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John Winthrop

John Winthrop (12 January 1587/8 - 26 March 1649) was elected governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and on April 8 he left England for the New World.

He was born in Edwardstone, Suffolk, England, the son of Adam Winthrop (1548-1623) and his wife, Anne Browne. Winthrop briefly attended Trinity College, Cambridge, then studied law at Gray's Inn, and in the 1620s became an attorney at the Court of Wards in London.

Winthrop was extremely religious and ascribed feverently to the Puritan belief that the Anglican Church had to be cleansed of Catholic ritual. Winthrop was convinced that God would punish England for its heresy, and believed that English Puritans needed a shelter way from England where they could remain safe during the time of God's wrath.

Other Puritans who belived likewise obtained a royal charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company. Charles I of England was apparently unaware that the colony was to be anything other than a commercial venture to America. However, on March 4, 1629, he signed the Cambridge agreement with his wealthier Puritan friends, essentially pledging that they would embark at the next voyage and found a new Puritan colony in New England.

In 1630 Winthrop was elected governor of the colony, and was re-elected many times. As governor 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 such innovations as veiling women, which many Puritans supported.

He is most famous for his "City on a Hill" sermon, in which he declared that the Puritan colonists emigrating to the New World were members of a special pact with God to create a holy community. This speech is often seen as a forerunner to the concept of American Exceptionalism. The speech is also well known for arguing that the wealthy had a holy duty to look after the poor. Recent history has shown, however, that the speech was not given much attention at the time of its delivery. Rather than coin these concepts Winthrop was merely repeating what were widely held Puritan beliefs in his day.

Biographical Information

He married his first wife, Mary Forth, on 16 April 1605 at Great Stambridge, Essex, England. She bore him six children and died in June 1615. He married his second wife, Thomasine Clopton, on 6 December 1615 at Groton, Suffolk, England. She died on 8 December 1616. On 29 April 1618 at Great Maplestead, Essex, England he married his third wife, Margaret Tyndal, daughter of Sir John Tyndal and his wife Anna Egerton. She gave birth to six children in England before they immigrated to New England (The Governor, three of his sons, and eight servants in 1630 on the Arbella, and his wife on the Lyon's second voyage of 1631, leaving their small manor behind). One of their daughters died on the Lyon voyage. Two children were born to them in New England. Margaret died on 14 June 1647 in Boston, Massachusetts. Winthrop married his fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough, widow of Thomas Coytmore, sometime after 20 December 1647 and before the birth of their only child in 1648.