John Winthrop Jr. here and gone

John Winthrop the younger was the son of Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop, and led the settlement of Agawam in 1633 (renamed Ipswich in 1634), accompanied by 11 men. During that first year they erected crude shelters and the next year brought their families to join them in the wilderness.

The native population of Agawam had been decimated by a plague, and the relationship between the settlers and the natives was mutually beneficial at the beginning. Sagamore Masconomet signed over to Winthrop all that land between Labor in Vain Creek and Chebacco Creek for the sum of twenty pounds, with a promise of protection from their enemies, the Abernaki Indians.

The meticulous list of John Winthrop’s home inventory has been preserved, and suggests that it was a small four room structure. Winthrop was married to his cousin Martha Fones, who died with an infant in the summer of 1634, the first of the settlers to be buried. (Read more about Martha Winthrop at the end of this story). After her death, Winthrop sailed to England and when he returned, he had married Elizabeth Reade.

In 1636 Winthrop accepted a commission to begin a plantation in Saybrook Connecticut. More than fifty prominent Ipswich citizens set their names to a letter addressed to Winthrop’s father, the governor, appealing that their leader, John Winthrop Jr. be retained. A generous vote of Jan. 13, 1637 granted to Mr. John Winthrop “Castle Hill and all the meadow and marsh lying within the creeke provided he lives in the Towne.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Winthrop moved in 1639 to Connecticut and sold Samuel Symonds the Castle Hill grant and his land at “Argilla Farm.” When Mr. Symonds bought it there were no buildings and his first care was to erect a house for himself. Symonds became Deputy Governor of the Colony, and in 1660 conveyed the land to his son-in-law Daniel Epes. Source: Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Thomas Franklin Waters.

“John Winthrop Jr. house”, Groton CT

In 1657 John Winthrop the younger was elected Governor of Connecticut Colony. He died in 1676. The photo on the right is a house built in Groton CT in 1708, sometimes erroneously called the John Winthrop house because it was built on the site of Winthrop’s house, which had burned. The house in this picture is believed to have been demolished in the late 1930’s.

The grave of Martha Winthrop?

In 1970, a contractor was excavating the driveway at 61 High Street, in Ipswich which extended to the rear corner of the house. In a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals, former owner Rupert Kilgour stated that the machine hit bricks and the corner of a sarcophagus. A mason who looked at the material at the time said the bricks looked like ballast from the early 1600s, possibly from England (bricks were used as weight on ships at the time). Kilgour wrote that he opened the grave and observed the remains of a woman and child, set east to west unlike other graves in the cemetery, which are set north to south. It was his belief that the remains were Mrs. John Winthrop and her small child. Kilgour wrote in his letter that he had called the cemetery superintendent when the machine hit the grave. He was told to “repair the top and recover the grave,” which he did.

Kilgour submitted this information when the current owner of the property applied in the year 2000 for a variance to construct an addition to the house near the supposed grave site. The Historical Commission investigated the claim but it is unknown if it came to a conclusion. The addition to the house was approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the grave was not found during that excavation. Read the article from the Chronicle, written in 2000.

Sources and further reading: A Sketch of the Life of John Winthrop the Younger, A presentation by Thomas Franklin Waters to the Ipswich Historical Society, 1900

Categories: History, People

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