Voices from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

St. Bartholomew's Church, Groton, Suffolk
View of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Groton

One of my current projects is a new genealogy of the Winthrop family of Suffolk in England and then Massachusetts Bay in New England. I am in the process of reading through the Winthrop Papers, a six-volume collection of documents associated with the family in England and America – including many letters by family members, friends, and associates – during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Of particular interest in Volume 1 is the diary kept by AdamA Winthrop (1548–1623), the father of Governor John1 Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay.

As an important landowner in Suffolk, Adam kept extensive accounts, noting debts he owed or was owed, as well as the births, marriages, and deaths of his family and neighbors. His diary entries can be prosaic (“The xxith of Feb. I had a lambe killed with a dogge”); at other times, he takes notices of events in the wider world, writing of King James I on 27 April 1603: “As he rode backe from Burleigh … His Majestyes horse fel with him, and very dangerously bruised his arme.” (pp. 67, 152)

The portrait derived from the diary suggests a busy man of affairs, devoted to his wife and family, at the center of a network of inter-related clans – in fact, late in the volume a rather weary note explains that the relationship between Susan (Crymble) (Forth) Golding and Mary (Forth) Winthrop was at once that of a half-sister and an aunt/niece. (p. 378)

So as not to try the reader’s patience, I have translated the spelling and orthography of other entries following modern English usage:

“The [__] day of January [1595] the butcher of Wetherden Wood was cruelly murdered, viz. his head was cut off and his body divided into 4 quarters and wrapped in a sheet and laid upon his own horse, as he came from Bury Market; and so brought home to his wife, who upon the sight thereof presently died.” (p. 66)

“The 19th of April 1606 my sister Snelling [Anne (Browne) Snelling] sent me 29 young pigeons to store [in] my Dovehouse.” (p. 92)

“Memorandum that the 29 of September being Michaelmas Day [1607] Old Surrey’s wife did fall into the water at Hornersbrooke in Groton and was in danger of drowning if Podd’s wife had not stepped into the water and held her up until more help came to pull her out.” (p. 96)

“My brother Alabaster and my sister [Bridget (Winthrop) Alabaster] departed towards Ireland the eighth day of July 1595; it thundered and rained very sore that day.” (p. 139)

A letter from Adam’s second wife presents another view of the diarist: “I have received (right dear and well-beloved) from you this week a letter, though short, yet very sweet, which gave me a lively taste of those sweet and comfortable words, which always when you be present with me, are wont to flow most abundantly from your loving heart, whereby I perceive that whether you be present with me, or absent from me, you are ever one towards me, and your heart remains always with me.” (p. 29)

A final glimpse of Adam Winthrop and his growing family comes from his son John’s letter of 25 March 1623 to John2 Winthrop in Dublin: “Your mother is lately delivered of another son (his name is Deane), and is reasonably well (I praise God) with your grandmother, brothers, and sister, uncle and aunt Gostlin, etc., but your grandfather is very weak and (we fear) in his last sickness. They all salute you and rejoice in your welfare.” (p. 279)

AdamA Winthrop died at Groton 28 March 1623.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

20 thoughts on “Voices from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

  1. Are you going down several generations male and female in New England? The diaries are most interesting and do make it so real and personal. I look forward to reading your Genealogy of the Winthrop family!

    1. I am covering the family of Robert8 Winthrop, so I will be following that line from AdamC Winthrop down to the present day. In the process, I will cover the siblings of the Winthrops in that line — which I hope will be helpful!

      1. I’m Pricilla Winthrop. Married Elijah Adams. Also a Dudley in three lines but not Winthrop/Dudley. No doubt a great deal of interest to me anyway. Never know what will turn up. Reading about the Dudley family is how I found at least one of! As always several brick walls that need scaling…!

  2. Letters, diaries, journals – any thing written by the people themselves are wonderful! No matter how mundane or cryptic they seem to convey a reality to the names and dates more easily found. I look forward to your book.

  3. Just want to say, I loved the Lowell Family book! I’m Elizabeth Lowell who married Capt. Philip Nelson. Very much looking forward to your next one!

  4. I am very interested in your research. My maternal side of my family are a direct line from Ong(e) from Suffolk and the town of Lavenham. They came over in 1630 on Governor Winthrop’s ship to Massachusetts.

  5. I am descended from Governor Winthrop’s cousin Anne (Winthrop) Hoskins, who was the daughter of Adam’s brother John. At the risk of being troublesome I would appreciate you clarifying one point: In the reference from Adam’s diary quoted above you have him referring to his “sister Snelling [Anne (Browne) Snelling]….” I am hoping this was a simple mistake since my understanding is that Anne Browne was his wife’s name, and in any case it would seem odd that his sister would be referred to with a maiden name “Browne”. I assume you meant to write “[Anne (Winthrop) Snelling]”. Am I correct in this assumption or do I need to go back and revisit my sources?

    With kind regards,

    Michael Hogan

      1. Interesting, and thanks for responding. The good news, I suppose, is that I do not need to revisit the identification of Adam’s wife. As you say, either Adam’s wife’s name was something close to but not exactly Anne, or it was her sister who had a slightly different given name. I’ll stick with Anne Browne for Adam’s wife for the time being until definitive information comes along to indicate otherwise.

  6. When I spent a sabbatical year in Cambridge, I visited Groton, Suffolk. Americans and the English have long disagreed with how to pronounce the place name. The English favor Grow-ton, while Americans generally Grah-ten (rhymes with “rotten.) Interestingly enough, the Victoria County History for Suffolk speculates the original pronunciation was Graw-ton, much closer to the American version.

    1. I thought it was “Grow-ton” it is one of many ‘tomaytoes’ ‘tomahtoes’ – like English Derby is darby and American Derby is durby amongst others

  7. I connect to the Winthrop’s via Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feakes Hallock and via the Rt Rev John Still Bishop of Bath and Wells and his wife Anne Alabaster. This article has been most interesting to me.

  8. Would hope you include John Page (Winthrop Fleet) in your future plans. I connect through my father’s side, George Page of Indiana (dec. 2002)

  9. What fascinating reading! I love diaries. Even if I’m not related.
    I have a family line that went through Massachusetts Bay but I don’t recall the family names off the top of my head. I don’t suppose there is a family tree that is searchable by location is there?

  10. I have a mild (OK, maybe not so mild) obsession with Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallet as I grew up in Greenwich, CT, my Mother’s family lived next to Hallet’s Cove in Astoria, Queens for 5 generations, and I am currently living in just across the river from Groton, CT. Reading ‘The Winthrop Woman’ as a young girl led me to a degree in History. Thank you for your work on this fascinating and important family. I look forward to learning more!

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