John Winthrop (1606-1676), American colonial statesman and scientist, founded several New England settlements. He obtained Connecticut's favorable charter and served as its chief executive.
Oldest child of Massachusetts Bay Colony's first governor, John Winthrop was born at Groton, England, on Feb. 12, 1606. His mother died when he was nine, and his well-to-do father sent him to Bury St. Edmunds Grammar School and Trinity College, Dublin. John studied law desultorily, then served as captain's secretary in the fleet sent to relieve La Rochelle in 1627. After that expedition's failure, he embarked on a European tour.
Returning to London, Winthrop found his father determined to join the Puritan migration to America. John remained behind to sell the family estate and marry his cousin Martha Fones in 1631. Late that year the couple arrived in Boston.
For the next 14 years Winthrop roamed restlessly. In 1633 he led a party to found Ipswich, where his wife and infant daughter died. Returning to England, John visited leading Puritans and obtained the governorship for a projected colony in Connecticut. He reappeared in Boston in 1635 with men, supplies, and a second wife. An advance party erected a fort at Saybrook, Conn., but Winthrop resettled at Ipswich and soon moved the family to Salem.
When the elder Winthrop encountered financial difficulties, John aided his father. This necessitated selling some Ipswich lands; he began salt manufacturing and then journeyed again to England for capital. In 1644 Massachusetts granted him 3,000 acres to establish iron-works, and with imported workers and machinery he built furnaces at Lynn and Braintree. That year he also founded New London, Conn., for the same purpose.
After his father's death in 1649 Winthrop surrendered his Massachusetts public offices, concentrating on Connecticut. Elected governor in 1657, he made Hartford his permanent residence. After 1658 he was annually chosen chief executive the remainder of his life. King Charles II gave Winthrop a most liberal charter for Connecticut in 1662; it included New Haven within Connecticut's jurisdiction. During 1673-1675 he successfully defended the colony's claims against the Dutch and New York's governor Edmund Andros.
Winthrop was more concerned with science than theology. Noted for his library and knowledge of medicine, he pioneered in industrial chemistry and was first resident American member of the Royal Society.
As a New England Confederation commissioner, Winthrop attended a meeting in Boston, where he died on April 5, 1676. Able and charming, he was noted for his tolerance in a generally bigoted age.
The best book on Winthrop is Robert C. Black III, The Younger John Winthrop (1966), a thorough and objective treatment, although there are some admitted assumptions. Also worthwhile are Lawrence S. Mayo, The Winthrop Family in America (1948), and the penetrating analysis in Richard S. Dunn, Puritans and Yankees: The Winthrop Dynasty of New England (1962).