Back to Inquiry Set
5.4.8a Life and letters of John Winthrop : governor of the Massachusetts-Bay Company at their emigration to New England
Cover page of Robert C. Winthrop's Life and Letters of John Winthrop. Contains publication information and a portrait of John Winthrop.
The first thing you will notice about this document are the words that appear misspelled and the choppy and unclear sentences. In the 1600s, spelling and grammar rules were not consistent, especially if we try to translate them to today’s English. When the words are nearly incomprehensible, modern-day historians put brackets next to the words to help you understand meaning. In other places, the spelling is only slightly different than how we spell words and put together sentences today.
This document was written by John Winthrop, one of the original leaders and colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1620s. He wrote this document when he decided to lead a voyage of Christian settlers to New England. He provides two main reasons that he wants to go on this voyage: one relates to religion, the other relates to land and people. Put those two reasons into your own words. How do the two reasons that Winthrop lists help us understand the economic motivations of English settlers in New England?
This is a very difficult primary source to process with students, but worth it for them to experience the language of the seventeenth century and to capture the sentiments of an influential colonizer. Guiding students through a sentence deconstruction activity will help promote reading comprehension and an understanding of Winthrop’s arguments.
Students often learn that the English settlers who established Jamestown were motivated by money, but that the English settlers who sailed to New England came to practice their version of Christianity in peace. This document — and many that the Puritans created in the 1600s — provides evidence for the dual interconnected goals of the New England colony. As Winthrop introduces in his justification for coming to the New World, religious freedom and economic opportunity in the form of land (the promise of material success) served as dual motivators for his voyage.
Also key to this passage is Winthrop’s clear disdain for the indigenous people. Have students compare this statement that describes the Puritans “soe as man, whoe is the most pretious of all creatures” with this statement that describes the native Pequots, “is here more vile & base than the earth we treade upon.” This helps put into context race relations in North America, as well as the Pequot War fought between the colonizers and the Pequot people (1636 – 1638).
[bookplate with image of lion and rabbit] spes vincit thronum
From an original Portrait in the Senate Chamber of Massachusetts
To:Winthrop gov[illegible] [[handwritten on page]]
Governor of Massachusetts.
Life and Letters of John Winthrop
Government of the Massachusetts-Bay Colony at their Emigration to New England
Robert C. Winthrop
[image of bookplate with letter "F"]
Boston: Ticknor and Fields