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“my Beloved And Good Husband…”
Thus Margaret Winthrop to her spouse, the governor of the Bay Colony. Her letters—and John’s in reply—reveal behind the cold Puritan exterior a warm and deeply touching relationship
August 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 5
Whatever joy Margaret had in this promise was doomed to quick disappointment, however, for the loss of his position freed John for the project of planting a Puritan refuge—the “hiding place” he had written of earlier—in the New World. Not only would this entail a separation of more than a year, but eventually Margaret would have to give up Groton and sail overseas herself. John seems to have asked her if she would do this, and though the reply is missing, she undoubtedly answered in biblical terms: “Whither thou goest, I will go.” “My comfort,” he wrote her, “is that thou art willing to be my companion in what place or condition soever, in weal or woe.” John sent her pamphlets and letters describing New England, which she read and “rejoiced” in. She had no misgivings about the project, she told him, but in his letters John seemed to. “Cheer up thy heart in expectation of God’s goodness to us,” she wrote; “Let nothing dismay or discourage thee. If the Lord be with us, who can be against us?”
Events moved fast. The decision for New England made, John made contact with a group of Puritans who would sail with him. Within weeks of the loss of his court position in June of 1629, he was in conference with the emigrating group; within four months he was named governor of the company, which was to depart in the spring of 1630; within a year—after feverish months of gathering ships, settlers, supplies, and equipment—he sailed. To Margaret he wrote in good-by: And now (my sweet soul) I must once again take my last farewell of thee in old England. It goeth very near to my heart to leave thee, but I know to whom I have committed thee, even to Him who loves thee much better than any husband can.
On his last visit to Groton before sailing, he and Margaret had arranged to set aside a time each week when, if they could not write, they could think of each other. Now he reminded her: When I shall be at some leisure, I shall not avoid the remembrance of thee, nor the grief for thy absence. Thou hast thy share with me, but I hope the course we have agreed upon will be some ease to us both. Mondays and Fridays, at five of the clock at night, we shall meet in spirit, till we meet in person. …
Only the younger children remained at Groton with Margaret as she waited—pregnant again and troubled by tenants who, with the master gone and depression abroad, were recalcitrant about the rents—for word from America. John’s voyage to Massachusetts Bay would take three months, she might have figured; the return of a ship, another three. She could not expect a letter for half a year.
As she waited, thirty-nine now and no longer young, she spent her time preparing to leave Groton where she had been a bride and the east country of England where she had been a girl. Undoubtedly she met John “in spirit” each Monday and Friday. Undoubtedly, too, she read and reread the pamphlets on New England John had left her. Certainly she lacked nothing, for John had given her brother, Deane Tyndal, fifteen hundred pounds to be invested should anything happen to him. Then, finally, a letter came, bringing news welcome and unwelcome. John himself was well and happy, the New World countryside was better than they had expected, but Henry—"my son Henry, my son Henry, ah, poor childl"—had drowned. Other news came, some telling of hardships, hunger, and disease during the first winter in Massachusetts. But from John: “Be not discouraged (my dear wife) by anything thou shall hear from hence, for I see no cause to repent our coming hither.” Margaret must join him soon, he wrote, and the greater part of his letters detailed the supplies and equipment that she should bring with her: “Two or three skillets of several sizes, and a large frying pan … store of linen for use at sea, and sack to bestow among the sailors; some drinking vessels, and pewter … And for phisick you shall need no other but a pound of Doctor Wright’s Electuarium Lenitium , and his direction to use it.”
With John’s letters to encourage and guide her, Margaret hurried preparations for her own departure, urging her stepson, John, Jr., to make haste in selling Groton Manor and arranging passage. “My heart and thoughts are there already,” she wrote to him from London. “I want but means to carry my body after them.” Her brother advised her to wait awhile, but as she wrote young John, “I hope to break through that, and get his good will. … Therefore, my good son, let me intreat thee to take order for our going as soon as thou canst.” Brother Deane was won over—who could refuse Margaret?—and in the summer of 1631 she sailed on the ship Lyon . With her went John, Jr., his family, and the other children, including the daughter John had never seen and never would. The new baby, Anne, died, and was buried at sea. In November, the ship entered Massachusetts Bay, and Margaret’s arrival set off a celebration. Squire John had fallen in love with the paraphernalia of power, and now he spread them before his beloved wife. As Margaret was rowed ashore, the harbor reverberated with a “six or seven gun” salute from ships lying at anchor. On the beach the infant colony’s military might, “the captains with their companions in arms,” volleyed and paraded past. Feasting followed—”fat hogs, kid, venison, poultry, geese, partridges"—and her husband, the governor, proclaimed November 11 a day of thanksgiving—for the harvest, the prosperity of the colony, and his wife’s arrival.