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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

“A Shining City on a Hill”

John Winthrop, the 11th generation descendant of the John Winthrop who founded Boston in 1630, will be in Brandon on Saturday. That’s April 23, at 3:00 PM, and technically in Riverview. A former a dairy farm, Winthrop Village is at the corner of Bloomingdale and Providence. They were the main (dirt) roads between the communities of Bloomingdale, Providence, and Riverview back in the day – to say nothing of Lithia and Alafia and Bell Shoals and all the other little settlements that now are lumped together as Brandon.

Did you know that if Brandon and its satellites incorporated, it would be the fifth-largest city in Florida? But incorporation is a thought for another day. Or maybe never. I’ve thought about it for forty years, and I’m worn out.

Anyway, John Winthrop will dedicate Winthrop Common, a playground area in the residential/business community that is developing at Bloomingdale and Providence. Its owners are John and Kay Sullivan, and they called it Winthrop Village in part because that name represented an ideal to John’s mother. He was the seventh child in his Boston family, and they moved when he was expected because their house was too small. Later, when anything went wrong in their larger home, John’s mother would say, “We never should have left Winthrop Street.”

Long before it became a popular phrase, she understood that it takes a village to raise a child. She yearned for the old neighborhood where people watched out for each other, where she could walk to stores, and her kids could safely play on sidewalks and even streets. I grew up in that kind of place in Minnesota. My brother and I wandered all over town, and no one worried about where we were or what we were doing. From about age seven, I went to the store and got whatever Mom needed without even signing my name. The clerks knew who I was, and they simply added the charge to the monthly bill.

If we did anything wrong – as our oldest brother did when he made a game of jumping across the tracks when the train approached – we could be sure that our parents soon would hear of it. The punishment that Oldest Brother got for frightening the train’s crew served as a deterrent even years later. And when three-year-old Sister and her friend Johnny – the preacher’s boy -- went downtown, decided they were too hot, and removed their clothes, the closest businesswoman just picked up the phone and called Mom. Everyone laughed; no one even dreamed of sexual overtones.

I don’t know if an overheated child in John Winthrop’s Boston would have taken off clothing, but if so, I suspect most adults would have considered this evidence of Original Sin. Boston was a Puritan town, and its highly religious founders intended that it be “a shining city on a hill,” a beacon-like example to the rest of the world. Boston Common was key, with communal use from the beginning.

Conscious planning for community good also is the mission of Winthrop Village. Such planning makes it possible for you to walk between your child’s school or day care center and then walk to your job in an office or store or even medical clinic, and in the evening, to pick up something from Publix or walk to several good restaurants. And to see sculpture, murals, and good landscaping on the way.

That sort of daily luxury, of course, was not the mission of pioneer Boston. Its “shining city on a hill” intention was to be the light of Puritanism, of purity in life and especially in doctrine. These people had wanted to purify the Church of England, and when that didn’t happen, they fled to Massachusetts Bay for religious freedom. Soon, however, they allowed no freedom for others. Indeed, just thirty years after its 1630 founding, on June 1, 1660, Puritans hung Mary Dyer for the crime of being a Quaker. While her husband and adult sons pleaded for her life, she breathed her last on Boston Common.

“We Shall Meet in Spirit”

The first John Winthrop was dead by the time of Mary Dyer’s execution. He died in 1649, nineteen years after leading the faithful to Boston and its Beacon Hill. During that time, he served a total of twelve one-year terms as governor and was deputy governor in all other years. He also fathered numerous children, and Margaret Tyndal Winthrop, the third of his four wives, was pregnant when John sailed away in March 1630. Yes, childbirth is dangerous, and many colonial patriarchs were akin to Winthrop in that several women died in the production of their families.

Nor are women given nearly enough credit for this “left behind in Europe” syndrome. It continued for centuries, as many other immigrant couples followed the pattern of the husband coming first. Historians usually dismiss the female role and view women as somewhat akin to late baggage, but in many ways, the wife had the harder job. She sold land and livestock, closed farms and businesses, and then shepherded children halfway round the world. Sometimes she found that while she was toiling away in Europe, her husband had started another family in America.

John Winthrop was far too visible for anything like that, and Margaret Winthrop was far more upper class than most immigrant women. She bore her child and, for two years prior to joining John, managed the family estate. That was Groton Manor, which Winthrop ancestors obtained from Henry VIII – who, when the pope did not agree with his desire to divorce his wife and marry a pregnant Ann Boleyn -- broke up the Catholic Church in England and replaced it with himself as head of the Anglican Church.

Despite – or perhaps because of – their individuality, John and Margaret Winthrop were so emotionally close that they arranged a truly uncommon method of communication. They decided that on “mundayes and frydaes at 5: of the clocke at night, we shall meet in spiritt.” After my students got past the spelling, they always loved this ESP idea. I had to add that I don’t know what the Winthrops did about time zones. Five in the evening was not the same in England as in America, although I suppose they didn’t yet know that.

But I could see student minds trying to comprehend an era when there were no phones or computers or anything other than an occasional ship that might or might not deliver a handwritten letter to people who might or might not be literate. ESP might be as informative as anything else. Countless people said goodbye and never heard from their loved ones again.

“All Promiscuous and Filthy Coming Together”

That headline got your attention, didn’t it?

“Promiscuous” would be used for the next three centuries to mean any gathering (outside of church) that included both men and women – even those in which women merely were seen, not heard. When early anti-slavery societies included both women and men, for example, they were condemned as “promiscuous.” And while John Winthrop’s ESP communication offers a sweet view of him, he was not kind to all women, especially those who showed any signs of feminism.

As explained above, he wasn’t alive when his fellow theocrats hanged Mary Dyer -- but he was still alive and in power in 1638, when Massachusetts exiled Anne Hutchinson. The colony was just eight years old then; she and her large family had come from England only recently. A midwife and natural leader, she began holding religious meetings in her home. Her emphasis on inner faith over outward piety proved appealing to men as well as women, and the clergy resented her popularity.

This increased when some of her male adherents refused to attack local Indians. Boston’s official leadership, including John Winthrop, then charged Hutchinson with “all promiscuous and filthy coming together of men and women.” They put her on trial twice: she was 47 and pregnant during the second one, and so ill that she could not defend herself. Church and state were the same, and she was banished to the wilds of Rhode Island, where her supportive husband had gone to establish a new home. He soon would die, though, and she moved to Long Island – where members of the Algonquin tribe killed her and some of her fourteen children.

Lady Deborah Moody was similar. She was not forcibly banned, but left the Boston area for greater freedom in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony that became New York. Taking her tenant farmers, servants, and other householders, she experienced the same 1644 Algonquin terrorism that killed Anne Hutchinson. Lady Deborah briefly considered returning to Massachusetts – but John Winthrop warned her to stay away. Calling her a “dangerous woeman,” he added that if she did return, she must leave her opinions behinde.” So she stayed behind -- and developed Coney Island.

We can talk about this and other things if you want to join me at Winthrop Village. We’ll have some light refreshments and it’s free. It’s a good thing to do on a Saturday afternoon in April. Why not?


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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