Anya Seton's follow-up to Katherine is the story of Elizabeth Winthrop, a real historical figure who married into the family of Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and moved to the wild New World in 1631. Seton’s riveting novel portrays the fortitude, humiliation, and ultimate triumph of the Winthrop woman, who believed in a concept of happiness transcending that of her own day.
“The Winthrop Woman is that rare literary accomplishment — living history. Really good fictionalized history [like this] often gives closer reality to a period than do factual records.” – Chicago Tribune
In 1631 Elizabeth Winthrop, newly widowed with an infant daughter, set sail for the New World. Against a background of rigidity and conformity she dared to befriend Anne Hutchinson at the moment of her banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony; dared to challenge a determined army captain bent on the massacre of her friends the Siwanoy Indians; and, above all, dared to love a man as her heart and her whole being commanded. And so, as a response to this almost unmatched courage and vitality, Governor John Winthrop came to refer to this woman in the historical records of the time as his “unregenerate niece.”
Anya Seton’s riveting historical novel portrays the fortitude, humiliation, and ultimate triumph of the Winthrop woman, who believed in a concept of happiness transcending that of her own day.
“A rich and panoramic narrative full of gusto, sentimentality and compassion. It is bound to give much enjoyment and a good many thrills.” – Times Literary Supplement
“Abundant and juicy entertainment.” – New York Times
This book is built on a solid framework of fact; from these facts I have never knowingly deviated, nor changed a date or circumstance.
I have hoped that readers would be interested in following the story as it emerged for me in the original documents, and I have included excerpts from some of these documents,verbatim, except that for clarity I have occasionally modernized the spelling a bit.
I have also incorporated my characters’ own written words into the dialogue whenever possible. All these characters are real; even Peyto and Telaka (though nameless in the references) are based on fact.
My determination to present authentic history has necessitated a scrupulous adherence to the findings of research. And I felt that this woman, with her passionate loves, dangers, tragedies, and courage, lived a life sufficiently dramatic without fortuitous inventions. Mine has been a job of re-creation and interpretation, “putting the flesh on the bones.”
Elizabeth has thousands of descendants today; many of these — guided by Victorian genealogists and a biased presentation — have a vague feeling that they should be ashamed of her. A member of the Winthrop family, a hundred years ago, even went so far as to mutilate references to her in the original manuscripts. I believe that her life was significant and praiseworthy.
True, she was a rebel against the Puritan code, as exemplified by Governor John Winthrop the elder, who was her uncle, guardian, and father-in-law. She was also a woman who suffered the handicaps peculiar to her sex and her time, but she had the remarkable endurance which characterized all the first settlers — those who managed to survive.
This is one reason I have spent nearly four years in research and in writing about Elizabeth. Another reason was the attempt to vivify the founding of New England, and New Netherland days, in terms of a particular family — the Winthrops — and of Elizabeth, whose own history is commingled with national affairs. And I particularly wished to allot a proper proportion to the English background.
Almost a third of this book is given to Elizabeth’s English life. It has startled me that our early emigrant ancestors are so often treated as though they arrived full-blown from a mysterious “across the sea,” and suddenly turned into “Yankees.” Lack of research and documentation explains this blank in many cases. I have been fortunate in tracing the English part of this story, since we have old Adam Winthrop’s Diary to consult, John Winthrop’s “Experiencia” and innumerable family letters; also I made two special and rewarding journeys across the ocean to see for myself. Groton Manor no longer exists as a building, but the topography is unchanged, even the mulberry tree still grows!
Here, among credit due to so many English friends, I wish particularly to thank the Reverend A. Brian Bird, the present vicar of Edwardstone and Groton in Suffolk. He has made intensive study of the seventeenth century Winthrop family — most of whom were born, and some of whom are buried, in his parish. During the course of my visits Mr. Bird and I became friends and he has been tirelessly helpful and enthusiastic about my project.
I also wish to thank present members of the English Winthrop line; and the Reverend G. H. Salter, Rector of St. Sepulchre’s Church in London.
The English journeys enabled me to unravel many puzzling discrepancies, and uncover some bits of new data, such as where the Lyon sailed from in 1631, and other facts which I incorporated — though their details here would interest only genealogists.
William Hallet’s association with the Earl of Bristol is not yet proven. It rests on Dorsetshire legend, but there is enough evidence to confirm the probability.
When we reach Massachusetts in the story, there is Governor Winthrop’s Journal The History of New England as one guide, and I have preferred James Savage’s edition of 1853, since it is not expurgated like the Hosmer edition of 1908, and is enriched by the most lavish and provocative notes.
Like every researcher into early New England families I also owe an enormous debt to the indefatigable Mr. Savage for his Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England(Boston 1860).
There is Lawrence Shaw Mayo’s valuable The Winthrop Family in America (Boston, 1948). Also Robert C. Winthrop’s Life and Letters of John Winthrop (1864) which is charming, but naturally very partisan, and incomplete, since many manuscripts were found later.
The prime — the superlative — source for all this book is of course The Winthrop Papers published by the Massachusetts Historical Society, five volumes of them, dating from 1498 to 1649. And these I am fortunate enough to own, for I constantly needed to check with the sources. Much of the story is in the published Winthrop Papers for the delving, but does not, as yet, go far enough. So I have spent many an exciting hour in the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, deciphering as best I could the original, and so far unpublished, manuscripts and having many of them photostated. Some of my character interpretations are based on my examination of these people’s handwritings. As one instance among many, little Martha Fones’s childish scrawl as she tried to write to “Jack” Winthrop in their rather pathetic cipher, indicates, I think, Martha’s temperament.
My devoted thanks to the entire staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society for their kindly patience with me on many occasions.
Several Boston friends have helped with the Boston, Watertown, and Ipswich sections of the book, and my particular gratitude goes to Mr. Kenneth Murdock and Mrs. Lovell Thompson.
Professor George E. McCracken of Drake University, Iowa, has helped greatly in disentangling the Feake family, both in person and by his articles on the Feakes in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.
The Connecticut section is thoroughly documented, by Indian deeds of sale, by Dutch journals (contained in the Narratives of New Netherland edited by Dr. J. Franklin Jameson), by English translations in the exhaustive Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, ed. by E. B. O’Callaghan (Albany, 1856); by the late Hendrik van Loon’s private translation from the Dutch of one all-important paper relating to Elizabeth’s troubled matrimonial affairs.
For the latter, and for permission to make use of her own extensive research on Elizabeth, especially in the Connecticut portion of her life, my fervent thanks are due to Mrs. Lydia Holland of Old Greenwich, to whom indeed I owe my first knowledge of Elizabeth nearly ten years ago, long before I thought of writing about her.
The Huntington History of Stamford and the two Mead Histories of Greenwich were useful (though not always accurate) for this section, and so has been my access to private papers, since Greenwich is my own home town, and I live on what was once Elizabeth’s land. I wish to say here that the virtually unknown “Strickland Plains” massacre of the Siwanoy Indians by white men at what is now Cos Cob, Connecticut, seems to have been as shameful and devastating as any massa...
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