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5.4.8b Life and letters of John Winthrop : governor of the Massachusetts-Bay Company at their emigration to New England
Excerpt from page 309 of the Life and letters of John Winthrop, published in 1864. This is from the first of two volumes.
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 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).
Of John Winthrop. 309
“Reasons to be considered for intstifieinge [becoming] the undertakers of the intended Plantation in New England, & for incoraginge [encouraging] such whose hartes God shall move ioyne with them in it.
1. It will be a service to the Church of great consequence to carry the Gospell into those parts of the world, to help on the comminge of the fullnesse of the Gentiles, & to raise a Bulworke against the kingdome of AnteChriste with the Jesuites labour to reare up on those parts….
3. This Lande growes weary of her Inhabitants, soe as man, whoe is the most prtious of all creatures, is here more vile & base than the earth we treade upon, & of lesse prise among us then an horse or a sheeepe: masters are forced by authority to entertaine servants, parents to mainetaine there owne children, all townes complaine of the burthen of theire poore…”