The Revd Edward Howes

The Revd. Edward Howes was rector of Goldhanger for a short period beginning in 1650 and has become well known through his extensive correspondence with John Winthrop first governor of Massachusetts and of The New England Company. He also wrote a book an mathematics that he published while at Goldhanger. An article about the village of Goldhanger in The Essex Countryside magazine of 1962 includes a reference to him and he is listed on the register of past Rectors displayed in the Church:



Today, internet searches reveal far more about the Revd. Howes activities in the 1600s, such as this biography…

The Dictionary of National Biography, by George Smith, Sidney Lee,

published by Adamant Media Corporation in 1961…


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography also includes the Revd. Howes at, which is an indication of his historical significance in the UK.

There were two John Winthrops, the elder was the first governor of Massachusetts and his son was the governor of Connecticut. Because the two shared the same names and had very similar lives, there appears to confusion in records about the two. Based on the many published references to Howes letters one can only assume he communicated with both of them. John Winthrop (senior) lived between 1587-1649 and went to Massachusetts in 1630  while John Winthrop (junior) lived between 1606-1676 and went to Massachusetts in 1631. No portrait of Edward Howes has been found, but there are portraits of the two John Winthrops his lifelong friends. Their appearance and dress may just have had some similarity with Edwards Howes.


 John Winthrop (senior)                 John Winthrop (junior)

The Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and the New York Society Library have records of hundreds of letters exchanged between Howes to Winthrop, many now accessible on the internet, and referenced in books published on various topics associated with Governor Winthrop: his pivotal role in the colonialization of North America; non-conformist religions: alchemy; early immigration; early technology transfer across the Atlantic, cryptology; and much more. There are indications in their correspondence and in on-line Notes for John Sanford  that Howes and John Winthrop Jnr. were related, possibly cousins or brothers-in-law, and that they both came from the small hamlet of Groton, near Sudbury in Suffolk.

Howes letters to Winthrop reveal both his extreme religious Puritanical beliefs, which he shared with Winthrop, and his eccentric nature even by 17th century standards. Amongst the items that Howes sent to Winthrop were:  Chemicals and books on alchemy; a “secret alphabet” to enable them to exchange encrypted information; a book of characters and syntax that might be used to record the native Indian language; a silver apostle spoon depicting St Peter, and  “a forke for the useful application of which I leave to your discretion,” now believed to be the first fork ever sent to America; A recipe for a “wholesome drink for the sick” using potatoes (now known as Poteen). Howes wrote that “Capt. Drake” had used it on voyages around the world. In 1632 he wrote to Winthrop:

Here in closed you shall find a booke of the probabilities of the North West passage.

This book is recorded as being written by Howes himself and the copy inscribed by him is in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection.

In 1635 he wrote promising one of the “magnetised needles” which when a magnet is moved two identical but separated alphabet-wheels moved in sympathy even at great distances. A pair of these magnetic dials were said to have been tested on either side of the Thames using telescopes to check the results. This was effectively wireless communication long before electricity was discovered and 200 years before the telegraph was invented. Others were involved with this idea at the time and had it worked over the distance across the Atlantic it would have undoubtedly have changed the world.

Howes is also credited with writing to Winthrop to tell him about "a new alphabet" developed by Thomas Arkisden, another contemporary Cambridge graduate of theirs, which they used as their “secret alphabet” and which Winthrop then adopted for recording the words of native Americans and which is now recognised as the origin of the shorthand notation used in journalism in the USA around the world. (see "shorthand" references below)

Howes own words, and the comments of others, extracted from the letters sent to Winthop demonstrate some of his eccentricities. At least thirty-two letters sent from Howes to Winthrop, between 1632 and 1640 are held by Massachusetts Historical Society, and exhibit the writer as a man of intelligence and humour, unwearied in sending miscellaneous articles, information and objects across the Atlantic, from “Quodling apple-slips,” probably from Essex orchards, to learned works on scientific subjects and catalogues of Leipsic booksellers”…


“You shall also receive in this ship three wolf dogs and a bitch with an Irish boy to tend them… …He as yet makes conscience of Fridays fast from flesh; and doth not love to hear the Romish religion spoken against, but I hope with gods grace he will become a good convert. … The fellow can read and write reasonable well which is somewhat rare for one of his condition and makes me hope the more of him”.


Howes delved into alchemical mysteries...

“One of the most curious things revealed in these volumes is the fact that John Winthrop Jr., was seeking the philosopher’s stone, that universal elixir which could transmute all things to own substance. This is plain from the correspondence of Edward Howe. Howes goes to a certain doctor to consult him about the method of making a cement for earthenware vessels, no doubt crucible This was one of the many quacks who gulled men during that twilight through which alchemy was passing into chemistry ”.

“Dear friend, I desire with all my heart that I might write plainer to you, but in discovering the mystery, I may diminish its majesty & give occasion to the profane to abuse it, if it should fall into unworthy hands.”

“O, my friend, if you love me, get you home, get you in! You have a friend as well as an enemy. Know them by their voices. The one is still driving or enticing you out ; the other would have you stay within”.

Howes not only gave Winthrop advice about dealing with the natives in a respectful way; he also sent Winthrop vocabularies of native languages that were probably the work of Thomas Harriot.

Included in one of Howes letters to Winthrop is this diagram, which is still much discussed by academics and authors with an interest in non-conformist religions…

“With his longtime friend John Winthrop, Edward Howes delved into alchemical mysteries, especially as they informed Everarde’s mystical teachings. Later, during the 1640s, Howes would become a Familist extremist maintaining that the deity exists within the believer”.


In 1644 Howes wrote to Winthrop from the Coopers School at Ratcliff to request he buys him some land to state up a school in Boston.


Notwithstandinge my late salutes, which I hope Mr. Downing hath sent per Mr. Graves, I having this opportunity, my Love constraines me to tender again my due respects vnto you and sheweing that I have a longing desire to be neer vnto you. I waite but for time and a sufficient call to invite me. Therefore as by my former I desire you to procure on me a few acres of land. I am advised to remove my mind from Cambridge lott, to Boston, my desire is to have it on the East side of one of the hills fitt for a Mathematicall Schoole. I shall referre the ppoin of the place to your judgment and if it may not come by donation for my former service not vnknown to many, get it as cheape as you can for me. I name noe number of acres you know best how much wilbe needfuil and you knowe I have noe child, therefore I may likely leave it a free schoole to the State, and I hope before I depart this world, to leave a Pillar with you for Posteritie; If it possiblie may be, let me have a running spring in the ground, or running through it soe as it may not be turned an other way: what you expend in the purchase or procuringe, not exceeding ten pounds I hope I shall be able to pay vpon your bill here or as you shall ppoint notwithstandinge these hard tymes. Thus desiringe you to present my humble service to your worthy father and mother, and my true Loue to your self,

I take leave and rest Yours assured till death

Edw. Howes, Ratcliffe Free Schoole the 25th of Febr: 1644

I desire to know as soon as may be, what is or may be done for me.

The  Coopers Company School at Ratcliff, East London

founded in 1536

He evidently never pursued the move from the  Coopers Company School to Massachusetts. Here is an extract from The Home Counties Magazine, Vol XII, of 1910…


A petition of Edward Howes* was this day presented to the Court, wherein he desired that they would bee pleased lo give him liberty to keepe a schoole in their almeshouse at Poppler, there being 2 voide roomes, vizt, the hall, which would bee fitt for a schoole, and a roome over that which would serve for a library and that hee would read prayers twice a day to the almesmen, and teach children, and seamen the marriners art, &c. The Court liked of his request, but, they not being now a full Court, resolved to resume the same at some other tyme when they are a fuller Court; yet they told him they thought they should graunt pare of his request, as that hee should have the hall and the closet adjoyming to it, and that they would consider of graunting him the large upper roome hereafter.

The use of these two rooms was granted to Howe on July 3, 1647. A year later we find him petitioning for four or five more, but the decision is not recorded. However in December, 1649, the Company was informed that Mr Howes had left his rooms, whereupon they were allotted to Mr Benjamin Spencer, minister hee exercising such offices of piety to the almsmen as be requisite.  He continued for some years to preach in the almshouse to the pensioners and to such outsiders as cared to come; and it maybe tbat he also kept on the school which Howes had starred.

* In all probability this was the Edward Howes who in 1644 was a master in the Ratcliff Free School. He was an intimate friend and frequent correspondent of Governor Winihrop of Massachusetts. His name is attached to a tract on the circumference of the earth, published in 1623; and to “A Short Arithmetic” published in 1659 at which tine the author was Rector of Goldhanger; in Essex.

It would seem that Howes became rector of Goldhanger just after leaving the almshouse at Poplar. Maura Benham records that in the late 1600s the Church and Rectory next door where he would have lived were in a bad state of repair…


        St Peters in the 1700s                                  Goldhanger Rectory in an early photo

The reason Howes came to Goldhanger around 1650 isnt known, but it was a time of great turmoil in London. The second phase of the Civil War raged between 1648 and 1649, and Charles-I was executed in Whitehall in January 1649. From 1649 onwards a republican government ruled England, and between 1653 and 1659 due to in-fighting amongst factions in Parliament, Oliver Cromwell effectively ruled as a military dictator. However Cromwell was well know for his Pruitan beliefs and The New England Company was founded by an Act of Oliver Cromwell's Parliament in July 1649.


However, having been a maths teacher and preacher in the East End of London before becoming rector of Goldhanger, Howes chose to publish his book entitled “Short Arithmetick” subtitled: “The old and tedious way of numbering, reduced to a new and briefe method.” while at Goldhanger…



A copy of this 90 page book is in the British Library and electronic copies are held on many university websites. Although the book is primarily about arithmetic, it has various ecclesiastical quotations within it, such as that on the title page:    “All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is with him forever”.

In the book’s introduction entitled:  To The Reader” he includes:

“It is my opinion that it may be as serviceable to you as it hath to me, and prove a monitor for schooles, as a fore-man in shopps,  as a tutor in studies, where better helps are wanting. … I need not apologize for seeming to be out of my profession while I endeavour to make all the Arts  Handmaidens and Servants to it, yea with St Paul I could willingly become all unto all, that I might fav fome, yet not I, but the almighty Lord who is my Tutor, and to whofe tuition I leave you subscribing myself.

Your Friend in the beft Service,

Edward Howes”


As to book indicates in the introduction, it is intended to provide practical assistance for working people, and as such didn’t push back any frontiers of mathematics at the time despite the title (Newton published his theory of Calculus at about the same time). From being a maths teacher in a fee paying school, and then rector of a small rural village which at that time had no formal school, Howes clearly saw a gulf between the educated elite and ordinary working people that he sought to narrow.


There are a remarkable number of references to Edward Howes in association with Governor(s) Winthrop, both within published literature and on the internet. This would seem to reflect the influence that Howes had on the young governor and also that their correspondence provides a lasting record of the Governors’ way of life and thinking during a critical phase in the evolution of the New England colony.  Internet searches have recently found over 100 books, and a similar number of hits for web pages.

Here is selection of published literature that refers to Edward Howes, most found with a Google Book search for:    “Edward Howes” + Winthrop


Title,         Author


The history of New England from 1630 to 1649, John Winthrop


The Winthrop papers, (several editions by different members of the family)


Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society - 26 letters of Edward Howes to John Winthrop
New England Two Centuries Ago,    James Russell Lowell


Life and letters of John Winthrop,    R. C. Winthrop, Boston


Phonetic Short-Hand William,     P. Upham,

Among My Books, My Study Windows, Fireside Travels,    James Russell Lowell
Customs and Fashions in Old New England,   Alice Morse Earle


Planter’s Plea,    Revd. John White

A sketch of the life of John Winthrop, founder of Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1633,    Waters, Thomas Franklin
A calendar of the court minutes, etc. of the East India company, 1644-1649


Scientific Notes from the Books and Letters of John Winthrop, Jr., (1606-1676),    Geo Starkey and C.A. Browne

The Winthrop Woman, historical novel that includes an “Edward Howes” - see author’s notes,    Anya Seton 


Dictionary of National Biography,    George Smith & Sidney Lee


Early introduction of economic plants into New England,    Mary-Alice F. Rea


Early American Gardens - For Meate Or Medicine,    Ann Leighton


Silver in England,    Philippa Glanville


Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England,    Keith Thomas


New England frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675,    Alden T. Vaughan


Indians and English: facing off in early America,    Karen Ordahl Kupperman


The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638


Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the emergence of an antinomian underground in pre-Civil-War England,    David R. Como

Vicious Wolves and Men in America,    Jon T. Coleman
Fortress of the Soul: Violence, Metaphysics, and Material Life in the Huguenots’ New World 1517-1751,   Neil Kamil
Francis Lodwick (1619/1694) a country not named (MS. Sloane 913, Fols. 1r/33r)
Nuncius Inanimatus. Seventeenth-Century Telegraphy: the Schemes of Francis Godwin and Henry Reynolds
John Eliot’s Mission to the Indians before King Philip’s War,     Richard W. Cogley, Richard W Cogley
Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture,     Walter William Woodward
The Making of the English Gardener,    Margaret Willes
Philalethe Reveal'd - a Study on Alchemy and the New World's Utopia, Vol-2, Captain Nemo & Fra Cercone (nom de plumes)

here is a selection of webpages refering to Howes, found by searching for:    “Edward Howes” + Winthrop

Website address
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  ………………………………………………………………….  
A Shorthand Inventor Of 300 Years Ago, William J. Carlton …………………………………………….    
Francis Lodwick - Working Bibliography   ……………………………………………………………..…..
The Howe family   …………………………………………………………………………………………….
Notes for John Sanford ………………………………………………………………………………………
Customs and Fashions in Old New England,   Alice Morse Earle  ……………………………………
Edward Howes letter to John Winthrop, account of a fellow living in a woodpile in Suffolk ………...
Silver and Pewter  …………………………………………………………………………………………….
Children in the Colonizing Process - A young Irish immigrant to Puritan Massachusetts in 1633 ..
The Winthrop papers 5 by John Winthrop
The Intelligencers and the Fifth Moon of Jupiter: Alchemy in the American Colonies ………………. the-intelligencers-
Mapping the hieroglyphic self: spiritual geometry in the letters of John Winthrop, Jr, ……………….
And Edward Howes (1627–1640), K Shrieves
The Coopers’ Company’s School  …………………………………………………………………………

Little information has been discovered about other aspect of  Edward Howes life, here is a summary…




Howes and the Winthrop Jnr. Born at Groton, near Sudbury in Suffolk


Howes were Winthrop associated with Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire


Howes wrote to Winthrop about a “tract on the circumference of the earth”


Howes and Winthrop shared a room at Lincolns Inn, London


They “skipping” classes to conduct alchemical experiments, and searching for Rosicrucians. 


Winthrop the elder was appointed governor of The New England Company while in the UK


Winthrop the elder went to New England & became the first Governor of Massachusetts


Winthrop Jnr.  the elder went to New England


Howes sent many books to Winthrop


Howes wrote: “I hear mutterings of separation of your people from church government”


Howes wrote about an Apostle spoon


Howes was studing law at the Inner Temple in London


Howes sent letters and books to Winthrop about the North-West passage


Howes sent to Winthrop a paper entitle: New England First Fruits


Howes sent a letter with an account of a fellow living in a woodpile in Suffolk


Howes sent Winthrop a receipt for Poteen


Howes sent a letter about the shorthand alphabet to Winthrop


Howes wrote to Winthrop about Thomas Arkisden’s shorthand


Howes wrote of a “book of characters based on rules of syntax and rhetorick”


Howes sent to Winthrop the “first fork” in New England


Winthrop refers to letter from his “intimate friend”


Howes sent a “Irish boy” and four dogs to Winthrop


Winthrop refers to Howes’s house as “not fit for habitation this winter”


Howes sent letter about “magneticall engine” to Winthrop


Howes wrote to Winthrop about how to kill wolves


Howes sent many letters to Winthrop on Puritanism, alchemy, etc.


Howes was a mathematics master at the Coopers Company school, East London


The period covered by Howes London diary, or “common-place book”  ***


Howes petitions to keep a school in the East India Company’s almshouse at Poplar


Howes sent a letter to Francis Lodwick on a universal language


John Winthrop (senior) died


Howes is referred to as a “Calvinistic Rector of Goldhanger”


Howes listed as Rector of Goldhanger in St Peters Church


Date given in British Library ESTC for the book:  A Short Arithmetick…


Date given in Smith’s biography of Howes as “Rector of Goldancher” (1659 probably an error)


“Edward Howes, congregationalist' was involved in a licensed meeting-house in Thame, Oxfordshire


*** Edward Howes diary, or commonplace-book, is held in the British Library as part of the Sloan Manuscripts, reference 979, but it has not been seen. The dates would indicate that it does not cover the period when he was Rector of Goldhanger.


Finally, there is a strong possibility of a connection between the Revd. Edward Howes, the Winthrop Governors, The New England Company and the very generous bequest made to The New England Company by the Revd. Dr. Daniel Williams, of Beckingham Hall, Tolleshunt Major in 1711, who is another of our Local Authors.   Beckingham Hall and Highams Farm(part of Dr. Williams estate at the time), is less than a mile from St Peter’s Church, Goldhanger, although no direct link between Howes and Williams has been established. In 1629 Governor Winthrop was appointed as the first governor of The New England Company even before he emigrated to the Americas and a Mr Howe is listed as a friend of Dr. Williams, as seen in these extracts…


See more about… The Revd Dr Daniel Williams  and connection with The New England Company


Note: The Revd. Edward Howes should not to be confused with Edmund Howes (fl.1602–1631), who in some ancient documents is referred to as Edward Howes. Edmund Howes was a chronicler working with John Stow, the author of The English Chronicle and Annales (1607), and later A General Chronicle of England at around the same time. The two men have separate entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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