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BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF HON. JAMES WINTHROP, WHO
DIED SEPTEMBER, 1821, AGED 69.
MR. WINTHROP was descended through a very respectable line of ancestors, from John Winthrop first governour of Massachusetts; and was of the fifth generation from that worthy and justly celebrated character. Gov. Winthrop was of a distinguished family in Groton, in England, about fifty miles from London. sepulchral monument, in that place, his great grandfather is called," the Lord and Patron of Groton.” It was most fortunate, or rather, we should say, it was providential, that such a character as Gov. Winthrop was disposed to join the perilous enterprize of establishing an English and Christian colony in this new world, in 1630. He was very ably and happily qualified for the situation. Like many others, who early came to New England, he had great piety, and great firmness of character, which fitted him to guide and govern an infant plantation, where peculiar trials and sufferings were to be endured, and society almost to be formed anew. The father of Judge Winthrop was a professor in Harvard College. He was very eminent as a mathematician and astronomer; and was also greatly distinguished as a statesman and patriot.
Mr. Winthrop became a member of the University at the early age of thirteen; and made good improvement of the advantages he enjoyed. He soon discovered a fondness for mathematical pursuits, in which he excelled; and as a classical scholar, he ranked among the first of his contemporaries. He was, in truth, a man of various and extensive literature. In philosophy, and in a knowledge of the rudiments of general language, he particularly excelled. He also read all the learned, modern languages; as the French, Spanish, Italian and German; and few persons understood the Hebrew so
well as he did. In the latter part of his life, he acquired a considerable acquaintance with the Chinese.
On leaving college, he gave his attention to no particular study, with a view to a profession for life. Yet he was very studious, and ambitious of a literary character, contemplating, probably, some professorship in the University. In 1771, he was appointed Librarian ; and on the death of his father, in 1778, he had the support of many learned men and friends of the college for the chair of mathematicks and natural philosophy. But he was not chosen. His manners were peculiar and eccentrick, and not the most conciliating. He was very independent in his sentiments; and by some was considered obstinate and conceited. There was, also, at this time, an apprehension of his becoming addicted to intemperance, which probably operated to prevent his election. It may be thought that friendship would dictate the concealment of such a charge. But it will not be discreditable to Judge Winthrop, we believe, to have mentioned this temporary defect of character, when it is stated, as it may be with the strictest truth, that his good resolutions were stronger than his passions; and that for the last thirty years of his life, he was perfectly correct and temperate in all his habits.
At the time of our political controversy with Great Britain, he was in all the vigour and ardour of youth ; and he early discovered an interest and a decision, in relation to the dispute, which justly entitle him to the high honour of a firm and zealous patriot. In this respect, as well as in his literary taste and pursuits, he followed the steps of his respected and venerable father. In 1775, he was appointed post master in Cambridge, which was considered a responsible office, as the American army was stationed in that place. His ardent and patriotick feelings induced him, on the morning of the memorable 17th of June, to join the detachment, which had taken possession of Breed's Hill in Charlestown, during the preceding night. He armed himself
, and in company with Major James Swan, proceeded to Charlestown; and a part of the distance, they were accompanied by the brave
and patriotick WARREN, who fell in that memorable battle. Mr. Winthrop was at the redoubt, and at the temporary breastwork thrown up on the eastern side of the hill, and was among the last who left Charlestown, when the American troops were obliged to retreat. In descending the eminence towards the neck, he was struck by a musket ball
. Though the wound was, fortunately, not mortal, the shock was so powerful as to throw him prostrate on the ground. The enemy did not pursue our troops; and he escaped, and returned to Cambridge.
Professor Winthrop was, soon after this time, made judge of probate for the county of Middlesex by the Provincial Congress, and his son was appointed his register. He remained in the office till his father's death, during the judgeship of O. Prescott, and also in the time of J. Prescott, until the year 1817, when he resigned. He was in this laborious and responsible station upwards of forty years, and discharged its various duties with ability, promptitude and fidelity.
In 1779, he accompanied Professor Sewall and several other learned gentlemen, to Penobscot, to make observations on the transit of the planet Venus over the sun's disc ; which, in that meridian, was more fully to be seen than at Cambridge. When the unhappy insurrection took place in the interiour of the state, in the year 1786, Mr. Winthrop attended General Lincoln, as a volunteer, and was among the most active in suppressing the riotous assemblies of the people, and in discountenancing the sentiments, by which many inconsiderate citizens were, at that time, actuated.
Mr. Winthrop continued in the office of librarian about twenty years; and although he was register of probate the greater part of the time, and several years, also, a judge of the Court of Pleas for Middlesex, he found leisure for much reading. He had also a very valuable library of his own. And for the last thirty years of his life, he was engaged, occasionally, and when publick duties permitted, in theological, mathematical and philological studies. With Christian theology he was particu
larly conversant. He was a firm believer in the divine origin of the gospel, and made publick profession of it, as the only foundation of a hope of immortality. The Jewish history and ancient chronology were also very familiar to him: and the prophecies he studied with unusual interest and diligence. He published several essays on the subject, which discover great ingenuity and learning ; although by some they have been considered more fanciful than solid and satisfactory. But it should be considered, that the subject of prophecies is necessarily involved in some difficulty and obscurity; and that the most learned men, who have attempted to explain them, have often exposed their own comparative ignorance and imbecility.
In his intercourse with others he was strictly just; and was ever ready, by his bounty, to assist the meritorious poor. He also possessed much of a publick spirit. The West Boston Bridge and the Middlesex Canal were forwarded by his early and active influence: and he was one of the founders of the Historical Society, whose labours are becoming more valuable in the estimation of an enlightened community, and by whose attention and industry many important publick documents have been rescued from oblivion. Judge Winthrop took a great interest in the objects of this association.
He was one of the standing committee till his death, and was seldom absent from his place at the hour of meeting.
If we were to speak of his social qualities, we might justly add, that he was a pleasant, and generally an instructive companion. His conversation was most frequently on useful and literary topicks; and yet there was, sometimes, an appearance of trifling and levity in familiar discourse, which induced a stranger to form an opinion not sufficiently favourable to his learning and his worth. We have no hesitation, however, in ranking him among the most learned, useful and patriotick citizens of Massachusetts.
DOCTOR EDWARDS OBSERVATIONS ON
Advertisement to the present Edition. It was the intention of the Historical Society to have published in the present volume of their Collections the copious English and Indian Vocabulary of Josiah Cotton, Esquire, mentioned in their last volume.* At the time, however, when that was contemplated, it was not considered, that a large part of the present volume was to be reserved for a General Index to the ten volumes, which form the Second Series of the Collections; and this Index, together with several articles, which had been prepared for publication, would not allow sufficient room for the whole of the manuscript alluded to: It became necessary, therefore to defer the publication of that work for
But, as the attention of the learned, both at home and abroad, is now so much engaged in the subject of the Indian Languages, the Society have felt an unwillingness to intermit their co-operation in a department of learning, which has peculiar claims upon every American. They have, therefore, thought it would be useful to continue their intended series of Indian Tracts, at this time, by a republication of Dr. Edwards' Observations on the Language of the Muhhekaneew Indians. This short, but valuable tract, was originally printed in the year 1788, and was afterwards republished ; t but it is again entirely out of print. The work has been for some time well known in Europe, where it has undoubtedly contributed to the diffusion of more just ideas, than once prevailed, respecting the structure of the Indian languages, and has served to correct some of the errours, into which learned men had been led by placing too im
* See the Introductory Observations to Eliot's Indian Grammar in Hist. Collect. vol. ix. p. 241, of the present series.
+ See Carey's American Museum, vol. v. p. 22. VOL. X.