Reasons for the
Plantation in New England
Redacted and introduced by Marcia Elaine Stewart.
The following document was found among the papers
of Governor John Winthrop. Other abridged versions are known, and variously
ascribed to Rev. John White, John Winthrop or Rev. Francis Higginson.
While the true originator may never be known, suffice it to say that
this copy was written in the hand of Forth Winthrop, son and sometime
secretary of the future Governor, and has marginal notes by the elder
Winthrop, dated 1629. It was evidently a widely distributed and influential
piece of propoganda in furtherance of the proposed settlement of Massachusetts
Bay, judging from the number of copies in various forms which are still
extant, along with numerous responses pro and con penned by various
interested worthies of the day. The Rev. John White probably conceived
the initial nine arguments, but we suspect, due to the legal style of
its arguments, that Winthrop has here substantially amplified it to
its present form with the addition of the objections and answers. In
any event, it is surely an expression of Winthrop's own views on the
subject, and is of great significance in revealing the motivation of
Reasons to be considered for justifying the undertakers of the
intended Plantation in New England, and for encouraging such whose hearts
God shall move to join with them in it.
- It will be a service to the Church of great consequence to carry
the Gospel into those parts of the world, to help on the fullness
of the coming of the Gentiles, and to raise a bulwark against the
kingdom of AnteChrist, which the Jesuits labor to rear up in those
- All other Churches of Europe are brought to desolation, and our
sins, for which the Lord begins already to frown upon us and to cut
us short, do threaten evil times to be coming upon us, and who knows,
but that God hath provided this place to be a refuge for many whom
he means to save out of the general calamity, and seeing the Church
hath no place left to fly into but the wilderness, what better work
can there be, than to go and provide tabernacles and food for her
when she be restored.
- This England grows weary of her inhabitants, so as Man, who is the
most precious of all creatures, is here more vile and base than the
earth we tread upon, and of less price among us than a horse or a
sheep. Masters are forced by authority to entertain servants, parents
to maintain their own children, all towns complain of their burden
to maintain their poor, though we have taken up many unnecessary,
yea unlawful, trades to maintain them. We use the authority of the
Law to hinder the increase of our people, as by urging the statute
against cottages and inmates and thus it is come to pass, that
children, servants and neighbors, especially if they be poor, are
counted the greatest burdens, which if things were right would be
the chiefest earthly blessings.
- The whole earth is the Lord's garden, and He hath given it to mankind
with a general commission (Gen. 1:28) to increase and multiply and
replenish the earth and subdue it, which was again renewed to Noah.
The end is double and natural, that Mankind might enjoy the fruits
of the earth, and God might have His due Glory from His creatures.
Why then should one strive here for places of habitation, at such
a cost as would obtain better land in another country, and at the
same time suffer a whole continent as fruitful and convenient for
the use of man to lie waste without any improvement?
- We are grown to that height of intemperance in all excess of riot
that as no man's estate, almost, will suffice to keep sail with his
equals. He who fails herein must live in scorn and contempt. Hence
it comes that all arts and trades are carried on in that deceitful
and unrighteous course, so that it is almost impossible for a good
and upright man to maintain his charge and live comfortably in any
- The fountains of learning and religion are so corrupted that most
children (besides the unsupportable charge of their education) are
perverted, corrupted, and utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil
examples and the licentious government of those seminaries, where
men strain at gnats and swallow camels, and use all severity for maintenance
of caps and like accomplishments, but suffer all ruffianlike fashions
and disorder in manners to pass uncontrolled.
- What can be a better work, and more honorable and worthy of a Christian
than to help rise and support a particular church while it is in its
infancy, and to join his forces with such a company of faithful people,
as by a timely assistance may grow strong and prosper, when for want
of such help may be put to great hazard, if not wholly ruined.
- If any such as are known to be Godly and live in all wealth and
prosperity here, and shall forsake all this to join themselves with
this Church and to run a hazard with them of a hard and mean condition,
it will be an example of great use both for removing the scandal of
worldly and sinister respects which is cast upon the Adventurer, to
give more life to the faith of God's people in their prayers for the
Plantation, and to encourage others to join the more willingly in
- It appears to be a work of God for the good of His Church, in that
He hath disposed the hearts of so many of His wise and faithful servants,
both ministers and others, not only to approve of the enterprise but
to interest themselves in it, some in their persons and estates, and
others by their serious advice and help otherwise, and all by their
prayers for the welfare of it. (Amos 3:) The Lord revealed his secret
to His servants, the prophets, and it is likely He hath some great
work in hand which He hath revealed to His prophets among us, whom
He hath stirred up to encourage His servants to this Plantation, for
He doth not use to seduce His people by His own prophets, but committeth
that office to the ministry of false prophets and lying spirits.
Diverse objections which have been made against this Plantation,
with their answers and resolutions:
Objection I We have no warrant to enter upon that land, which
has been so long possessed by others.
That which lies common, and has never been replenished or subdued,
is free to any that possess and improve it; for God hath given to
the sons of men a double right to the earth there is a natural
right and a civil right. The first right was natural when men held
the earth in common, every man sowing and feeding where he pleased.
Then as men and their cattle increased, they appropriated certain
parcels of ground by enclosing and peculiar cultivation, and this
in time got them a civil right such is the right which Ephron
the Hittite had in the field of Mackpelah, wherein Abraham could not
bury a dead corpse without leave, though for the out parts of the
country he dwelt upon them and took the fruit of them at his pleasure.
The like did Jacob, who fed his cattle as boldly in Hamor's land (for
he is said to be Lord of the country) and in other places where he
came, as the native inhabitants themselves. And in those times and
places, that men accounted nothing their own but that which they had
appropriated by their own industry, appears plainly by this
that Abimileck's servants in their own country, when they oft contended
with Isaac's servants about wells which they had dug, yet never strove
for the land wherein they were. So like between Jacob and Laban, he
would not take a goat of Laban's without special contract, but he
makes no bargain with them for the land where they fed, and it is
very probable that, had the land not been as free for Jacob as for
Laban, that covetous wretch would have made his advantage of it, and
would have upbraided Jacob with it as he did with his cattle. As for
the natives in New England, they enclose no land, neither have they
any settled habitation, nor any tame cattle to improve the land by,
and so have no other but a natural right to those countries. So if
we leave them sufficient for their own use, we may lawfully take the
rest, there being more than enough for them and for us.
We shall come in with the good leave of the natives, who find benefit
already of our neighborhood and learn from us to improve a part to
more use than before they could do the whole. And by this means we
come in by valuable purchase, for they have of us that which will
yield them more benefit than all that land which we have from them.
God hath consumed the natives with a great plague in those parts,
so as there be few inhabitants left.
Objection II It will be a great wrong to our Church and Country
to take away the good people, and we shall lay it the more open to the
The departing of good people from a country does not cause a judgment,
but warns of it, which may occasion such as remain to turn from their
evil ways, that they may prevent it, or take some other course that
they may escape it.
Such as go away are of no observation in respect of those who remain,
and are likely to do more good there than here. And since Christ's
time, the Church is to be considered universal and without distinction
of countries, so that he that does good in one place serves the Church
in all places in regard of the unity.
It is the revealed will of God that the Gospel shall be preached in
all nations, and though we know not whether those barbarians will
receive it at first or not, yet it is a good work to serve God's providence
in offering it to them (and this is the fittest to be done by God's
own servants) for God shall have glory of it though they refuse it,
and there is good hope that the posterity shall by this means be gathered
into Christ's sheepfold.
Objection III We have feared a judgment a great while, but
yet we are safe. It were better therefore to stay till it comes, and
either we may flee then, or if we be overtaken in it we may well content
ourselves to suffer with such a Church as ours is.
It is likely that such a consideration made the Churches beyond the
seas as the Palatinate, Rochelle, etc. to sit still at home and not
look out for the shelter while they might have found it. But the woeful
spectacle of their ruin may teach us more wisdom to avoid the plague
when it is foreseen, and not to tarry as they did till it overtake
us. If they were now at their former liberty we may be surer they
would take other courses for their safety. And though half of them
had miscarried their escape, yet had it not been so miserable to themselves
and to religion as this desperate backsliding and abjuring the truth,
which many of the ancient professors among them, and the whole posterity
which remain are now plunged into.
Objection IV The ill success of the other Plantations may
tell us what will become of this.
None of the former sustained any great damage but Virginia, which
happened there through their own sloth and poor security.
The argument is not good, for thus it stands: Some Plantations have
miscarried, therefore we should not make any. It consists of particulars,
and so concludes nothing. We might as well reason thus: many houses
have been burnt by kilns, therefore we should use none; many ships
have been castaway, therefore we should content ourselves with our
home commodities, and not adventure mens lives at sea for those things
which we might live without; some men have been undone by being advanced
to high places, therefore we should refuse all preferment, etc.
The fruit of any public design is not to be discerned by the immediate
success. It may appear in time that the former Plantations were all
to good use.
There are great and fundamental errors in the former which are likely
to be avoided in this, for:
- their main end was carnal and not religious;
- they used unfit instruments a multitude of rude and misgoverned
persons, the very scum of the land;
- they did not establish a right form of government.
Objection V It is attended with many and great difficulties.
So is every good action. The heathen could say Ardua virtutis via,
and the way of God's kingdom, which is the best way in the world,
is accompanied with most difficulties. Straight is the gate, and narrow
is the way, that leadeth to life. Again, the difficulties are no other
than such as many daily meet with, and such as God hath brought others
well through them.
Objection VI - It is a work above the power of the undertakers.
The welfare of any body consists not so much in quantity as in a due
proportion and disposition of parts. And we see other Plantations
have subsisted diverse years and prospered from weaker means.
It is no wonder for great things to arise from small and contemptible
beginnings it hath often been seen in kingdoms and states,
and may as well hold in towns and plantations. The Waldenses were
scattered into the Alps and mountains of Piedmont by small companies,
but they became famous Churches whereof some remain to this day, and
it is certain that the Turks and Venetians and other states were weak
in their beginnings.
Objection VII The country affords no natural fortifications.
No more did Holland and many other places which had greater enemies
and nearer at hand, and God doth use to place His people within the
midst of perils, that they may trust in Him, and not the outward means
of safety. So when He would choose a place to plant His only beloved
people in, He seated them not in an island or another place fortified
by nature, but in a plain country, beset with potent and bitter enemies
round about, yet so long as they served Him and trusted in His help
they were safe. So the Apostle Paul said of himself and his fellow
laborers, that they were compassed with dangers on every side, and
were daily under the sentence of death, that they might learn to trust
in the living God.
Objection VIII The place affords no comfortable means to
the first inhabitants, and our breeding here at home has made us unfit
for the hardship we are likely to endure there.
No place of itself has afforded sufficient to the first inhabitants.
Such things as we stand in need of are usually supplied by God's blessing
upon the wisdom and industry of Man, and whatsoever we stand in need
of is treasured up in the earth by the Creator to be fetched thence
by the sweat of our brows.
We must learn with Paul to want as well as to abound. If we have
food and raiment (which are there to be had) we ought to be contented.
The difference in the quality may a little displease us, but it cannot
It may be that God will bring us by this means to repent of our former
intemperance, and so cure us of that disease which sends many amongst
us untimely to our graves and others to hell. So He carried the Isrealites
into the wilderness and made them forget the fleshpots of Egypt, which
was some pinch to them at first, but He disposed it to their good
in the end (Deu. 8: 3: 16).
Objection IX We must look to be preserved by miracle if we
subsist, and so we shall tempt God.
Those who walk under ordinary means of safety and supply do not tempt
God, and such will our condition be in this Plantation, that the proposition
cannot be denied. The assumption we prove thus: that place is as much
secured from ordinary dangers as many in the civilized parts of the
world, and we shall have as much provision beforehand as towns use
to provide against siege or dearth, and sufficient means for raising
a sufficient store to succeed that which is spent. If it be denied
that we shall be as secure as other places, we answer that many of
our sea towns and such as are upon the confines of enemies' countries
in the continent, lie more open and nearer to danger than we shall.
Though such towns have sometimes been burnt or despoiled, yet men
tempt not God to dwell still in them; and though many houses in the
country lie open to robbers and thieves (as many have found by sad
experience), yet no man will say that those that dwell in those places
must be preserved by miracle.
Though miracles be now ceased, yet men more expect a more than ordinary
blessing from God upon all lawful means where the work is the Lord's,
and He is sought in it according to His will. For it is usually with
Him to increase or weaken the strength of the means as He is pleased
or displeased with the instruments and the actions; else we must conclude
that God hath left the government of the world and committed all power
to His Creatures, and that the success of all things should wholly
depend upon second causes.
We appeal to the judgment of soldiers if 500 men may not within
one month raise a fortification which, with sufficient munition and
victuals, may not make good against 3000 for many months, and yet
We demand an instance of any Prince or state that has raised 3000
soldiers, and has victualed them for 6 or 8 months with shipping and
munition answerable to invade a place so far distant as this is from
any foreign enemy, and where they must run on hazard of repulse, and
no booty or just title of sovereignty to allure them.
Objection X If it succeed ill, it will raise a scandal upon
our profession (of our religion).
It is no rule in philosophy, but much less in divinity, to judge the
action by the success. The enterprise of the Israelites against Benjamin
succeeded ill twice, yet the action was good and prospered in the
end. The Counts of Beziers and Toulouse in France miscarried in the
defense of a just cause of religion and hereditary right against the
unjust violence of the Count of Montfort and the Pope's Legate; the
Duke of Saxony and the Landgrave had ill success in their defense
of the Gospel against Charles the Vth, wherein the Duke and his children
lost their whole inheritance to this day; the King of Denmark and
other princes of this union had ill success in the defense of the
Palatinate and the liberty of Germany, yet their profession suffered
not with their persons, except it were with the adversaries of religion,
and so it was no scandal.
Return to the Texts index