John Winthrop Jr. and the Connecticut Charter of 1662

Born in England in 1606, John Winthrop Jr. had a wide-ranging intellectual appetite. He became well-versed in the fields of medicine, theology, and alchemy. In November of 1631, at the age of 25, he arrived in America where his father, John Winthrop Sr., was Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Owing to his father’s influence as Governor, Winthrop was able to quickly create his own political sway, playing a major role in the founding of the town of Ipswich just north of Boston.

At the behest of a wealthy group of Puritans living in England, Winthrop established the Saybrook colony at the mouth of the Connecticut River in 1835. Ten years later, he spearheaded the formation of the new colony of New London. His vision for the New London colony was centered on industrial expansion with the creation of mills and trade routes between the existing colonies. The achievement of this planned expansion propelled Winthrop into the governor’s office for the Connecticut colony in 1657.

When King Charles II assumed the English throne in 1660, he sought to clarify England’s relationship with the Connecticut colony with a formal charter. As Governor of the colony, Winthrop sailed to England as the colony’s official representative. Winthrop exercised his considerable powers of persuasion in his negotiations with the king. Winthrop’s argument for a royal charter was granted uniting all of the existing separate colonies in Connecticut. Additionally, it granted the Connecticut colony the power of self-governance with virtual autonomy from the English throne.

Also included in the Royal Charter of 1662 were the details of the expansive geographic boundaries of the Connecticut colony which were generous, to say the least. According to the charter, the northern boundary would be the Massachusetts plantation with the Atlantic Ocean as its southern boundary. The colony’s eastern boundary would be Narragansett Bay with its western boundary extending to the Pacific Ocean!

The Charter of 1662 provided the Connecticut colony with such a comprehensive structure for self-government that it provided the framework for colonial governance following the American Revolution.

Winthrop was reelected as Governor repeatedly and retained that position until his death in 1676.

To view a copy of Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662, visit the historical photographs on Otis Library’s Flickr page.

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