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John and Elizabeth (Reade) Winthrop, Jr.

John Winthrop Jr.

John Winthrop Jr. was born February 12, 1505/6 at Groton, Suffolk, England. John Winthrop Jr. was the founder of 3 towns (Agawam, Ispwich and Saybrook), an industrialist, scientist, doctor, governor, diplomat, farmer, and land speculator. Religion framed his life but he did not experience his father's crusading zeal. He was energetic and public spirited, but preferred science to politics. He was all things to all men, a highly receptive person, open to new ideas, adaptable to new situations. He inspired respect and affection. For all his warmth and charm however, he could be devious, even dishonest at times.

John Jr. had a long, homely face, deep-set eyes, full mouth and the Winthrop nose, with a half-humorous, friendly look.

At age sixteen he completed local grammar school at Bury St. Edmunds and was not sent to Cambridge as his father was. Rather he was sent far away to Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied chemistry, medicine and modern languages. From 1624-1627 his time was divided between London in winter and Groton in summer. He was enrolled as a law student at Inner Temple. At this time he was looking for a wife, and his father suggested a cousin. "It is a Religious and worshipfull familye but how the woman will like you I knowe not for she is a somewhat crooked." He decided to go elsewhere.

He was involved in the war with France as a secretary to a ships captain in the Duke of Buckingham's Campaign in 1627. Next for fourteen months starting in 1628 he toured the Mediterranean on a Levant Company merchant ship, returning to London on August 13, 1629.

Now he prepared to go with his father. As it turned out he stayed behind with the women and children and came to America after his father had prepared a place. Because of his experience in the Buckingham campaign he was designated as the plantations military expert to lay out the defenses against the Indians. He also acted as an English business agent for the emigrants, traveling to Bristol in 1630 to supervise and pay for an emergency shipload of provisions.

In February 1631 he married his first cousin Martha Fones. This marriage was not a happy one as he said Martha was subject to "passions and weakness" with fits of melancholy. They left for America in 1631 landing in August of that year in Boston Harbor.

Between 1631-1645, he roamed restlessly from place to place in New England, and revisited his mother land twice. He joined the Boston church and was admitted a freeman April 30, 1631. Elected assistant in May 1632 beginning forty three years service into the magistrate of Massachusetts and Connecticut. His number as a member of the Boston church is 121 and his wife's 130.

Late in the summer of 1634 Martha and an infant died so he went back to England to find a new wife. He married eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Reade on July 6, 1635, her brother being a business acquaintance with John Jr. They returned to America aboard the Abigail, leaving London in October 1635 and arriving in Boston in July 1636. Elizabeth was born about 1617. These two were happily married for a number of years. Thirty seven in fact.

To this union seven known children were born: 1. John (Fitz-John), born March 14, 1638, died 1707 2. Waitstill, born February 17, 1642, died November 7, 1717 3. Elizabeth, baptized July 3, 1636 4. Lucy, baptized January 28, 1640 5. Margaret 6. Martha, born 1646 7. Anne 8. Mary, baptized September 15, 1644.

They returned to America in July of 1635 with a commission as Governor of the river of Connecticut for one year and instructions to build a fort near the mouth of the river.

Again he moved from place to place from 1636-1641 staking a claim at one point to Fisher's Island off Connecticut coast at the entrance to Long Island Sound.

In 1641 he launched a New England ironwork to help restore the colonist's prosperity. To help fund this in August 1641 he went to England to find investors. He stayed two years. During this time he went to the continent (Europe) for several months in the summer and fall of 1642 to study medicine. In 1642 he returned to New England to operate the ironworks.

In 1644 he applied to the Massachusetts General court for permission to start a plantation at Pequot. He seemed to settle down a bit here. He accepted his annual election as Massachusetts's magistrate until 1650, all the while shunning Connecticut elections. He was elected a magistrate in absentia in 1651 in Connecticut. In Pequot he began to farm on a large scale. He stocked pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep, and cattle on Fisher's Island and other smaller surrounding islands. He had two (later three) farms on the mainland, one stretching for three miles. He was given a stone quarry, the town ferry, the right to build dams or watermills, right to hunt fish & cut wood anywhere in the city limits, and all his land was made tax free. He was encouraged to manufacture glass. This kept him busy and put for ten years,

Next he took up residence in New Haven in 1656, drawn largely by establishing a new ironworks company. In 1657 he took the Governorship of Connecticut reluctantly saying, "I accept the place only because there may be no trouble nor interruption in the …court and government and upon this condition that I may have liberty at tymes to be absent about my necessary occasions without blame, having much businesse in other parts of the country…and to be freed from attending public affaires of this colony necessary businesse call me any other way." John moved his family up to Hartford in November. He presided for the first time over the Hartford Quarter Court on December 3, 1657. He was reelected in 1659 and stayed as Governor until his death sixteen years later.

After 1657 he was not only Governor, but physician to the people of Connecticut. By the 1660's he was seeing patients one to two times a week. He was a self-trained physician who considered medicine always a sideline and who made no reported contribution to medical progress. John's prescriptions were few and simple. He used some oldfashioned herbal recipes such as wormwood and anise and tried other vegetable potions: rhubarb, jalap, horse-radish, amber and powder of coral. His favorite drugs were minerals, especially niter and antimony.

The masterpiece of John Winthrop Jr.'s career was his attainment in 1662 of the Connecticut Charter from Charles II. He persuaded the home government to bestow upon his colony privileges and powers, which sanctioned Connecticut exceptional degrees of self government, autonomy throughout the colonial era.

John Jr. was a man of the Restoration, cosmopolitan, tolerant and worldly, charming and wily, an entrepreneur who practiced the new science and technology of the time. In the 1660's and 1670's he had a muchless belligerent attitude. By the time of Elizabeth's death (which occurred on December 1, 1672) he was an old man, broken in health. He wrote,"I have been downe in the lower roomes several tymes this last week but have not beene yet one stepp abroad, nor can abate any thing yet of my usuall clothes day or night, except by the fire side for a very small tyme."

He caught cold in late March 1676 and died April 5, 1676 in Boston, Massachusetts.

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