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My Suffolk Hero: Jeremy Pembroke chooses John Winthrop

PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:00 20 February 2013

Councillor Jeremy Pembroke has been the Leader of Suffolk County Council since 2005 and has chosen as his Suffolk Hero, John Winthrop, a pioneering American settler who hails from the very heart of the ward he represents on the authority.

Councillor Jeremy Pembroke has been the Leader of Suffolk County Council since 2005 and has chosen as his Suffolk Hero, John Winthrop, a pioneering American settler who hails from the very heart of the ward he represents on the authority.




Jeremy Pembroke first became aware of John Winthrop (1588 - 1649) when he moved to Suffolk some four decades ago and noticed a window dedicated to the pioneering settler in Groton church. Intrigued, he read up more on the man.
What struck me about him was quite simply the extraordinary nature of his life: born and bred in Groton, Suffolk; becoming a staunch Puritan in the early 17th century; and during the reign of Charles I heading to America, where he helped set up the colony of Massachusetts and became its first governor.
But it isnt just these career highlights in Winthrops life that impressed Pembroke. He has come to equally appreciate the qualities underlying them as well. So what are Winthrops virtues?
Courage, conviction and faith come quickly to mind. Growing up in Suffolk during the late Tudor and early Stuart years, he had followed his father into a career in law, before developing his Puritan beliefs. Given the strict religious climate of his age, objecting to the ways and methods of the Church of England was not something one could do lightly. Among the fellow Puritans, with whom he sailed to America in 1630, he was seen as the leader, and picked up that mantle upon arrival in America.
What is easy to forget is how tough the conditions were for those pioneers who led the way in the New World. This was a rugged wilderness. Out of the 1,000 people with whom he had travelled to Massachusetts, 200 hundred didnt survive the first winter, while another 200 gave up and returned home the following spring.
It was courage and conviction, drawn from his strong faith, which saw John Winthrop, and those that remained, through those difficult early months.
Through that difficult first year, while many died, and others simply gave up, he kept going, even when all their supplies were on the verge of running out. During this time he also had to deal with the death of his son, and the separation from his wife who give birth to a daughter back in England.
As Pembroke explains: To have the courage, the faith and the sheer will-power to keep going on a course of action, when there must have been terrific doubt all about him and all the time, is astonishing. He was a remarkable man a fact recognised by American historians today.
Winthrop was also a decent man. Pembroke speaks warmly of his care for others in the nascent settlement. With many of the investors pulling out of the scheme, John Winthrop paid for provisions out of his own pocket. In that first year, he ensured that his fellow settlers were fed, and gave more than anyone to the cause. He also demanded that the native Americans were treated with respect.
Bearing all this in mind, it is difficult not to concur wholeheartedly with Jeremy Pembroke when he concludes his account of John Winthrop emphatically. I have to say, I think thats a pretty remarkable legacy!


For more information about the Winthrop window and Groton Church: www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/groton
PAUL SIMON

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