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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 3: Settling the Northern Colonies, 1619 - 1700

John Winthrop (1588 - 1649)

John Winthrop was the leader of the great Puritan migration to Massachusetts Bay in 1630 and the dominant influence in the early colony. His personality and political policies reflected the complex nature of New England Puritanism: intense, high-minded, sober, driven, intellectual, intolerant.

A very well-off country gentleman and attorney, Winthrop began to experience career difficulties in England because of his strong Puritan leanings. He grew deeply pessimistic about the future, especially after the dismissal of Parliament in 1629, and joined as one of the twelve influential Puritans who organized the migration to the New World.

Winthrop was elected governor before sailing on the Arbella (1630) and reelected nearly every year until his death. Pious, humorless, and extremely stern toward dissenters, he skillfully managed the colonys affairs, successfully negotiating with Puritans and others in Englandwhile putting Massachusetts Bay on a sound economic and political footing.

Quote: The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us as his own people and will command a blessing upon us all in our ways. And he shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations: the Lord make it like that of New England. For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill; the eyes of all people are upon us. (Sermon aboard the Arbella, 1630)

REFERENCE: Lee Schweninger, John Winthrop (1990).

Anne Hutchinson (1591 - 1643)

Anne Hutchinson was the strong-minded religious dissenter whose challenge to Massachusetts Bay authorities from 1636 to 1638 shook the infant colony to its foundation and led to her banishment.

The second of thirteen children of a Puritan minister, from whom she received a strong education in theology and Scripture, she married William Hutchinson, a well-to-do merchant, and bore fourteen children between 1613 and 1636, of whom eleven survived infancy.

Hutchinsons twice-weekly meetings in her home to discuss sermons and Scripture won her an enthusiastic following throughout Massachusetts Bay, and for a time it appeared that she and her clerical allies might take over the colony. But her enemies gained control of the General Court in 1637, and she was excommunicated from the church and banished from the colony, despite her clever defense. She first went to Rhode Island, but after her husband died in 1642, she moved with her children to Pelham, New Netherland (now in the Bronx), where she and all but one of her children were killed by Indians in 1643.


Court: See how your argument stands. Priscilla, with her husband, took Apollo home to instruct him privately. Therefore Mistress Hutchinson, without her husband, may teach sixty or eighty.

Hutchinson: I call them not, but if they come to me, I may instruct them.

Court: Yet you show us not a rule.

Hutchinson: I have given you two places of Scripture.

Court: But neither of them will suit your practice.

Hutchinson: Must I show you my name written therein?

(Excerpt from Hutchinsonss trial, 1637)

REFERENCE: Amy Schrager Lang, Prophetic Woman: Anne Hutchinson and the Problem of Dissent in the Literature of New England (1987).

William Penn (1644 - 1718)

Although this English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania engaged in frequent quarrels with the colonys settlers, his basic policies of liberality, tolerance, and free immigration had a lasting effect on Pennsylvania and eventually on other American colonies, as well.

In his youth, Penn developed nonconformist religious leanings that angered his father, the great Admiral Sir William Penn, and eventually landed the younger Penn in the Tower of London. Reconciled to his father on Sir Williams deathbed, he obtained the charter for Pennsylvania because of debts owed to his father by King Charles II.

Although Pennsylvania was a great economic success, Penn benefited little from it. His friendship with King James II caused him to lose political influence after the Glorious Revolution, and his dissolute son wasted much of his fortune, so that he ended up in debtors prison.

Penn was considered handsome, courtly, and well reada remarkable combination of religious visionary, charming courtier, and practical statesman. In the words of a contemporary: a man of great abilities, of an excellent disposition, quick of thought and ready of utterance, full of true discipleship, even Love, without dissimulation.

Quote: I am sorry at heart for your animosities. For the love of God, me, and the poor country, be not so governmentish, so noisy, and so open in your dissatisfactions. (Letter to settlers, 1701)

REFERENCE: Richard and Mary Dunn, eds., The World of William Penn (1986).

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