As editor of the Winthrop Papers, Francis J. Bremer is well qualified to compose a new life of the man who spent most of his nearly two decades in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in positions of leadership. Because Bremer insists that the key to understanding John Winthrop’s role as the first governor of the colony lies in the values which he absorbed over four previous decades in his native England, the author devotes nearly half of his text to this earlier phase of his subject’s life. The East Anglian Stour River valley produced many fervent Puritans like Winthrop in the later sixteenth century, but in his case an appreciation of English common law tempered his religious enthusiasm.
Only a local magistrate in his native land, Winthrop was chosen to direct the establishment of an overseas enterprise perceived to be of minor importance. But unlike a number of similar ventures in the early seventeenth century, the Massachusetts Bay Colony prospered, and it owed a large measure of its success to the judicious and temperate exercise of Winthrop’s administrative power. This twelve-year governor of the colony, later criticized as an intolerant persecutor of religious radicals like Anne Hutchinson, fell out of favor with his constituents only when they came to regard him as too lenient in his treatment of suspected heretics.
Nonspecialist readers are likely to find John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father somewhat slow-paced and factually overburdened. Bremer enlivens his account, however, by prefacing each chapter with a vignette that imaginatively evokes a significant scene, replete with vivid sensory details, from his subject’s life.
Booklist 99, nos. 19/20 (June 1, 2003): 1733.
Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 10 (May 15, 2003): 725.
Library Journal 128, no. 11 (June 15, 2003): 80.
The New York Times Book Review, September 21, 2003, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly 250, no. 20 (May 19, 2003): 62.
The Times Literary Supplement, November 14, 2003, p. 28.