Margaret Winthrop: Her Husband is Known in the Gates
A ship lay at anchor off the Isle of Wight. On board the ship was a governor, the governor of a colony to which he had never been, in a land which he had never seen. He and his children would soon embark upon the dangerous journey across the ocean. They were leaving their home, their friends, their comfortable income in England, and coming to the unknown wilderness of the New World. As the family waited for the ship’s departure, the father’s thoughts often dwelled on the one family member left behind. His wife was near to the time of delivery of her baby, and could not bear the arduous journey yet. She would join him in the New World when she could, but there was always the chance that the husband and wife might never meet again on earth. Many dangers awaited them both. In this hour of trial, they agreed that on Mondays and Fridays, from 5:00 to 6:00 PM, they would spend time in prayer for one another – uniting in spirit until, with God’s blessing, they met once again in the new colony.
It had been a time of testing for both of them, and for the wife in particular. John Winthrop, a man of Godly character and highly respected, had heard good reports of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and gained an interest in taking his family there, where both church and government sought to be under God’s law. He knew the hard sacrifices his family would have to make for such an endeavor. Until now, he and his wife, Margaret Winthrop, had lived a Godly and quiet life. Their home was comfortable and peaceful, their children were happy, and they sought in every way to make Christ the center of their home. Why disturb such a happy home life, exposing it to the dangers of two ocean voyages and the perils of living in a vast, unsettled country full of wild animals and unfriendly Indians? So Mrs. Winthrop could have reasoned. However, she listened to his considerations for going. With calm assurance that her husband was following God’s leading, she agreed to join him in the undertaking, though she would not be able to go at the same time as her husband.
John Winthrop had been very busy in getting ready for the voyage. He had been appointed governor of the new colony. He was often gone from home, but he did not fail to write letters of comfort and encouragement to his wife. He wanted to prepare her for the separation. She, in turn, wrote letters full of love and of gratefulness for his counsel. She prayed for him often, as she wrote to him, “My request now shall be to the Lord to prosper thee in thy voyage, and enable thee and fit thee for it, and give all graces and gifts for such employments as he shall call thee to.” If Winthrop’s letters were a comfort to her, her letters were a great support and encouragement to him in his labors.
The Lord did prosper Winthrop in his journey, and he and his children, on board the Arbella, arrived safely in Massachusetts in June of 1630. There they met with great difficulties. Disease and lack of provision had greatly weakened the colonists. Discouraging as it was, Winthrop’s trust in God remained firm. In letters to Mrs. Winthrop, he encouraged her also to trust. She took his advice, and in spite of the initial gloomy reports was set on going to America. Her attitude was a great contrast to that of the wife of John Wilson, a minister in Boston. Wilson had also gone ahead to America before his wife. When he made the long journey back to England to try to encourage Mrs. Wilson to join him, she was very unyielding, whether from fear or simply unwilling to go. What a discouragement it must have been to Mr. Wilson, while John Winthrop was cheered by the support and enthusiasm of his wife.
Finally, the long-awaited day came when Mrs. Winthrop set sail for America, accompanied by the oldest son, John, whom Winthrop had left in England as an escort for Mrs. Winthrop. They were joined by several other families who had also determined to go to America. The voyage was safe and successful, except for the death of the little daughter, Anne, who had been born about the time of John Winthrop’s voyage the year before.
With great honor and joy was Mrs. Winthrop welcomed in Boston. An abundant feast was spread and a day of thanksgiving for her safe arrival was declared. Mrs. Winthrop was surprised but grateful, although of course, her greatest delight was in being reunited with her husband once more, as they had fondly hoped and faithfully prayed during the long year and half of separation.
John Winthrop was at the head of this little colony, and so Mrs. Winthrop’s position was also high. Even so, she made most of her usefulness within the private sphere of her own home life. She busied herself with her home, family, and the needy people around her. Her prayers for her husband were abundantly answered. God had given him wisdom, moderation, eloquence, a deep interest in the new colony, and most of all, deep piety and unquestionable character. It made Mrs. Winthrop rejoice to see her husband become “known in the gates.” She supported and encouraged him. When envious men tried to destroy his reputation, Winthrop was undisturbed, knowing the one closest to him would always be true and faithful to him.
Mrs. Winthrop was grieved when Anne Hutchinson caused unrest and division among the colony by thinking herself more spiritual than even the ministers. Not desiring to take part in the public debates and confusion, she kept her proper sphere, and prayed in her own closet that the Lord’s will would be done and that he would bring righteousness to light. While Winthrop openly fought for the truth, Mrs. Winthrop quietly prayed.
For sixteen years Mrs. Winthrop lived in Boston, serving as a loving companion to her husband, a faithful mother to her children, and a genuine friend and helping hand to those within the colony. She died from an epidemic that swept through the country. Winthrop’s tribute to her is sincere and touching. He calls her “a woman of singular virtue, prudence, modesty, and piety, and especially beloved and honored of all the country.” For such a learned and prominent man as Winthrop was, what a truly special lady Mrs. Winthrop must have been. The character qualities that Winthrop so valued in his wife are ones that every Christian woman should emulate: virtue, prudence, modesty, and Godliness.
Memorable Women of Puritan Times by James Anderson