John Winthrop (1588-1649)

    Contributing Editor:
    Nicholas D. Rombes, Jr.

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    The sweeping nature of the journal encompasses social, political, economic, and "daily survival" issues. Thus, it might be wise to focus on an area, or areas, at least to begin with. When looking at cultural or historical implications, consult supplemental information. That is, although Winthrop's writings illuminate his biases and assumptions, they "shape" the history of the period as well as record it.

    Students are generally shocked by the rigidity of Winthrop's view of the world. Their shock may be addressed by consulting outside sources (e.g., on the Hutchinson affair) and making them aware of Winthrop's assumptions concerning power, patriarchy, etc., as well as the position and voice of women in the Puritan community. However, it might be wise to note, as well, how our twentieth-century notions of what is fair and unfair can sometimes impose themselves upon the cultural environment Winthrop was operating within. Winthrop and the Puritans should be approached not only as philosophical, political, and religious figures, but also as real people who struggled daily against nature, hunger, and disease.

    Students are often curious about the distinctions between the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, and the Elect. You might explore the notion of community and social structures and the role of the individual in these structures, or you could discuss the Bible as a typological model for the Puritans, as well as Puritan conceptions of original depravity, limited atonement, grace, and predestination.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    Certainly, based on the selections in this anthology, it would be fruitful to focus on the Hutchinson controversy and its implications for the Puritan oligarchy. Examine the early Puritans' conception of liberty and its inextricable connections with their obligation to God. Likewise, the notion of a "city upon a hill" and the Puritans' link between America and the "new Israel" is important. You could discuss as well the providential interpretation of events and the nature of hierarchy in the Puritan community.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    Winthrop had training as a lawyer; the style and form of A Modell of Christian Charity reflects this. Likewise, the entire self-reflexive nature of the Journal lends itself to examination: Who was Winthrop's audience? Where does the Journal belong in the convention of the personal narrative or spiritual autobiography? What was his purpose for writing?

    Original Audience

    Recent examinations of A Modell of Christian Charity suggest that the sermon was not only intended for those who would soon be settling in America, but also for those who were growing weary (and by implication becoming disruptive) during the long voyage aboard the Arbella. In what ways was Winthrop's audience (especially in the Journal) himself?

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    Perhaps compare Winthrop's sermons with those of Jonathan Edwards (who was writing a century later). Note how the style changed, as did the emphasis on religious experience (the experience becomes more sensory and less restrained). Compare Winthrop's vision of God's grace with Roger Williams's vision.

    Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing

    1. (a) What motivated the Puritans to flee England?

    (b) Did the Puritans have a "blueprint" for organizing their new communities, or did the social structure evolve slowly?

    (c) From what type of social, cultural, religious, and economic background did Winthrop emerge?

    2. (a) Examine Winthrop's 1645 speech in which he responds to charges that he exceeded his authority as governor. Is this speech a fruition (or expression) of the Puritan ambiguity between the value of religion and the value of individual liberty?

    (b) How did the Hutchinson controversy potentially threaten Puritan oligarchy?

    (c) Explore the "spiritual autobiography" and its characteristics. What philosophical purposes did it serve? What pragmatic purposes?

    (d) In Modell, have students trace image patterns Winthrop uses, i.e., allusions to Biblical passages, discursive form of sermon, etc.


    Dunn, Richard S. "John Winthrop Writes his Journal." William and Mary Quarterly 41 (1984): 185-2l2.

    Miller, Perry. Errand into the Wilderness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956. (Essays)

    Morgan, Edmund S. "John Winthrop's `Modell of Christian Charity' in a Wider Context." The Huntington Library Quarterly 50 (Winter 1987): 145-151.

    Rutman, Darrett B. Winthrop's Boston: A Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630-1649. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965. (Look especially at Chapter I, "A City upon a Hill"; Chapter III, "The Emergence of Town Government"; and Chapter VI, "Diversity and Division."