“The Good lord direct us”: a New England love quadrangle, 1648-49

John WinthropIn December 1648, Lucy (Winthrop) Downing sent her nephew John2 Winthrop a letter full of family news: her husband, Emmanuel Downing, had been at the birth of John’s baby half-brother, Joshua, the week before, and “I belleeue our cosen Dorithe Simonds is nowe wonne and weded to Mr. Harrison the Virginia minister.” Sounding at once like a modern-day gossip and a character in Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Downing also noted that her daughter Lucy would probably soon marry: she “was a little [while ago] goeinge to be maryed to Mr. Eyers sonne Thomas I meane, but he had not yet art enough to carye his [court]ship, so they turnd backe, and nowe wee are apon an earnest motion with Mr. William Norton. The man is verye fayer, but she hath not yet forgotten Mr. Eyers his fresh red [sic] but hath goten some obiections concer[n]inge Mr. Norton, which are nowe sent to be answeered by [William’s brother] Mr. Jhon Norton…” (Winthrop Papers, Volume 5, pp. 290–91)

Negotiations continued in January 1648/49: “I am glad to hear what you writ of Luce [Mrs. Downing wrote her brother John1 Winthrop]. I had a letter since from Mr. [John] Norton. He writs … of what was obiected [to in William] in very good measure, I cannot question his fidellitye theerin. All mens constitutions are not alike nor expected to be perfect, but I wishe Luce maye rather looke into her selfe, then ouer curiouslye apon others, and then it maye be more for her good.” (Ibid., p. 297)

Emmanuel Downing now wrote his brother-in-law (Governor Winthrop) describing young William Norton’s prospects: “The minister [John Norton] informes me that his brother is verie plyant to him in all things, and there is great expectation from help of freinds having 3 [prosperous] unkles in London Childles… I pray incouradge my daughter herein [i.e., in accepting William Norton’s offer of marriage], for I suppose shee will not [again] haue such a preferment (if this fayle) in N.E.” The Downings continued on their nervous course with the Nortons two weeks later: “After full hearing, My wife, my daughter and my selfe consented freely to proceed, unles within a few dayes vpon further light wee should haue Just matter presented to give cause to break of [negotiations]; The Good lord direct vs.” (Ibid., pp. 300–1, 305)

But even now the headstrong Lucy Downing was unwilling to make up her mind; as her mother wrote the governor in February 1648/49, “I am very sory my daughter Lucie hath caryed things vnwisely and vnreputeabl[y] both to her selfe and her frinds. Her indiscreet words both hear and theer, hauinge bin spoken to people no wiser than her selfe[,] haue given much ocasion of offence, and uniust suspicions of our inforcement of her to Mr. Norton, and her seeming loue to Mr. Eyers and yet as they nowe suspect, by her owne late words, her affections to be most inclininge at least to John Harwood. If so theer ways, what euer the mans deserts otherwise be, hath hitheerto bin [unacceptable], and neither of them [ought] to be excused, or trusted.

“[As] for Mr. Norton I suppose he is in the bay [near Boston] and therefore howe things are theer you maye better know than my selfe. I am very sory for the iniury he hath had ocasioned by her. I hope the lord will doe him good by all.” (Ibid., pp. 309–10)

The trail of letters ends here, unfortunately, but by 23 February 1650/51 Lucy (Winthrop) Downing could write her nephew John2 Winthrop of “beinge … in dayly expectation of my sonn Nortons return…” (Volume 6, pp. 95, 96; see also The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 13 [1859]: 230)

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

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