If George Washington is the father of our country, John Winthrop probably could rightly be considered the grandfather. Almost single-handedly, Winthrop built up the Massachusetts Bay Colony–the first major settlement in America–from three hundred to ten thousand, firmly establishing a beachhead for the tens of thousands of immigrants who would arrive in the British colonies of America over the following century.
Winthrop came of age in an England violently fractured over religious differences. Kings and queen fought off repeated assassination attempts and coups brought on by whether they practiced Catholicism or Protestantism. Born and bred in privilege, Winthrop attended the best schools and soon found himself running the family estate at Groton. Over the next decade, as three successive wives bore him more than a dozen children, he gained an appointment to the royal Court of Wards and Liveries and served as a local justice of the peace. Always a spiritual man, Winthrop watched the increasing corruption–physical and spiritual–of his beloved Protestant religion with a growing weariness. He began to look elsewhere for moral support and gradually fell into a sect called the Puritans. The spiritual situation in England grew more and more dire, and Winthrop and a group of fellow Puritans decided on radical action: they would flee to New England and create a pure and safe community where Puritans could live in God's world and serve God to their utmost ability.
Winthrop and four hundred Puritan emigrants arrived in Boston in the spring of 1630 after a rough and hazard filled Atlantic crossing–like all ocean crossings of the seventeenth century. They built upon the work of the settlers at Salem and established a capital at Boston. Theirs was the fourth major attempt at colonizing the New World; only one of previous three survived, that at Jamestown, Virginia, which remained small and primitive. After a disastrous first winter that killed almost twenty percent of the settlers, Winthrop's bold experiment looked destined to fail. However, the settlers persevered and by the following winter had built Boston and the neighboring areas into a respectable community.
The New World posed many dangers to the new settlers: Indians, French and Spanish privateers, wild animals, and the weather. Perhaps the gravest threat to Winthrop, though, was finding that the Devil's influence followed them to the New World. He spent much of his time from 1632–1635 fighting back heretics like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams who threatened to distract his Puritans from the road to Heaven.
For twelve of the first nineteen years of the colony, Winthrop served as governor of the new colony and often paid his own money to build buildings or help families emigrate. By 1640, the process of building the new colony had almost bankrupted him–but he persevered and stayed involved in the government until his death.
By 1649, when Winthrop died, Massachusetts Bay had a strong foundation to continue its spiritual journey. Each summer brought boatloads of new immigrants, and the settlements grew by leaps and bounds across the peninsulas of Boston harbor. The viability of Massachusetts Bay, and by extension, the settlement of the New World, would never be a question again.
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