Governor of Massachusetts John Winthrop: May 17, 1631

In 1629, John Winthrop joined the Massachusetts Bay Company, after gaining a royal charter to start a colony in New England. Under the condition that the Company and charter be moved to America, Winthrop agreed to sell his estate in England and move to the new colony along with his family. The other members of the Massachusetts Bay Company agreed to these terms and then elected him the first Governor of the New England colony. He was a prominent Puritan and a well liked leader,  who was chosen to be Governor on twelve occasions during his time in New England.

In Winthrop’s A Journal of the Transactions and Occurrences in the Settlement of Massachusetts and the Other New-England Colonies,  From the Year 1630 to 1644, the May 17, 1631 entry states “A general Court at Boston, the former governor was chosen again and all the freemen of the commons were sworn to the government.” Wikipedia has May 18, 1631 listed as the date that John Winthrop took his oath of office, but we were unable to find any references to this date or event. The only other event listed on that date in Winthrop’s journal is a house burning down, with the next entry dated May 27.

John Winthrop was born on January 22, 1588 in Edwardstone, England. He died in office on April 5, 1649 at the age of 61. Winthrop attended Trinity College, Cambridge studying law, after which he served as a Justice of Peace and held a government office and was a country squire at Groton. He had four wives and sixteen children. Winthrop was a highly religious man who devoted himself to scripture and prayer, becoming a devout puritan. By 1640 he became the “custodian of Massachusetts’ orthodoxy”. In 1641 he helped write the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, the first legal sanctioning of slavery in North America.

His push for group discipline and individual responsibility was key to the colony’s success. When Winthrop was not in office as Governor he sat on the Colony Council or the Court of Assistants.

Information for this post was gathered from Lehigh Special Collections’ 1790 edition of Winthrop’s Journal of the Transactions and The Encyclopedia Britannica.