The University of Wisconsin Press
History / American Studies / Autobiography / Religion
John Winthrop's World
History as a Story; The Story as History
James G. Moseley
One of the most famous American journals is that of seventeenth-century Puritan leader John Winthrop. As the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, an office he held with few interruptions for two decades, he worked to establish a society in which he thought true Christianity could flourish, beyond the reach of the unfaithful Church of England. Winthrop recorded the daily events of his life—the political infighting and religious disputes among Puritans, as well as their relations with other colonists, Indians, and England. His journal is a window into a world that, while unfamiliar, continues to influence our sense of the meaning of America.
In the first in-depth study of Winthrop since 1958, James G. Moseley provides a fascinating new look at this extraordinary man, paying careful attention to the connections between Winthrop’s political activity and his writing. Moseley first examines Winthrop as a writer, using the journal to analyze Winthrop as a man resolving challenges based as much on his acutely pragmatic intelligence as on his deeply felt religious convictions. Second, Moseley traces how historians have responded to Winthrop—how his famous journal has been read and misread by those who have filtered the man and his cultural context through many lenses.
By examining Winthrop’s ancestors and early life in England, especially the religious changes he experienced, Moseley removes the blinders of modernism, portraying Winthrop as never before. He shows how Winthrop’s successful struggle to accept the deaths of his first two wives led him away from moralistic views of Christianity, himself, and his world to more magnanimous views.
Arguing that writing was the medium through which Winthrop developed his capacity for leadership, Moseley shows how the journal enabled Winthrop to reflect objectively on his situation and to adjust his behavior. Winthrop was, Moseley suggests, not only a politician but a historian, and his interpretations of foundational events in American history in his journal are an invaluable resource for understanding the nature of leadership and the meaning of liberty in Puritan America.
Winthrop’s World is a very graceful, well-written, and engaging narrative that provides new insight into the Puritan way of life and into the man who provided a window between our world and his.
James G. Moseley is vice president and dean of the College at Transylvania University. He is also a professor of religion and author of A Cultural History of Religion in America.
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LC: 92-050255 F
200 pp. 6 x 9
Paper $17.95 s
Cloth $42.50 s
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Updated June 25, 2012© 2012, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System