3. John Winthrop dreams of a “City Upon The Hill” where only the like-minded can live
John Winthrop migrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as its appointed governor. He was in office in some capacity from 1630 until his death in 1649. A man from means, a lawyer, and doctor, Governor Winthrop shaped how the colony would function, how punishments would be administered, and he had enormous influence over settlers. He was no stranger to controversy or death. Both his first and second wives died in childbirth along with their infants. Of the five children he fathered, only three survived into adulthood.
In his role as colonial governor, John Winthrop went around and recruited others to join in the venture of settling in Massachusetts. He convinced men, women and entire families to leave England and establish his “City upon the Hill” ideal. In April 1630 four ships set sail and arrived in Salem in June 1630. Governor John Endecott met the ships and provided a warm welcome. John Winthrop, and others, then set off to survey the surrounding wilderness. They selected a site on the Massachusetts Bay that is present-day Boston.
John Winthrop and his wife shared a common interest in strict religious control. This control bled over into colonial law. There was no such thing as the separation of the church and the state. If a person committed an offense, they were tired by the government and by the church. The flaw in this plan was the arbitrary rule of many Puritan ministers who were also civic magistrates and judges. Over time, people in the colony began to question Governor Winthrop’s authority. His response was to remain firm his conviction to keep the colony free from “such whose dispositions suit not with ours.” Those that failed to comply were banished from the colony.
At the age of 61, John Winthrop died. His writings, particularly his “A Modell of Christian Charity” has become an enduring symbol of political discourse in America. He believed that civil liberty was “the proper end and object of authority” and that it was the role of the government to promote justice instead of the general welfare of its citizens. While he was Governor, he passed laws requiring that all children be educated and that teachers to be supported by public funds. Those that refused were, of course, punished.