For 350 years Governor John Winthrop's journal has been recognized as the central source for the history of Massachusetts in the 1630s and 1640s. Winthrop reported events--especially religious and political events--more fully and more candidly than any other contemporary observer.
The governor's journal has been edited and published three times since 1790, but these editions are long outmoded. Richard Dunn and Laetitia Yeandle have now prepared a long-awaited scholarly edition, complete with introduction, notes, and appendices. This full-scale, unabridged edition uses the manuscript volumes of the first and third notebooks (both carefully preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society), retaining their spelling and punctuation, and James Savage's transcription of the middle notebook (accidentally destroyed in 1825).
Winthrop's narrative began as a journal and evolved into a history. As a dedicated Puritan convert, Winthrop decided to emigrate to America in 1630 with members of the Massachusetts Bay Company, who had chosen him as their governor. Just before sailing, he began a day-to-day account of his voyage. He continued his journal when he reached Massachusetts, at first making brief and irregular entries, followed by more frequent writing sessions and contemporaneous reporting, and finally, from 1643 onward, engaging in only irregular writing sessions and retrospective reporting. Naturally he found little good to say about such outright adversaries as Thomas Morton, Roger Williams, and Anne Hutchinson. Yet he was also adept at thrusting barbs at most of the other prominent players: John Endecott, Henry Vane, and Richard Saltonstall, among others.
Winthrop built lasting significance into the seemingly small-scale actions of a few thousand colonists in early New England, which is why his journal will remain an important historical source.
Until the Revolution with its stellar collection of 'Founding Fathers' [John] Winthrop was the only public figure who left his mark on the way his society developed in his own time and for long after. He preserved many letters and papers to document his achievement--he was not bashful about it--and the most important by far was his journal...The new edition [of the journal] will stand as a model of editorial scholarship...[and] is worth reading simply for the sense it conveys of what it took just to stay alive in seventeenth-century Massachusetts...[Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay colonists] carried out a revolution, rendered bloodless only be the three thousand miles of ocean that separated them from the government they would otherwise have had to overthrow in order to do what they did. In Massachusetts they created what amounted to a republic, substituting annually elected rulers for an hereditary monarchy and independent self-starting churches for the whole hierarchical structure of the Church of England...John Winthrop surely was the wisest, if not the best, public man in early Massachusetts. He guided a whole society in a truly revolutionary reform...With the exception of Jefferson, the men whom Americans recognize as great seam to have pursued and accomplished radical ends by conservative means. Winthrop was the first. -- Edmund S. Morgan * New York Review of Books * Of all the literature produced in the first century of New England, no work has had a more lasting influence than the journal of John Winthrop...Richard Dunn and Laetitia Yeandle have done a superb job of deciphering Winthrop's almost indecipherable script, and taken in their entirety, their copious annotations tell a fascinating history of the first two decades of colonial life in Massachusetts. -- Roger Lundin * Books and Culture * The single most valuable document of the settlement years, an inner account of the first Puritan generation by its great leader, and a vivid testimony of faith, struggle, and achievement, John Winthrop's journal is now published in a new, scholarly edition, with the text based on a fresh transcription from the surviving manuscripts. It is a splendid edition, the product of many years of collaboration between an expert paleographer and one of the nation's leading historians. -- Bernard Bailyn [W]e should greet the release of a major early American text with enthusiasm. Richard S. Dunn and Laetitia Yeandle have published a splendid new edition of John Winthrop's 'Journal,' an account of the founding of New England written between 1630 and 1649. Such works are expressions of a shared national heritage...This edition, from Harvard University Press, is as definitive as projects of this sort are ever likely to be. -- Timothy H. Breen * New York Times Book Review *