Chapter 9


GOVERNOR JOHN WINTHROP sat in the magistrate’s chair in the little log meetinghouse in the New Town. That was the village which is to-day the city of Cambridge, and the little meetinghouse stood at what is now the corner of Mount Auburn and Dunster streets, just beyond Harvard Square.

The governor, seated thus, looked upon a grave and somber company grouped about him, —ministers, magistrates, and laymen, picked from the churches of the Bay colony, and met together in what was called a "synod," or council, summoned to deliberate on important matters of church and state; and, in the Massachusetts Bay colony, the church was the state.

In that solemn council were men foremost in the councils of the colony, —men who had given up home and country for loyalty to opinion and the courage of their convictions, men whose names are now a part of the splendid story of the United States.

There was John Cotton, the great Puritan preacher, short and stout, red-faced and snowy-haired, dignified in bearing, charming in manner, an advocate for toleration, but ready ever to yield to the will of the majority; there sat that stern soldier of the church, John Endicott,




large-framed, big-jawed, his harsh face and grizzled locks crowned by a black skullcap, his firm mouth thatched with a gray mustache and emphasized by a pointed beard; there, too, sat Thomas Dudley, the deputy governor, hard of heart, quick of temper, unyielding of purpose; John Norton, scholar and gentleman, wit and fanatic; Thomas Shepard, young in years, but so wise in counsel that "no man could despise his youth;" Hugh Peters, bigot and bully,—these and others, "priests, magistrates, and deputies," presided over by that tactful, noble, broad-minded lawyer, that tolerant, tender, loving man, that excellent and most shrewd politician, Governor John Winthrop, whose



portrait, with its well-known ruff and its Vandyke beard, you may see to-day in the senate chamber of the Massachusetts Statehouse, as you may see his marble statues in the chapel at Mount Auburn and in the Capitol at Washington, or his bronze statue standing with its back to the subway in Scollay Square, in Boston. A great man was Governor Winthrop; but sometimes even the great ones falter, and you shall see how, in this first Synod of Massachusetts, as it is called, Governor Winthrop "sinned against the light."

The year was 1637; the month was September,—that lovely New England month, when Cambridge looks its best. But that solemn assembly thought little of grass or tree or flower. The governor had cantered soberly across from his fair estate of Ten Hills Farm on the Mystic, in what is now Somerville, and as he rode across country to Cambridge Common, that September landscape, no doubt, was as fair and beautiful as when Whittier described it in his poem, "The King’s Missive:

"The autumn haze lay soft and still

On wood and meadow and upland farms;

On the brow of Snow Hill the great windmill

 Slowly and lazily swung its arms;

Broad in the sunshine stretched away,

With its capes and islands, the turquoise bay;

And over water and dusk of pines

Blue hills lifted their faint outlines.

"The topaz leaves of the walnut glowed,

The sumac added its crimson fleck,

And double in air and water showed

The tinted maples along the Neck;



Through frost flower clusters of pale star-mist,

And gentian fringes of amethyst,

And royal plumes of goldenrod,

The grazing cattle on Century trod."

But not of frost flower nor gentian nor goldenrod did Governor Winthrop think, that September day, as he rode to the synod at Cambridge. His thoughts were rather as to how he might square his own sense of justice with the stern and harshly drawn lines of his fellow-magistrates, who, yielding to the narrow teaching of the ministers, had declared to those who did not agree with them on points of doctrine that "New England was no place for such as they." He, too, changing from kindheartedness to harshness, because he determined to side with the majority, had said to Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, as he banished her from the colony: "Your cause is not to be suffered. . . . We see not that any should have authority to set up any other exercises besides what authority hath set up here already." For Governor Winthrop, though in most things a great and noble man, was a wonderful manager of men, and knew that to manage men the politician must often give up his own desires and go over to the side of the majority; land in the Bay colony, the ministers, with their hard and narrow opinions, were the leaders of the majority.

Roger Williams had come with a mission and message, and had been driven away; young Sir Harry Vane had come with a desire for wider liberty, and had been forced out of the field; Anne Hutchinson had come as the apostle of free speech, and had been banished. Each one in turn had been the bearer of a light that,



properly trimmed and managed, might have shown the whole land the way to liberty long before the day that finally came. Governor Winthrop was a friend to Williams and to Vane; he could even see a good side to Mrs. Anne Hutchinson’s bold teachings. He was the foremost man in the colony,—leader, guide, and governor, —and had he but accepted and used the light that shed the first glow of liberty on the land, he might have been the greatest man of colonial America. As it was, for policy’s sake, and for the sake of peace and of place, he bent to the demands of the ministers, drove out those who differed, and said to them: Ego! The world is wide; there is no place for you among us."

This synod of September, 1637, was convened especially to root up and stamp out heresy, and in those days heresy meant whatever the Puritans of the Bay colony did not believe.

The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay colony came across the sea to establish a religious community of their own kind. Their charter permitted them to rid themselves of all obnoxious or objectionable persons who were hostile to the peace of the colony. A heretic —that is, one who believes as I do not—was esteemed by the fathers of Massachusetts both objectionable and obnoxious, and therefore to be got rid of.

So the synod gathered at Cambridge in 1637 to consider and to take steps to choke out the heresies that had somehow crept into the community, and which, as they declared, threatened the commonweal.

They sat in session for twenty days in that fair September weather, and they found "eighty-two opinions,


some blasphemous, others erroneous, and all unsafe," so their report declared, —a pretty big list of "heresies" for a carefully guarded colony of small proportions and of but seven years’ growth.

But some of those considered the chief of heretics were such persons as Roger Williams, Sir Harry Vane, John Wheelwright, and Anne Hutchinson, and these bold, brilliant leaders had drawn to themselves some of the very best and brainiest people in the colony. It was high time, the rulers said, that the ministers and teachers took a firm stand, or these "heresies" might divide the fold and endanger the church.

The synod, with scarcely a dissenting voice or vote, declared relentless and unceasing war upon all new ideas, against all heresies in religion or action; and again, Governor Winthrop, shutting his eyes to the truth, forgetting the bold stand of Roger Williams, the utterances of Sir Harry Vane, the truthful rebukes of Anne Hutchinson, repeated his declaration: "We see not that any should have authority to set up any other exercises besides what authority hath set up here already."

This decision meant that, as the colony had decreed a certain form of religion, to that form every one must subscribe, or leave the colony. The people of Massachusetts had published as their decree the very proclamation from which they had fled across the sea, leaving their pleasant English homes. Toleration and liberty of conscience were not yet born in America.

"It is said," wrote one of those men of the synod, "that men ought to have liberty of their conscience, and



that it is persecution to debar them of it. I can rather stand amazed than reply to this. It is an astonishment I to think that the brains of men should be parboiled in such impious ignorance."

The men of Massachusetts were not yet ready for the light which the men of Massachusetts themselves in a later day set aflame, to show the way to liberty. Sir Harry Vane and Roger Williams were ahead of their time. But their time came at last, and Massachusetts was first among the peoples of the earth to lead the columns of freedom; but it took one hundred and thirty years and more to reach that glorious standpoint. In 1637 the synod of Massachusetts fettered the limbs of freedom.

For that decree of banishment or death against those who differed from them was final. It was the central law by which Massachusetts was governed for over a century, —by which Baptists were harried, Quakers persecuted and martyred, and all "dissenters" silenced, until that better day when the Geneva bands of the ministers gave place to that spirit of Christ which said, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them," and brought to fulfillment in Boston and throughout the growing Bay colony that prophecy of Boston’s brave old citizen of those days of proscription, as given by Whittier:

"Upsall, gray with his length of days,

Cried from the door of his Red Lion Inn:

‘Men of Boston! give God the praise!

No more shall innocent blood call down

The bolts of wrath on your guilty town;

The freedom of worship dear to you

Is dear to all, and to all is due.



"‘I see the vision of days to come, When your beautiful City of the Bay Shall be Christian liberty’s chosen home,

And none shall his neighbors’ rights gainsay;

The varying notes of worship shall blend

And as one great prayer to God ascend;

And hands of mutual charity raise Walls of salvation and gates of praise! ‘"