John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father

John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father

John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father

John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father

Synopsis

The preeminent figure of early New England, John Winthrop was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. More than anyone else, he shaped the culture of New England and his effort to create a Puritan "City on a Hill" has had a lasting effect on American values. In John Winthrop, Francis J. Bremer draws on over a decade of research in England, Ireland, and the United States to offer a superb biography of Winthrop, one rooted in a detailed understanding of his first forty years in England. Indeed, Bremer provides an extensive, path-breaking treatment of Winthrop's family background, youthful development, and English career. His dissatisfaction with the decline of the "godly kingdom of the Stour Valley" in which he had been raised led him on his errand to rebuild such a society in a New England. In America, Winthrop would use the skills he had developed in England as he struggled with challenges from Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, among others, and defended the colony from English interference. We also see the personal side of Winthrop--the doubts and concerns of the spiritual pilgrim, his everyday labors and pleasures, his feelings for family and friends. And Bremer also sheds much light on important historical moments in England and America, such as the Reformation and the rise of Puritanism, the rise of the middling class, the colonization movement, and colonial relations with Native Americans. Incorporating previously unexplored archival materials from both sides of the Atlantic, here is the definitive portrait of one of the giants of our history.

Excerpt

John Winthrop's name is familiar to many who have studied American history. Countless college students have been assigned Edmund Morgan's short and fascinating study The Puritan Dilemma: the Story of John Winthrop. Readers of Time magazine may recollect that in that publication's listing of millennial landmarks the Reverend Peter Gomes identified Winthrop's “Model of Christian Charity” as the greatest sermon of the past thousand years. Numerous presidents and presidential candidates, including those as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Michael Dukakis, have quoted that 1630 address of the Massachusetts governor to try to reinspire Americans of our time to recognize that we are as a “city on a hill” and to urge upon us the duties of community. Yet neither Reagan nor Dukakis mentioned Winthrop's name while quoting his words, and most Americans are unfamiliar with his story and his significance. in this sense, John Winthrop is, indeed, America's forgotten Founding Father.

Those who have written about Winthrop have focused on his career in America to the extent that the first forty-two years of his life, with all they meant for the shaping of his identity and values, have been merely sketched or entirely ignored. in part this is because many authors have been less interested in the man and more concerned with using his life and writings to support their own interpretations of colonial life in general and puritanism in particular. His usefulness for such purposes derives from his undoubted centrality to early New England's history and the extensiveness of his surviving writings, through which much of that history is filtered. Thus we have had the Winthrop used to dispel the images of dour steeple-hatted zealots and humanize the early colonists. We have had the tolerant Winthrop, who resisted the bigotry of his more zealous contemporaries, but also the intolerant Winthrop, who drove Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson into the howling American wilderness. Winthrop has also been used to demonstrate both the misogyny of early New Englanders and their loving marriages. Some, seeking to portray the native Americans as victims of an invasion of America, have interpreted Winthrop and his writings to advance their views. in these and other such cases the Winthrop of modern . . .

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