The Winthrop Woman

The Winthrop Woman

by Anya Seton


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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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544222922
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/22/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 260,415
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.56(d)

About the Author

ANYA SETON (1904–1990) was the author of many best-selling historical romances, including KatherineAvalon, Dragonwyck, Green Darkness, Devil Water, and Foxfire. She lived in Greenwich, Connecticut.

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Author’s Note

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 massacre — on either side — in our entire American history.
   Seventeenth century spelling was a matter of individual choice, or momentary whim. “Feake” is spelled eleven different ways in the records. I have chosen to spell each name in the way its owner usually did.
   The date discrepancy is always a nuisance when dealing with periods prior to 1752, when England finally adopted the Gregorian calendar. I have followed “New Style” for the years, and contemporary dating for days, but perhaps I should remind ardent naturalists that the day dates given would be eleven days later now, and that therefore seasons were more advanced than they seem.
   The seventeenth century use of “Thee” is baffling; it seems only to have been used privately, and connotes strong emotion except in the case of parents to young children — and it was inconsistent. In Shakespeare when Petruchio speaks to Katherine he often uses both “thee” and “you” to her in the same speech. Margaret Winthrop in her sweet letters to John the elder, does the same. I have used the second person singular sparingly.
   Rivulets of ink have been expended on the subject of Elizabeth’s third marriage. It has fascinated genealogists. It is this personal and international imbroglio (and the astonishing amount of documents we have relating to it) which is responsible for Elizabeth’s disrepute. I have weighed all the pros and cons, correlated many neglected clues, followed the chronology minutely and presented what I believe to be the truth.
   I have tried to consult all source books, histories, and biographies for the period, both English and American. Also contemporary maps. I wish there was space enough to name each helpful person, but of the latter, besides those mentioned above, I do want to give special thanks to the following. To Brigadier-General John Ross Delafield of New York for his constant interest and illuminating letters to me; to Mr. Robert Winthrop of Old Westbury, Long Island, for his cordiality and the gift of The Lion and the Hare; to Colonel and Mrs. Francis Stoddard of New York for help with research; to the American Antiquarian Society at Wor cester; to Mr. Robert C. Suggs, archeologist, for permission to “dig” with him on the Indian village sites in Greenwich and for the use of invaluable material relative to the Siwanoy Indians; to Mrs. John H. Tennent at the Bowne House Historical Society in Flushing, New York.
   Some of these gracious people are Elizabeth’s own descendants, and I hope that they will be pleased by this reconstruction of her life.
   Out of the hundreds of source books I have used — and besides those specially mentioned above — I wish to acknowledge my particular indebtedness to John Winthrop the Younger,Thos. Franklin Waters; Builders of the Bay Colony, Samuel Eliot Morison; the colonial works of Perry Miller; Three Episodes of Massachusetts History. Charles Francis Adams; The Winthrop Fleet of 1630, Charles Edward Banks; Genealogies and Histories of Watertown, Henry Bond; all of Alice Morse Earle’s books on colonial customs; Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, J. Francis Dow; History of the State of New York, John Romeyn Brodhead; Dutch New York, Esther Singleton.

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The Winthrop Woman 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The novel, set against a historical backdrop filled with well known personages of the time, both English and Dutch, lovingly chronicles and explores Elizabeth's passage in life as a member of the illustrious Winthrop family, her troubled marriages, her relationship with the Siwanot Indians, and the trials and tribulations that she underwent as a compassionate, independent woman in a time when to be such was to destine oneself to become a pariah within the larger community. This is a historical novel that is epic in its telling, beautifully written, and one to be savored until the very last page is turned. I have never read a historical novel (and I've read many) that has stayed with me to the same degree. For anyone who is interested in the early days of American colonial development and who has a love of history and human courage and resiliance, this book is a gift. Elizabeth Winthrop was strong and courageous in days when women had few choices and little support. She is an inspiration and a touchstone, and reminds one that although generations pass, the human heart doesn't change that much at all. I believe Seton carefully researched this book, so the essence is historically accurate, and it provides a fascinating window into life in the 1600s in New England. As a member of the austerely Puritan Winthrop family, Elizabeth would chafe under its restrictive influences. When the family fortunes abated in England due to the religious beliefs of the family patriarch, John Winthrop, Elizabeth's uncle and father-in-law, the entire family sets off for the New World to become founding members of the Massachusetts Bay colony, a theocracy under which Elizabeth was to know much heartache. Elizabeth would have a number of personal situations that would cause her to become notorious amongst the Puritan colonists. She would be both reviled and admired for her actions, which were singular for those times. This is an absorbing, page turner of a book that takes a look at sixteenth century England during the tumultuous time that preceded the civil war that would see an act of regicide and the rise of Puritan Oliver Cromwell. It also relates the turmoil that underlay the government of the nascent Massachusetts Bay colony with all its factionalism, restrictive practices, and bigotry.   
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book the first time in the 1960's and have read it five or six more times since. It is one of my all-time favorite books. She was an incredibly courageous woman in an era when the odds were stacked against women. I learned, after the second reading, that Elizabeth Winthrop and William Hallet are ancestors. Thank goodness for the third man in her life, who, as it turns out, was the 'love of her life.' I took it off the shelf the other day and read it again.
gillette62 More than 1 year ago
I started reading it, because I am related to the main characters. I found it so exciting It was hard to put down the closer you got to the end. I loved it.
murphyKM More than 1 year ago
I enjoy historical fiction and I could not book this book down. The Winthrop family were an actual family from England who traveled to settle in "the new world". The hardships they endured gave me a new respect for our forefathers. The story is amazing!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful history of New England and includes a good story, too. I first read this book thirty years ago and the images remain with me to this day. Seton has captured early New England and also the character essence of Elizabeth. This book is a delight for all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this 500# page book in a matter of days...It was a fascinating story made all the more fascinating by the fact that it was based on a real historical colonial woman. She led an amazing life and I rooted for her all through the book!! It is a must-read!! Do not be intimidated by the amount of pages, the story will keep your attention and you will be sad to see it end!!! Loved it....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the best books Ive ever read, Most thrilling, really left you wanting more. The best part was it was historically true. If you like reading about the Colonial period this is a must.
lindymc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An historical novel about Elizabeth (Bess) Winthrop, niece and daughter-in-law of John Winthrop, the ultra strict, very Puritan governor of 17th century Massachusetts. Bess has an independent mind of her own, and follows her own dreams. Good book!!!
Misfit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an incredible story of an amazing woman. Elizabeth Fones, married into the Winthrop family, the leader of that being John Winthrop who took his family to New England to govern the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Elizabeth was a rare woman indeed, going on to being one of the few women of her times to be a large landholder, married three times and finally finding great happiness and love in the last one to Will Hallet. This book has it all -- passion, madness, bigotry, ignorant superstitions and religious persecution. The author beautifully weaves her story so that you feel you are there, from terrors of sailing the Atlantic, small pox, the sights, sounds and smells of the times, everything is perfectly melded to entertain and educate you about this period. I was also sorrowed at the eventual treatment of the Native Americans, from originally friendly terms, then to end so tragically. I found out much about a period in our nation's history that I only had the briefest of recollections from those long ago history lessons in school. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction should put this one on their list. Highly recommended.
Trinity on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book! It was easy to read, straight forward and had all the necessary elements to keep you engaged in the book. The fact that it is heavily based on fact makes it even better. I may be biased since Elizabeth Winthrop is my ancestor but this is easily one of my favorite historical fiction books.
nolak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully told and well-written and researched. The characters really come alive and the story moves, so that you are immersed in the story and it is hard to put it down to wait for the next part of the story. Elizabeth is the niece of John Winthrop, marries one son of his, but loves another. She is widowed, then divorced and married later again. This is her true story told in ficitionalized form. You feel as you are living her life. Her relationships, even with the Indians help you feel what it was like to live in this time. I highly recommend this book!
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A lovely, detailed historical fiction piece set in Puritan New England. I found myself thoroughly involved in the lives of the characters and actually cannot wait to read it again. Definitely a highly recommended must read!
srfbluemama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this novel was fantastic. It was so rich in detail and was so interesting. Elizabeth Winthrop is really a fascinating character, and the historical detail is outstanding throughout the book. Her story is a bit bittersweet, but when I finished the book I felt like I had just finished a complex and delicious 5-course meal.
mariacfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good read...but not one of my favorites by her. It was well written but I didn't feel the intense connection with the characters that I have in others...still a good read though!
grnpickle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Winthrop Woman chronicles the lives of John Winthrop, Puritan and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and his children and relatives. This is also the first Anya Seton book I've read. I found myself bogged down by the history and wishing the characters' stories would continue. I could have done without about 150 pages of history of the Dutch and Indians and the English all battling it out for control. No doubt, Bess had an interesting life and I certainly rooted for her from time to time but oftentimes wanted to give up on this book because the middle was so boring. The book has a satisfying ending and a few "stirring" moments but all in all I can't give it more than 2 was just o.k.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Seton's works appear to be well researched, so her characters, setting, themes and plot are fully developed and captivating. She gives historic events new life. However, her works are just too wordy. The impact of her tale is weakened because she seems determined to use as many words as possible rather than being more selective and spare. Redundancy is tiresome for the reader and is a common weakness in many historic novels. by aj west
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had interest because my Grandmother's family came over on the Mayflower. Great story and wonderful depiction of early American lives.
peaga More than 1 year ago
Did not think it was really going to grab me, but it REALLY did. I love history and found the true events quite a thrill. What a rough life to begin this new country.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anya Seton is a thorough researcher and a compelling writer, particularly in her ability to bring history to life. The Winthrop Woman deals with a lesser known member of the influential New England Winthrop family--a woman who bucked tradition and stereotypes and endured great hardship in the early years of the English settlement of New England. This is a long book (around 700 pages in eBook format), but it moves at a good pace, the characters are believable, and the historical facts well authenticated. If you like historical fiction that is not mere froth, this is a good book for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago