Our Heroic Hunks for the next three weeks will be father, son, and grandson. After all, ’tis the season. The men were saints and sinners, nice (as a Puritan can be) and naughty – one, in particular, was especially naughty. The first John Winthrop (1587/8 – 1649) was a major figure in the founding and development of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first major settlement in New England after the Plymouth Colony.
Winthrop, a lawyer was from a wealthy Puritan landowning and manufacturing family. Although he was not among the first of the Puritan who left England in 1628, he led a group of settlers to the Massachusetts Bay Company, after the anti-Puritan King Charles cracked down on the Puritan/Pilgrim churches. He was elected governor for the first of his twelve terms soon after his arrival.
He was a moderate among many conservatives. Moderate doesn’t mean democratic, though. In fact, he was authoritarian. He considered democracy “the meanest and worst of all forms of government” and fought the establishment of a legal code of laws that would bind the colonial magistrates. The local freemen had to almost revolt to view the charter which gave them to the right to vote for governor, rather than the few “assistants.”
Winthrop was among those who ordered the waging of war against the Pequot which resulted in the destruction or enslavement of the tribe. The surviving males were sold into the West Indies for cotton and black slaves. The females and children were divided among the colonists. Winthrop himself kept three Pequot slaves. Winthrop was instrumental in the founding of the surrounding towns and states, often by driving out those who opposed him. His leadership helped to shape the colony, influencing the government and religion of neighboring colonies and his writings provided a historical account of the colony and the surrounding area.
Winthrop wasn’t a saint. He wrote in his diary while at Trinity College that “lusts … so masterly as no good could fasten upon me.” He married in 1605 while in his teens (young for the time) and had fathered five children by 1615 when his wife died in childbirth with their last child. He buried two more wives but the last outlived him. His oldest son will be the next Monday’s Heroic Hunk. Rita Bay