John Winthrop (1588-1649)
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?
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
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
(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
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