John Winthrop
Painting: by unknown 18th century artist

Governor Massachusetts Bay Colony: 1630-1634, 1637-1640, 1642-1644, 1646-1649

John Winthrop was the young Massachusetts Colony's most prominent leader, serving as Governor for fifteen of its first twenty years. In his famous "City on a Hill" speech, Winthrop articulated the Puritan hope that their community would be an example to the world. For Puritans did not merely seek to escape repression of their faith, they aspired to create a society based on that faith as a model to redeem their homeland.

In March of 1630, the Winthrop fleet of eleven vessels with more than 1,000 passengers onboard set off for Massachusetts. Unlike the Pilgrims who suffered through their passage and ended up 200 miles too far north during December, Winthrop and the Puritan settlers had a speedy passage, arriving in the warm weather of June and July at Salem where Governor John Endecott welcomed them.

Winthrop led the Puritans to Charlestown and eventually to the Shawmut Peninsula, because of its fresh water springs. An old Cambridge classmate of Winthrop's, the Reverend William Blackstone, who had been part of an earlier failed expedition, inhabited Shawmut. He invited the Massachusetts Bay Colony to join him on the Shawmut Peninsula. Settler Thomas Dudley, who would succeed Winthrop as the Colony's Governor, suggested the settlers name the new settlement "Boston." Dudley, as well as many of the settlers hailed from Boston in Lincolnshire, England. The name of their hometown recalled their desire to make a version of English society based on the principles of their faith.

In contemporary accounts Winthrop is often only recalled as the prosecutor of Anne Hutchinson. Winthrop's intolerant and even misogynistic nature was common among the zealous Puritan founders of Massachusetts. It often escapes contemporary readers that Winthrop was an able Governor in his time. He used the legal training he obtained as a young man studying law at the Inns of Court in London to effectively defend the Colony's charter in England. He was respected both by colonists in Massachusetts, as well as by the leaders of Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven who joined with Massachusetts in confederation and elected Winthrop their first chief executive.