Divinings, Wonder-Working Providence

A Note to My Readers:   I suppose we all find a piece of ourselves in some ancestors as we discover a talent or a life experience or a physical feature that we share in common.  It is particularly easy when we are working on parents or great grandparents as time and distance haven’t diminished the gene pool or the propensity to prefer apple pie to chocolate cake.    However, when you go back as many as seven or eight generations and you find a musician or a poet or a soldier or come across a beautiful sampler or a portrait of an ancestor that gives you that instant sense of connection, that discovery will make any genealogist’s heart leap.   It is kind of a spiritual DNA affirmation.  Transcendent, but oddly very real.


Born in Hernhill, Kent, England, Edward Johnson (my paternal 8th great grandfather) was part of the earliest migration to New England sailing with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630 and settling in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Totaling seventeen ships carrying Puritans who left England after being disaffected with the Church of England, they elected John Winthrop as Governor of the Fleet and the Colony.  (Winthrop Society).   Edward reported in his 1654 publication “Wonder-Working Providence of Sions Saviour in New England”  that

the expense of transporting ‘the Swine, Goates, Sheepe, Neate (cattle) and Horse’ that accompanied the initial wave of colonists to be ‘twelve thousand pound beside the price they cost’ to purchase.

Captain Edward Johnson Historical Plaque Woburn MAGathering information on this group called the Winthrop Fleet and in particular my Johnson family members, I found  that Edward was of landed gentry and in his will he left an estate in England and that he was reportedly a jack of all trades – an early explorer and surveyor, a clever businessman, a farmer, a soldier ‘during the Indian wars’ better known as the Pequot War, an explorer of sorts, a Puritan stalwart and a man of considerable influence in the colony at large, holding a number of offices primarily in Woburn.   In  1665, the Captain was appointed by the General Court to make a map of the Colony along with William Stevens.   He was also Governor Winthrop’s man.

When Governor Winthrop and Massachusetts Bay Colony and the controversial preacher Samuel Gorton were in deep dispute over Gorton’s preaching and defiance of authority,   Gorton and his followers were banished and migrated to Rhode Island where Gorton became embroiled in further political troubles.  Landing in Pawtuxet in 1642 and once more finding trouble, he migrated to Shawomet (now Warwick, Rhode Island) which was under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts Bay Colony.  When Winthrop summoned Gorton to answer charges they had swindled two sachems, Gorton replied with “whole paper of beastly stuff”,  Winthrop sent Edward Johnson in 1643 to capture Gorton and bring him and two followers to court to answer for his blasphemy.

With their homes burned to the ground and their cattle slaughtered or stolen for profit by Bay Colonists in arms, Captain Edward Johnson chained Gorton and eight of his followers for the march to Boston and a capital trial before the magistry.

(Fire under the Ashes: An Atlantic History of the English Revolution. John Donoghue.  2013)

According to several sources, Edward Johnson had traveled without his wife and children for the first voyage, establishing himself as a freeman on May 18, 1631 and bringing his wife, Susan, and their seven children and three servants to Massachusetts in 1637.   During those years Edward resided in Charlestown in what was to later become Woburn in 1642 and was involved in much of the early efforts of settling in the New World and acquainting himself with his ‘new neighbors’, the native Americans of the area.  In 1643 Edward published “New Englands First Fruits” (London:printed by R.O. and G.O. for Henry Overton) “in the first half of which he gives a vivid account of the virtual unattainability of the ultimate Christian experience professed by, and self-confidently embodied in, the immigrating well-accoutered new neighbors and recorded and a bit uneasily handled as a topic by Johnson.” (Divinings: Religion at Harvard: From its Origins in New England Ecclesiastical History to the 175th Anniversary of the Harvard Divinity School. 1636-1992.  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Page 26.)

Among many other things, the Captain was a writer and historian and is credited with being the first general historian of New England.    His most noted work is “Wonder-working Providence of Sion’s Saviour in New England”, the first printed history of New England.  The lengthy and much studied publication is written with first hand knowledge and is filled with Puritan zeal characterizing the wilderness as the place where the colonists would “re-build the most glorious Edifice of Mount Sion.”

His prose is complicated and stylized and with a definite Puritan perspective on his world, but as the Captain’s eighth great granddaughter who fancies herself a historian and writer with some perspective of my own,  I suppose we share that love of words and sharing our stories with others.  Our spiritual DNA perhaps.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved






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