What a combination–John Winthrop, our first source on the early history of New England, and James Savage, the leading name in New England genealogy. “Savage’s Edition of Winthrop’s Journal,” as this work is usually referred to, was inspired by the discovery of a third part (manuscript) of Winthrop’s History of New England in the year 1816. Mr. Savage, a distinguished member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the author of the seminal Genealogical Dictionary of New England, was assigned the task of transcribing the newly discovered manuscript and integrating it with the previously published pages of Winthrop’s Journal. Applying his customary acumen to the task, Savage completed his transcription and collation of the History of New England in time for an 1825 publication, adding his own learned annotations about the men, women, and events Winthrop referred to, yielding a work perhaps twice as long as the original journal.
Winthrop’s History of New England is arranged, journal-entry-by- journal-entry, from the patriarch’s arrival in Massachusetts Bay in 1630 until 1648, the year before his death. Savage’s notes on any given entry appear on the same page of the volume in smaller type. Turn to any page in the Savage edition and you will find nuggets of great genealogical value. For example, when Winthrop refers to a fire in the house of John Page, Savage’s notes tell us that Page was one of the first freemen admitted to the Massachusetts General Court. When Winthrop refers to an obscure tract of land, Savage reveals that it may now be found in the town of Middleborough. In 1637, Winthrop records that a Captain Mason attacked a group of Pequots, but it is Savage who identifies the same Captain Mason as having arrived with the first settlers of Dorchester in 1637 and having a son, John, who would be wounded in 1675 in a battle with the Narragansetts.
Not every page in the journal is annotated, of course, and, as a matter of fact, many of Winthrop’s entries–e.g. his list of 17th- century New England towns with their original Indian names and a separate list of Congregationalist ministers–are tremendously informative in their own right. On the other hand, Savage’s notes frequently overshadow the entry they refer to, as when the editor marshals lists of oath takers or paragraphs of court records to develop one of Winthrop’s observations. Yet another helpful feature is Savage’s index to over 3,000 persons and places mentioned in the History. It should also be noted here that this revised edition of the work, which has never before been reprinted, not only incorporates corrections to the 1823 edition but is twenty percent longer.
What else is there to say about this remarkable work? Just this, if you are to own only one source book on the beginnings of the New England colonies, the premier source book is Winthrop’s History of New England, and the edition to buy is Savage’s.
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