Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Margaret Tyndal Winthrop (c.1591–1647)

Margaret Tyndal Winthrop (1591-1647)Edit

Margaret Tyndal Winthrop (1591-1647) was one of the founding members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and a seventeenth-century Puritan who gained prominence for her enduring love-letters between herself and her husband, John Winthrop.

BiographyEdit

Born Margaret Tyndal in Great Maplestead, Essex County, to Sir John Tyndal and Lady Anne Egerton Tyndal. She became John Winthrop’s third wife in 1618. Her exact year of birth is not known, but is estimated based on her husband's presumption that she was 56 when she died.[1] Little is known about her early life, or indeed her physical description, except through her husband's writing: John described her as “a very gracious woman” of “sweet face” and “lovely countenance” surrounded by “sweet and smiling” children.[2]

Sources note that Margaret's father was murdered in 1617. John Winthrop visited the Tyndal home to pay his respects to the family, where he and Margaret may have first met.[2] After her marriage, Margaret moved to Groton Manor in Suffolk County. Her new husband John Winthrop was an attorney from a family of wealthy merchant standing, and he was an advocate for creating a Puritan colony in New England. He led the first wave of colonists to New England and became the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Margaret and John had eight children together, of which only four survived past childhood: Stephen, Adam, Deane and Samuel.[1]

John sailed to New England in 1630; Margaret joined him in 1631. John was elected governor of the Massachusetts colony of Boston twelve times in total, making Margaret its First Lady. In 1647, a sickness broke out in the Boston colony, reportedly among the Native American population, but it quickly spread to the settlers. Margaret was among the forty settlers who died; she came down sick on June 13, and died the next morning.[2]

WorksEdit

Both Margaret and John shared Puritanical attitudes to hard work and intense religious devotion, and upheld these values in both their work and writing. While John worked as a London attorney and Margaret managed Groton Manor, they were often separated, and began writing to each other during this time.[3] When John sought to sail to New England with the first wave of colonists in March 1630, Margaret was pregnant and remained behind to give birth to their daughter Anne and settle the family estate; they were separated for two years before Margaret could join him in November 1631. Margaret and John's frequent correspondence focused on religion and their love of God above any other kind of love, including marital love.

Throughout their letters to each other there is an emphasis on family and sadness at the death of their children. During John's trip to New England, one of their children Henry had attempted to retrieve a canoe and drowned. “Winthrop poured all of this emotion into the letters he wrote home. In the letters, he revealed his sadness, his hope for the new colony, and his desire to see Margaret again.”[4] The daughter Margaret had remained in England to give birth to, Anne, died during Margaret and Anne's own voyage to the New World.[1]

The bulk of their surviving correspondence was from the time when Margaret had not yet joined John in the colony, with Margaret’s letters being very rarely dated. The letters appeared in published form for the first time in 1825, when twenty-seven of them were in the appendix of Governor Winthrop’s Journal, then later in their entirety in the Honourable Robert C. Winthrop’s Life and Letters of John Winthrop.

Margaret's own letters from the time of her courtship and early marriage, through to the colonies, tend to contain mundane domestic details such as errands, sicknesses, and family greetings. But "above all, these are love letters"[2], containing such personal adorations as follows:

  • "My good husband, your love to me doth daily give me cause of comfort, and doth much increase my love to you, for love liveth by love."
  • "I were worse than a brute beast if I should not love and be faithful to thee who hath deserved so well at my hands."
  • "What can be more pleasing to a wife, than to hear of the welfare of her best beloved, and how he is pleased with her poor endeavors. I blush to hear myself commended, knowing my own wants; but it is your love that conceives the best and makes all things seem better than they are."
  • "I wish that I may be always pleasing to thee, and that those comforts we have in each other may be daily increased as far as they be pleasing to God. I will use that speech to thee that Abigail did to David: I will be a servant to wash the feet of my Lord; I will do any service wherein I may please my good husband."

As Margaret and John had little reason to travel outside Boston, they lived more closely together during this period than any other in their married life, and so letters were often unnecessary. Margaret wrote to her husband only rarely, but more often to her surviving children or step-children.

Reputation/LegacyEdit

Margaret Tyndal Winthrop was the first lady of the colony for sixteen years and was integral to the foundation of the Massachusetts Colony[5]. She was also rumoured to have been friends with Anne Bradstreet, the North American poet, as Bradstreet was also part of the Winthrop fleet of Puritan emigrants, and the two families shared well-water.

Her legacy as a good and Godly woman is made plain in the inscription to the published collection of the letters, where it is written of her:

This volume is inscribed,

In memory of the name she is privileged to bear, which will ever be

associated with all that constitutes the grace of

CHRISTIAN WOMANHOOD [6]


In his introduction to the same collection of the Winthrop’s love letters published in 1893, editor Joseph Hopkins Twichell refers to the letters as "simply a correspondence of domesticity and affection in the atmosphere of religion of the Puritan age."[7]

Although the Winthrop’s surviving children went on to have purposeful and fulfilling lives, Margaret was deeply affected in her lifetime by the death of her four children. She herself died aged fifty-six in Boston in 1647.

ReferencesEdit

Earle, Alice Morse. Margaret Winthrop, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895.

Encyclopedia.com. "Winthrop, Margaret (C. 1591 - 1647)." https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/winthrop-margaret-c-1591-1647

Pell, Ed. John Winthrop: Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Capstone Press, 2004.

Rutman, Darrett B. "My Beloved and Good Husband..." American Heritage, vol 13., no. 5, 1962. https://www.americanheritage.com/my-beloved-and-good-husband Accessed 1 June 2021.

Winthrop, John. Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638, edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell, Cambridge University Press, 1894.

  1. a b c Encyclopedia.com, "Winthrop, Margaret (C. 1591 - 1647), https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/winthrop-margaret-c-1591-1647
  2. a b c d Rutman, Darrett B. "My Beloved and Good Husband..." American Heritage, vol. 13, no. 5, 1962, https://www.americanheritage.com/my-beloved-and-good-husband Accessed 1 June 2021.
  3. Earle, Alice Morse. Margaret Winthrop, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895. pp. 38.
  4. Pell, Ed. John Winthrop: Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Capstone Press, 2004. pp. 7.
  5. Winthrop, John. Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638, edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell, Cambridge University Press, 1894. pp. x.
  6. Winthrop, John. Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638, edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell, Cambridge University Press, 1894. pp. i.
  7. Winthrop, John. Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638, edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell, Cambridge University Press, 1894. pp. ix.

Further readingEdit

Bremer, Francis. John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father, Oxford University Press, 2003.

Winthrop, Robert C. Life and Letters of John Winthrop, Ticknor and Fields, 1867.