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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 25

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This is the grave of John Winthrop.

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The kindest, gentlest man ever to walk the soil of North America, Winthrop was the governor and founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the man who gave the famous “City Upon a Hill” speech that began a long tradition of white Americans thinking the rest of the world should copy everything we do. Born in 1588 in England to a wealthy family, he became deeply involved in religious matters at a young age, attracted to the Puritanism sweeping Britain. He led the group moving from England in 1630 arriving at Salem and spreading along the coast. Winthrop settled in Boston, acquiring a large parcel of land along the Mystic River. Winthrop was governor most of the rest of his life and was deeply conservative, leading the attacks to expel both Roger Williams (reluctantly) and Anne Hutchinson (with hateful glee). Of Hutchinson, he said she was “a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man.” This was not a compliment. The meetings she held were a “thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God, nor fitting for your sex.”

He also supported the extermination of the Pequots in 1637. He opposed democratic decision making, fighting against an attempt in 1634 to create a representative assembly. He also enjoyed the tight control he had over the Puritan colony and was angry when Connecticut was founded away from his control. After Anne Hutchinson was deported to Rhode Island, he gleefully noted all the terrible things that happened to her, including her stillborn child and her death by Native Americans in 1643, as signs that God hated the heretic. He opposed incorporating Native Americans and Africans into the Puritan church and co-wrote the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, the first document explicitly sanctioning slavery in the English North American colonies. John Winthrop died in 1649 at the age of 61.

John Winthrop is buried in King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts

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