, Suffolk. She died less than a year later but Winthrop soon married his third wife, Margaret Tyndal.

John had become involved in the Massachusetts Bay Company when the anti-Puritan King Charles I began a crackdown on Nonconformist religious thought. Other Puritans who believed likewise obtained a royal charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company. Charles I was apparently unaware that the colony was to be anything other than a commercial venture to America. However, on March 4, 1629, Winthrop signed the Cambridge Agreement with his wealthier Puritan friends, essentially pledging that they would embark on the next voyage and found a new Puritan colony in New England. The colony's land was taken from Native Americans with Winthrop's excuse that the natives hadn't "subdued" the land and thus had no "civil right" to it. In October 1629 he was elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and in April 1630 he led a group of colonists to New England.

His wife, Margaret, gave birth to six children in England before the family emigrated and two were then born in New England. Margaret died on June 14, 1647, in BostonMassachusetts. Winthrop then married his fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough.

Between 1629 and his death in 1649, he served 12 annual terms as governor of the colony, and was a force of comparative moderation in the religiously conservative colony. Although Winthrop was a respected political figure, his attitude toward governance was somewhat authoritarian: he resisted attempts to widen voting and other civil rights beyond a narrow class of religiously approved individuals, opposed attempts to codify a body of laws that the colonial magistrates would be bound by, and also opposed unconstrained democracy, calling it "the meanest and worst of all forms of government".The authoritarian and religiously conservative nature of Massachusetts rule was influential in the formation of neighboring colonies, which were in some instances formed by individuals and groups opposed to the rule of the Massachusetts elders.

Yet he was one of the least radical of the Puritans, trying to keep the number of executions for heresy to a minimum and working to prevent the implementation of more conservative practices such as veiling women, which many Puritans supported.

There is a window commemorating John in Stambridge church, paid for by the Winthrup Society.

Winthrop’s son, John Winthrop the Younger, whose mother was Mary Forth, later became Governor of Connecticut