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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
And one from Margaret, dated 1637 and bearing a mark of sadness engendered by a religious schism which was then dividing the colony into two bitter and irreconcilable groups: Dear in my thoughts, I blush to think how much I have neglected the opportunity of presenting my love to you. Sad thoughts possess my spirits, and I cannot repulse them, which makes me unfit for anything, wondering what the Lord means by all these troubles among us. …
Again the years pass. In 1640 John was fifty-two, Margaret forty-nine, old age for that era. Past troubles subsided—recalcitrant Indians were destroyed in war; the religious schismatics were expelled—and new ones arose. In the early i64o’s, the colony was threatened by French invasion; controversy arose with the Dutch at New Netherlands; Puritan revolt broke out in England, and many Massachusetts leaders returned to fight in the war that followed, some to vote for the decapitation of Charles I. Even John thought of returning, but decided his work lay in New England. In 1645 a quarrel within Massachusetts saw John impeached but then acquitted. Children died, including all of Margaret’s stepchildren but young John. The four of her own who had grown to manhood remained, though: Stephen, who was to sit in Cromwell’s Parliament; Adam; Deane; and Samuel, who later became governor of Antigua in the West Indies. And despite tribulation in the colony, the Puritan commonwealth was, to Margaret, a sanctuary: “When I think of the troublesome times and manifold distractions …” she wrote to John, Jr., who was in England at the time, “I think we do not prize our happiness here as we have cause, that we should be in peace when so many troubles are in most places of the world. I wish we were more sensible of the calamities of others …”
In the summer of 1647, as John began his eleventh term as governor of the colony, an “epidemical sickness” broke out among the Indians and spread to the settlers. Forty died, and one of them was Margaret, who came down with the sickness on the afternoon of June 13 and was dead the next morning. The husband she had bolstered, cheered, and loved mourned her but went quietly about his work as governor—a new Indian crisis was impending. In his journal he noted only that she “left this world for a better, being about fifty-six years of age, a woman of singular virtue, prudence, modesty, and piety, and specially beloved and honored of all the country.” The following year, the loneliness unbearable, he married again, taking to wife Mistress Martha Coytemore, a widow. Less than a year later—on March 26, 1649—he too died.
Long before, as they had parted, one to travel to Massachusetts and the other to wait at Groton, John had written to Margaret of their eventual reunion: “Yet, if all these hopes should fail, blessed be our God that we are assured we shall meet one day, if not as husband and wife, yet in a better condition. Let that stay and comfort thy heart.”