Governors of Connecticut

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John Winthrop

From: The Governers of Connecticut
By: Frederick Calvin Norton
Published: 1905


THE brilliant career of John Winthrop, as governor of Connecticut, led the historian, Brancroft, to write that “the New World was full of his praises.” He is generally conceded to have been the most distinguished and scholarly of the early governors of the colony. His father, John Winthrop, commonly called the older, was governor of Massachusetts, and the founder of the famous Winthrop family in America - a family that has produced many able men and women.

John Winthrop, the younger, was born in Groton Manor, England, February 12, 1606. He received a careful education at Trinity College, Dublin, and afterward entered the Inner Temple, where he studied law. Finding this distasteful, he entered the English naval service, sailing with George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. He took part in the unsuccessful expedition for the relief of the Protestants at La Rochelle. After a tour on the Continent, Winthrop returned to England in 1629 and found that his father and closest friends were preparing to sail for Massachusetts.

In 1631 he followed his father to New England and was soon elected an assistant in Massachusetts colony. He was one of the settlers of the town of Ipswich, where he owned a large estate. Winthrop returned to England in 1634 On July 7, 1635, articles of agreement were drawn up between Winthrop and Lord Say-andSele, with several others, empowering Winthrop to erect a fort at the mouth of the Connecticut river and creating him governor of the territory for one year. His commission was sealed and delivered on July 15, 1635, and he arrived at the mouth of the river about November 24th of the same year. After his term of office expired Winthrop went to Massachusetts where he busied himself with scientific investigation. He is spoken of as one of the best “chymists” of his age.

In 1640 he procured a grant of Fisher’s Island, and on August 3, 1641, left for England where he spent the next two years. Returning to Massachusetts in 1643, he undertook to develop the iron industry in the vicinity of Braintree.

Soon after he acquired considerable property where New London now stands, and removed to that place, which he made his future home. Miss Caulkins, the historian of New London, calls him the founder of the town, and adds that Winthrop’s home on Fisher’s Island was the first English residence in that territory. He brought thither the first company of settlers, planned the town, founded the government, fixed the bounds, and conciliated the Indians. In 1650 he transferred his residence to New London, and ftom then on took a leading part in the government of the town and colony. Rising rapidly from a magistrate in 1650, Winthrop was elected governor of the colony in 1657. He was re-elected to the same office in 1659. Originally no man was to be chosen to the office of governor two years in succession; but in i 66o the General Court, in their anxiety to retain Winthrop as governor, requested the freemen of the colony to abolish the the restriction of re-election. This was done immediately and then John Winthrop began his career as governor, which covered a longer Period than was ever reached by any chief executive in Connecticut. Gurdon Saltonstall and Joseph Talcott in the next century, however, were each governor for seventeen years. Governor Winthrop was in England for a year and a half, from i66i to 1663, when he was elected a member of the Royal Society. Possessing much tact and having a thorough knowledge of court procedure, as well as considerable influence with Charles the Second, Winthrop obtained from the king the famous charter which consolidated the colonies of Connecticut and New Haven. In this charter of 1662 Winthrop was named the first governor of the United Colonies, and in this office he passed the remaining portion of his life. Governor Winthrop died at Boston, April 5, 1676, while attending a meeting of the commissioners of the colonies.

Winthrop endeared himself to the people of Connecticut, and historial writers all agree that his Puritanism was of the finest type; that he had the good will of even those who differed widely from him. In the kindred sciences of chemistry and medicine he was one of the best authorities of his time.: Trumbull called him “one of the most distinguished characters in New England.” Hollister wrote: “It is difficult to consider him as an individual character so inseparably is his bright image blended with that of the colony herself during the most doubtful, and at the same time, most glorious period of her existence.”

Bancroft paid him a glowing tribute when he wrote: “Puritans and Quakers and the freemen of Rhode Island were alike his eulogists. The Dutch at New York had confidence in his integrity, and it is the beautiful testimony of his father that ‘God gave him favor in the eyes of all with whom he had to do.”

Such careers shine as a brilliant light in the hazy horizon of the past.

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