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John Winthrop: Excerpts from His Journal


December, 1640

A wicked fellow, given up to bestiality fearing to be taken by the hand of justice, fled to Long Island, and there was drowned. He confessed to some that he was so given up to that abomination that he never saw any beast go before him but he lusted after it.

December 15, 1640

About this time there out a thing worthy of observation. Mr. Winthrop the younger, one of the magistrates, having many books in a chamber where there was corn of divers sorts, had among them one wherein the Greek testament, the psalms, and the common prayer were bound together. He found the common prayer eaten with mice, every leaf of it, and not any of the two other touched, nor any other of his books, though there were above a thousand.

April 3, 1641

A negro maid, servant to Mr. Stoughton of Dorchester, being well approved by divers years experience, for sound knowledge and true godliness, was received into the church and baptized.

June 21, 1641

There arose a question in court about the punishment of single fornication, because, by the law of God, the [guilty] man was only [required] to marry the maid, or pay a sum of money to her father; but the case falling out between two servants, they were whipped for the wrong offered to the master in abusing his house

September 22, 1642

The court,with advice of the elders, ordered a general fast. The occasions were, 1. The ill news we had out of England concerning the breach between the king and parliament. 2. The danger of the Indians. 3. The unseasonable weather, the rain having continued so long, viz., near a fortnight together, scarce one fair day, and much corn and hay spoiled, though indeed it proved a blessing to us, for it being with warm easterly winds, it brought the Indian corn to maturity, which otherwise would not have been ripe, and it pleased God, that so soon as the fast was agreed upon, the weather changed, and proved fair after.

Much disputation there was about liberty of removing for outward advantages, and all ways were sought for an open door to get out at; but it is to be feared many crept out at a broken wall. For such as come together into a wilderness, where are nothing but wild beasts and beastlike men, and there confederate together in civil and church estate, whereby they do, implicitly at least, bind themselves to support each other, and all of them that society, whether civil or sacred, whereof they are members. How they can break from this without free consent is hard to find, so as may satisfy a tender or good conscience in time of trial. Ask thy conscience, if thou wouldst have plucked up thy stakes,and brought thy family 3000 miles, if thou hadst expected that all, or most, would have forsaken thee there. Ask again, what liberty thou hast towards others, which thou likest not to allow others towards thyself, for if one may go, another may, and so the greater part, and so church and commonwealth may be left destitute in a wilderness, exposed to misery and reproach, and all for thy ease and pleasure, whereas these all, being now thy brethren, as near to thee as the lsraelites were to Moses, it were much safer for thee, after his example, to choose rather to suffer affliction with thy brethren, than to enlarge thy ease and pleasure by furthering the occasion of their ruin.

April 13, 1645

Mr. Hopkins, the governor of Hartford upon Connecticut, came to Boston, and brought his wife with him, (a godly young woman, and of special parts) who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason, which had been growing upon her divers years, by occasion of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband, being very loving and tender of her, was loath to grieve her; but he saw his error when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her.

June 4, 1648

At this court one Margaret Jones of Charlestown was indicted and found guilty of witchcraft and hanged for it. The evidence against her was:  1, that she was found to have such a malignant touch, as many persons (men, women, and children) whom she stroked or touched with any affection or displeasure or etc. were taken with deafness, or vomiting, or other violent pains or sickness; 2, she practising physic and her medicines being such things as (by her own confession) were harmless, [such] as aniseed, liquors, and etc., yet [they] had extraordinary violent effects; 3, she would use to tell such [persons] as would not make use of her physic that they would never be healed, and accordingly their diseases and hurts continued, with relapses against the ordinary course and beyond the apprehension of all physicians and surgeons; 4, some things which she foretold came to pass accordingly; other things she could tell of (such as secret speeches, etc.), which she had no ordinary means to come to the knowledge of; 5, she had (upon search) an apparent teat in her secret parts as fresh as if it had been newly sucked, and after it had been scanned, upon a forced search, that [teat] was withered and another began on the opposite side; 6, in the prison, in the clear daylight, there was seen in her arms, she sitting on the floor and her clothes up, etc., a little child, which ran from her into another room, and the officer following it, it was vanished. The like child was seen in two other places, to which she had relation; and one maid that saw it, fell sick upon it, and was cured by the said Margaret, who used means employed to that end. Her behaviour at her trial was very intemperate, lying notoriously, and railing upon the jury and witnesses, etc., and in the like distemper she died. The same day and hour she was executed, there was a very great tempest at Connecticut, which blew down many trees, etc.

August 15, 1648

The synod met at Cambridge.... Mr. Allen of Dedham preached out of Acts 15... It fell out, about the midst of his sermon, there came a snake into the seat, where many of the elders sat behind the preacher. It came in at the door where people stood thick upon the stairs. Divers of the elders shifted from it, but Mr. Thomson, one of the elders of Braintree (a man of much faith), trod upon the head of it, and so held it with his foot and staff with a small pair of grains, until it was killed. This being so remarkable, and nothing falling out but by divine providence, it is out of doubt [that] the Lord discovered somewhat of his mind in it. The serpent is the devil; the synod, the represenve of the churches of Christ in New England. The devil had formerly and lately attempted their disturbance and dissolution; but their faith in the seed of the womanovercame him and crushed his head.  

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