Insubordinate Spirit: A True Story of Life and Loss in Earliest America

Insubordinate Spirit: A True Story of Life and Loss in Earliest America

New Netherland Institute


By Missy Wolfe.

Few lives have faced such challenge or experienced such change. Elizabeth Winthrop’s first husband died his first day in America and her second went insane. Denied permission to marry her third, she lived with him regardless and faced a death sentence for it. Leaving the safety of Boston’s Bay Colony, she settled on the untamed border between New England and New Netherland that is now Connecticut near Manhattan. She faced threats here as well from soldiers defending Dutch jurisdiction and angry Munsees who detested her European presence. 

An imperfect new American, she watched as the Dutch launched what may have been the largest massacre of the Indians in the northeast from her West India Company property in Old Greenwich. Moving more deeply into New Netherland to save herself from Indian retaliation and her own still-threatening English, she became part of New Netherland’s Dutch society and did pay the price of continued Indian anger. Surviving the turmoil of three colliding cultures, she sought a better engagement with God, if not man, and successfully championed a transformative new religion. Punished for this too, she embodied an emerging new American persona, one that rejected an unworkable past and embraced a future that nurtured the spirit of her intrepid life. 

"Wolfe has the rare ability to glean rich and engaging stories of real people from centuries-old archival sources." Ondine LeBlanc, Director of Publications, Massachusetts HIstorical Society 

"The real treasure of this work is the uncovering of the lost world of the New Netherland / New England borderlands . . . in a way that the majority of accounts that focus on men, miss." Evan Haefeli, Associate Professor of History, Columbia University 

"Wolfe's work on Greenwich's earliest history has made a huge contribution to our understanding of this complex period in time wrapped in so much Romanticism." Debra Mecky, PhD, Executive Director, Greenwich Historical Society 

"Extremely informative and it corrects a lot of folklore." Ron Marcus, Stamford Historical Society