Dylan M. LeBlanc

Year: Senior

Major(s): History, Philosophy

Mentor: Donoghue, John

Department: History

Project Title: “To account our selves knitt together”: John Winthrop, Performative Text, and Communal Self-Fashioning in the Massachusetts Bay Company, 1629-30

Project Abstract: While the Massachusetts Bay Company and its most prominent governor John Winthrop have occupied a significant space in the historiography of the seventeenth century English Atlantic, scholarship dealing with the relationship between the two has exhibited a clear emphasis on the trajectory of the Bay Colony once established in America, following the great Puritan migration of 1630. The development of the Company and its members prior to emigration has been less thoroughly examined, especially with regard to the multitude of texts, written and circulated in England, through which its community first makes an appearance. Indeed, the role of text as a medium of both self and community fashioning has been consistently understated in work dealing with the early Bay Colony, yet when we consider the first crucial year of the Colony as a Company in England, text becomes strikingly important.

This is perhaps most evident in John Winthrop’s increased role within the Massachusetts Bay Company between 1629 and 1630, in which we may observe the simultaneous fashioning of a public self and a public sphere carried out in a diverse series of performative texts. When read in conjunction, these texts and their attendant details of composition and circulation reveal an illocutionary context in which the formation of godly identity in Winthrop and legal entity in the Bay Company come into close contact, forming a symbiotic relationship. It will be the purpose of this paper therefore to augment existing accounts of the origins of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Winthrop’s role as governor by returning to the original material site of the “city on a hill”, to observe how it was necessarily written and uttered in language before being physically carved out of the American wilderness. In doing so, I hope to cast a new light, or at least light from a different angle, on the fashioning of godly selves in community: as writers, readers, and Company members.