Civil authorities in 17th-century Antigua weren’t known for their love of the Quakers. They banished some and jailed others. Charges brought against Quakers included speaking out in church, holding meetings in their homes, refusing to bear arms. But when George Fox visited the island in 1671, he found a community of Friends that included most of the island’s landed gentry, including his host, Samuel Winthrop, the owner of a sugar plantation that covered more than 1,000 acres and required the work of more than 60 slaves.
The irony is that Winthrop would befriend a Friend, let alone become one. Winthrop’s father, Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was the first to banish Mary Dyer from the New England colony, the same Mary Dyer who was eventually killed for her defiance of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s anti-Quaker law. Winthrop’s brother, Connecticut Gov. John Winthrop (the younger), had Quakers banished, fining and forcibly removing those who entered the colony.
What convinced Samuel to cast his lot with Quakers? Nobody knows for sure, but historians trace the time of Samuel’s convincement to a letter in which he addresses his brother as “thee,” when in all previous correspondence, Samuel had used the formal, plural “you.” The suggestion is that Samuel’s thoughts on the death of his mother had borne in him a rejection of Puritan moralism in favor of what David Hackett Fischer calls the Quaker mode of “fatalistic optimism.” Samuel wrote that death no longer frightened him. He had no need to fear the God who had become for him “a resting place in the day of trouble.”
Winthrop’s convincement to Quakerism gave him peace. But it cost him politically. In 1671, Winthrop lost his post as registrar and as lieutenant governor. In the same year, Winthrop wrote to his brother John: “Be comforted in the Lord, who abideth forever.”
Samuel wrote that death no longer frightened him. He had no need to fear the God who had become for him “a resting place in the day of trouble.”