On this day in 1588 John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, was born. People often confuse the Massachusetts Bay Puritans with the Mayflower Pilgrims -- they were very different groups. When Winthrop led his people to the new world in 1630 they arrived in force -- 700 settlers carried on a fleet of eleven ships. By contrast the Mayflower which sailed ten years earlier had carried only 100 settlers. Winthrop's voyage set off what historians call the "Great Migration" that within a decade had brought 20,000 settlers into the new colony of Massachusetts. By contrast the Plymouth Colony founded by the Mayflower group remained small throughout its existence and was eventually absorbed into Massachusetts. There were other theological differences, too, but they are too complex to sort out here.
Winthrop was a contentious figure in Massachusetts history, frequently clashing with both religious and clerical leaders. On several occasions he was voted out of office but was just as frequently returned to power. Criticism of him in recent years has focused on two moral issues. Although he was not in office when the Pequot War broke out, he was back in charge when the Mystic Massacre of 1637 that broke the power of the Pequots took place. This has commonly been portrayed as an unmitigated atrocity -- the slaughter of hundred of Pequot non-combatants -- or even in some of the wilder comments as an act of genocide. Winthrop was also in charge when the decision was made to send several of the Pequot survivors to the West Indies as slaves. In both cases, however, the critiques represent an imposition of modern sensibilities on people of the past who lived in a very different cultural environment.
Winthrop's, however, is primarily remembered for his writings. His commentaries on the early Puritan experience in Massachusetts are valuable resources for anyone studying the period and they have contributed much to our understanding of ourselves as a people. Winthrop's most famous piece was the sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" in which he wrote:
we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken... we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.This injunction has been seen as the first expression of the idea of American exceptionalism, one upon which figures such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan have drawn. There has been a tendency among some historians, especially those educated in New England, to view our national experience as that of Puritan settlers writ large. For such people Winthrop is an emblematic figure whose career encapsulates the best and worst aspects of American culture.
And a very "Happy Birthday" to Rush Hudson Limbaugh III who was born on this day in 1951. There is a Pittsburgh connection here. In 1972 Limbaugh took up residence in McKeesport and worked for local station under the name "Jeff Christie". He then moved up to KQV where he replaced Jim Quinn. When he was fired from KQV in 1974 he left the area and radio, having supposedly been told that he would never make it in the business. Fine judge of talent, those folks. Fortunately for all of us he finally decided to come back to his first love.