A letter as old as Boston

John Winthrop (1980.6.2)
For the past month there has been a small and unassuming document on display in our special archival case in Representative's Hall.  Though it doesn't seem like much to examine at first, it is actually one of the most interesting items in our archival collection.  The document is a letter from a father to a son dated September 9, 1630, but what makes it notable is that the father is John Winthrop and the son is John Winthrop, Jr.  Though brief in content, this letter is important because it is one of the oldest items in our collection and includes the signature of a man remembered as a leading figure in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Winthrop served four terms as the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his son John served as governor of the Connecticut Colony from 1657-1658, and from 1659 through his death in 1676.

Letter from John Winthrop to his son (MS0190, 04/14)
In the letter, Winthrop writes to his son asking him to pay Mr. Robert Parke a debt that the elder Winthrop owed. Transcribed in full, the letter reads:

Son John

I pray pay unto ye bearer Mr. Robert Parke or his assignee ye sum of forty one shillings which I owe unto him so I rest


Below the body of text, a column to the left includes a location and date of Charlestowne in N: England, Sept. 9 1630, and to the right is the closing and signature of yr [your] loving father Jo: Winthrop.  A notation at the very bottom of the letter, written in different handwriting, indicates that the bill was paid on January 28. It is especially interesting to note that this letter is dated September 9, 1630 - only two days after John Winthrop announced the founding of the city of Boston on September 7, 1630.  Learn more about the founding of Boston by checking out The Partnership of the Historic Bostons.

John Winthrop signature (MS0190, 02/54)
Our archival collection includes one other example of John Winthrop's signature, but in this instance the original document has been cut so all that remains is the line "Taken upon Oathe the 8th of the 6: mo: 1639.  Before Jo: Winthrop Gov-" The content of this letter remains a mystery, which makes us especially glad that we have a letter in our collection that includes both Winthrop's signature and his message.

According to the Proceedings of The Bostonian Society, Winthrop's letter to his son was donated in 1980 by Mr. and Mrs. William Osgood in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Boston. William Osgood was a long-time President of the Bostonian Society, and he and his wife were both life members of the Society.  We continue to be grateful to the Osgood family for this generous donation to our collection.  When this rare and nearly 400 year old document is not on display, it is kept in a special enclosure in dark storage to preserve it for years to come. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager