Margaret Winthrop (c. 1591-1647), the 3rd wife of John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was the 4th child and 2nd daughter of Sir John and Lady Anne (Egerton) Tyndal of Great Maplestead, Esses, England. Her father was one of the masters of chancery; her mother was the daughter of Thomas Egerton of Suffolk and the widow of William Deane of Deaneshall.
Nothing is known of Margaret Tyndal’s early life and education. She was married to John Winthrop on Apr. 29, 1618, and moved to his father’s home, Groton Manor in Suffolk. She was his third wife. At the time of her marriage she was 27 years old, 4 years younger than her husband.
Adam Winthrop, father of John, was still lord of the manor, and his unmarried daughter Lucy was still a member of the household. As the new wife and mistress of the manor, Margaret Winthrop was charged with the care of her husband’s 4 children by his 2 former marriages, ranging in age from 12 to 3. Within 3 years she had 2 children of her own, Stephen and Adam.
During many months of the 12 years before 1630, when John Winthrop sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, his position as attorney at the Court of Wards and Liveries kept him at his chambers in London. His visits to Groton Manor were brief and infrequent, especially after plans for emigration were under way.
It was during this long period of enforced separation that the letters between them were written. Both husband and wife put their love to God first, love of husband and wife second. In Margaret Winthrop’s words “ I have many reasons to make me love thee, whereof I will name two, first because thou lovest God, and secondly because that thou lovest me.” Religious feeling exalted their mutual love and dignified it.
After her husband had left England, Margaret Winthrop remained at Groton for more than a year, until he could make suitable preparation for her coming. Only a few brief notes are preserved from this period. She arrived in Boston Nov. 4, 1631, in the ship Lyon, which brought a cargo of much-needed supplies for the winter. Her baby daughter, Anne, had died on the voyage.
“The like joy and manifestations of love had never been seen in New England,” John Winthrop wrote in his Journal. One week later, on Nov. 11, “We kept a day of thanksgiving at Boston.”
Margaret Winthrop had 16 years of pioneer experience as the 1st lade of the colony during her husband’s long service as governor and assistant. She revealed some of her feelings in her letters from the new colony. In a letter, dated “Sad Boston, 1637,” while the ANNE HUTCHINSON disturbance was at its height, she confessed to being “unfit for any thinge, wonderinge what the Lord meanes by all these troubles among us.” She found in herself a “fierce spirit, unwilling to submit to the will of God,” and yet in the next sentence could say, "God’s will be done." She did not know how to say otherwise.
She died after one day’s illness in midsummer 1647, apparently of influenza. In her husband’s words, she “left this world for better, being about fifty-six years of age: a woman of singular virtue, prudence, modesty and piety, and especially beloved and honoured of all the country.” There is no portrait of that “lovely countenance” that he had so “much delighted in and beheld with so great contente.” Four of her 8 children survived her, Stephen, Adam, Deane, and Samuel.
A love letter from John Winthrop to his 3rd wife Margaret in 1618
To my best beloved Mistress Margaret Tyndall at Great Maplested, Essex.
Grace mercie & peace, &c:
My onely beloved Spouse, my most sweet freind, & faithfull companion of my pilgrimage, the happye & hopefull supplie (next Christ Jesus) of my greatest losses, I wishe thee a most plentifull increase of all true comfort in the love of Christ, with a large & prosperous addition of whatsoever happynesse the sweet estate of holy wedlocke, in the kindest societye of a lovinge husbande, may afford thee. Beinge filled with the joye of thy love, & wantinge opportunitye of more familiar comunion with thee, wch my heart fervently desires, I am constrained to ease the burthen of my minde by this poore helpe of my scriblinge penne, beinge sufficiently assured that, although my presence is that which thou desirest, yet in the want thereof, these lines shall not be unfruitfull of comfort unto thee. And now, my sweet Love, lett me a whyle solace my selfe in the remembrance of our love, of which this springe tyme of or acquaintance can putt forthe as yet no more but the leaves & blossomes, whilest the fruit lyes wrapped up in the tender budde of hope; a little more patience will disclose this good fruit, & bringe it to some maturitye: let it be our care & labour to preserve these hopefull budds from the beasts of the fielde, & from frosts & other injuryes of the ayre, least our fruit fall off ere it be ripe, or lose aught in the beautye & pleasantnesse of it: Lett us pluck up suche nettles & thornes as would defraud of plants of their due nourishment; let us pruine off superfluous branches; let us not sticke at some labour in wateringe & manuringe them : — the plentye & goodnesse of fruit shall recompense us abundantly: Our trees are planted in a fruitfull soyle; the grounde, & patterne of our love, is no other but that betweene Christe & his deare spouse, of whom she speakes as she finds him, My welbeloved is mine & I am his: Love was their banquetting house, love was their wine, love was their ensigne; love was his invitinges, love was her fayntinges; love was his apples, love was her comforts; love was his embracinges, love was her refreshinge: love made him see her, love made her seeke him: love made him wedde her, love made her followe him: love made him her saviour, love makes her his servant. Love bredd or fellowshippe, let love continue it, & love shall increase it untill deathe dissolve it. The prime fruit of the Spirit is love; truethe of Spirit true love: abounde with the spirit, & abounde with love: continue in the spirit & continue in love: Christ in his love so fill our hearts with holy hunger & true appetite, to eate & drinke with him & of him in this his sweet Love feast [referring to the sacrament of the Holy Communion, which it was then the custom to administer to the bride and bridegroom at their marriage], which we are now preparinge unto, that when our love feast shall come, Christ Jesus himselfe may come in unto us, & suppe with us, & we with him: so shall we be merrye indeed. (O my sweet Spouse) can we esteeme eache others love, as worthy the recompence of our best mutuall affections, & can we not discerne so muche of Christs exceedinge & undeserved love, as may cheerfully allure us to love him above all? He loved us & gave himselfe for us; & to helpe the weaknesse of the eyes & hande & mouthe of or faithe, which must seeke him in heaven where he is, he offers himselfe to the eyes, hands & mouthe of our bodye, heere on earthe where he once was. The Lord increase our faithe.
Nowe my deare heart let me parlye a little with thee about trifles, for when I am present with thee my speeche is prejudiced by thy presence, which drawes my minde from it selfe: I suppose nowe, upon thy unkle's cominge, there wilbe advisinge & counsellinge of all hands; & amongst many I knowe there wilbe some, that wilbe provokinge thee, in these indifferent things, as matter of apparell, fashions & other circumstances, rather to give contente to their vaine minds savouringe too muche of the fleshe &c, than to be guided by the rule of Gods worde, which must be the light & the Rule; for allthoughe I doe easyly grant that the Kingdome of heaven is not meat & drinke, apparell &c, but Righteousnesse, peace &c: it beinge forbidden to fashion ourselves like unto this world, & to avoyde not only evill but all appearance of it must be avoyded, & allso whatsoever may breed offence to the weake (for which I praye thee reade for thy direction the [epistle] to the Rom:) & for that Christians are rather to seeke to edifie than to please, I hold it a rule of Christian wisdome in all these things to followe the soberest examples: I confesse that there be some ornaments which for Virgins & Knights daughters, &c, may be comly & tollerable, which yet in so great a change as thine is, may well admitt a change also: I will medle with no particulars, neither doe I thinke it shalbe needfull; thine owne wisdome & godlinesse shall teache thee sufficiently what to doe in suche things: & the good assurance which I have of thy unfained love towards me, makes me perswaded that thou wilt have care of my contentment, seeing it must be a cheife staye to thy comfort: & withall the great & sincere desire which I have that there might be no discouragement to daunt the edge of my affections, whyle they are truly labouring to settle & repose themselves in thee, makes me thus watchfull & jealous of the least occasion that Satan might stirre up to or discomfort. He that is faithfull in the least wilbe faithfull in the greatest, but I am too fearfull I doe thee wronge, I knowe thou wilt not grieve me for trifles.
Let me intreat thee (my sweet Love) to take all in good parte, for it is all of my love to thee, & in my love I shall requite thee: I acknowledge, indeed, thou maist justly say to me as Christ to the Pharisies, Hypocrite, first cast out the beame that is in thine owne eye &c, for whatsoever I may be in thy opinion, yet mine owne guiltie heart tells me of farre greater things to be reformed in my selfe, & yet I feare there is muche more than in mine owne partiall judgment I can discerne; iust cause I have to complaine of my pride, unbeleefe, hardnesse of heart & impenitencie, vanitye of minde, unrulinesse of my affections, stubbornesse of my will, ingratitude, & unfaithfullnesse in the Covenant of my God, &c. therefore (by Gods assistance) I will endeavour that in myselfe, which I will allso desire in thee. Let us search & trye or hearts & turne to the Lord: for this is our safetye, not our owne innocencye, but his mercie: If when we were enemies he loved us to reconciliation; much more, beinge reconciled will he save us from destruction.
Lastly for my farewell (for thou seest my lothenesse to parte with thee makes me to be teadious) take courage unto thee, & cheare up thy heart in the Lorde, for thou knowest that Christ thy best husbande can never faile thee: he never dies, so as there can be no greife at partinge; he never changes, so as once beloved & ever the same: his abilitye is ever infinite, so as the dowrye & inheritance of his sonnes & daughters can never be diminished. As for me a poore worme, dust & ashes, a man full of infirmityes, subiect to all sinnes, changes & chances, wch befall the sonnes of men, how should I promise thee any thinge of my selfe, or if I should, what credence couldst thou give thereto, seeinge God only is true & every man a lyar. Yet so farre as a man may presume upon some experience, I may tell thee, that my hope is, that suche comfort as thou hast allreadye conceived of my love towards thee, shall (throughe Gods blessinge) be happily continued; his grace shalbe sufficient for me, & his power shalbe made perfect in my greatest weaknesse: onely let thy godly, kinde, & sweet carriage towards me, be as fuell to the fire, to minister a constant supplie of meet matter to the confirminge & quickninge of my dull affections: This is one ende why I write so muche unto thee, that if there should be any decaye in kindnesse &c, throughe my default & slacknesse heerafter, thou mightest have some patternes of or first love by thee, to helpe the recoverye of suche diseases: yet let or trust be wholly in God, & let fis constantlye followe him by or prayers, complaininge & moaninge unto him or owne povertye, imperfections & unworthynesse, untill his fatherly affection breake forthe upon us, & he speake kindly to the hearts of his poore servant & handmayd, for the full assurance of Grace & peace through Christ Jesus, to whom I nowe leave thee (my sweet Spouse & onely beloved).
God send us a safe & comfortable meetinge on Mondaye morninge. Farewell. Remember my love & dutye to my Ladye thy good mother, with all kinde & due salutations to thy unkle E: & all thy brothers & sisters. Thy husband by promise,
Groton where I wish thee. Aprill 4. 1618.
My father & mother salute thee heartyly with my Lady & the rest.
If I had thought my lettre would have runne to halfe this lengthe I would have mayde choyce of a larger paper.
A love letter From John Winthrop to his 3rd wife Margaret in 1620
July 12. 1620.
To my veryc lovinge wife Mrs. Winthrop at Groton in Suffolk.
y TRUELY BELOVED & DEARE WIFE, —
I salute thee heartylye, giving thankes to God who bestowed thee upon me, and hath continued thee unto me, the chiefest of all comforts under the hope of Salvation, which hope cannot be valued: I pray God that these earthly blessings of mariage, healthe, friendship, etc, may increase our estimation of our better and onely ever duringe happinesse in heaven, and may quicken up our appetite thereunto accordinge to the worth thereof: O my sweet wife, let us rather hearken to the advise of our lovinge Lord who calles upon us first to seeke the kingdom of God, and tells us that one thinge is needfull, and so as without it the gaine of the whole world is nothinge: rather then to looke at the frothye wisdome of this worlde and the foolishnesse of such examples as propounde outwarde prosperitye for true felicitye.— God keepe us that we never swallowe this baite of Satan: but let us looke unto the worde of God and cleave fast unto it, and so shall we be safe.
I know you have heard before this of my coming to London: I thank God we had a prosperous journye and found all well where we came: I doubt not but thy desire wilbe now to heare of my returne, which (to deale truely with thee) I fear will not be untill the middest of next weeke: for the Parl' is putt off for a week; and I have many friends to visit in a short tyme: but my heart is allready with thee and thy little lambes, so as I will hasten home with what convenient speed I may: In the meane tyme, I will not be unmindfull of you all: but commend you dayly to the blessinge and protection of our heavenly Father.
Remember my dutye to my father and mother, my love to Mr. Sands and all the rest of my true freinds that shall ask of me, and my blessing to our Children; and so giving thee commission to conceive more of my Love then I can write, I rest
Thy faythfull husbande
This posting based on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971
Also see Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638. Edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell. Dodd, Mead and company, 1894.