Christ in the Colonies (1600 - 1700)

Jesus Never Existed – The Christianization of the Americas


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Kenneth Humphreys

 


25.10.11

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Religious freedom?

Puritans hang Quakers!

1659/60 Governor Endicott in Boston orders death penalty for Quakers. 3 are hanged on Boston Common.

"Take heed ye break not our ecclesiastical laws, for then ye are sure to stretch by the halter."
– Endicott.

The Quakers, "friends of Jesus", were kindly towards the Indians – though were not averse to keeping slaves. In the early 18th century the Society even had a slave ship. It was called the "Society".

Having profitted from slavery for a century the Quakers condemned the trade in 1761 and became the first Christian sect in over a thousand years to actively campaign against the keeping and sale of slaves.

True Christians?

Adam Smith traced the scruples of the Quakers over slavery to self-interest. He noted that the principal crop of Pennsylvania was corn, "which cannot profitably be raised by slave labour." (Wealth of Nations, 3.2).

 

 

 

 

 

We Come in Peace

Now, where's the gold ...?

 

 

 

Something fishy

1497 Venetian Giovanni Caboto ('John Cabot'), financed by Henry VII of England, reaches Newfoundland.

Though wide of the mark in thinking he had reached 'China of the Mongols' his discovery opens up the seasonal cod fishing grounds, mainly of benefit to French and Portuguese fishermen: Catholics were required to eat 'cheap' fish on Fridays and fast days.

 

The French Connection

1524 Giovanni da Verrazano, in the service of the French king Francis I, discovers New York bay and meets a party of friendly natives.

1500-1550 Continuous war between France and Spain gives a free hand to French privateers. They pick off unescorted Spanish merchantmen and attack isolated colonies. Returning treasure ships are a special treat.

In 1536 Frenchman Cartier sails up St Lawrence but religious war in Europe holds back French exploitation of North America. It is Englishman Frobisher who explores the mouths of the Davis and Hudson straits, 1576-8. There were barely a thousand Frenchmen in North America in 1650.

 

 

The English take liberties

When Elizabeth I succeeds her pro-Spanish Catholic sister Mary in 1558 English mariners, banned by Spain from trading with her colonies, turn to piracy with official encouragement.

Francis Drake terrorizes the coasts of Chile and Peru. In 1587 Thomas Cavendish captures the grandest "prize" of all – a Manila galleon.

 

 

 

 

Roanoke, Indian village

Watercolour by Rev. John White, first governor of lost colony of Roanoke.

Indian villages had little in the way of defensive barricades and stood surrounded by their farmlands.

"We found the people most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as lived after the manner of the Golden Age."

Arthur Barlow, de facto leader of the English colony, describing the 'Croatoans' in 1584.

The local chief Wingina of Roanoke Island was murdered two years later by the new Governor Ralph Lane and the coastal Algonquian nation, the first to suffer from contact with Europeans, eradicated within a generation.

 

Jamestown, English village

Behind a defensive balustrade, guns, alcohol, disease and limitless greed. And of course, a church.

 

 

The French Connection

1604 King Henry of Navarre grants a court favourite all North American lands north of the 40th parallel (New France).

1608 Samuel de Champlain establishes first French settlement at Quebec.

 

 

Drug Trafficking Saves the Colony!

Tobacco – 17th century "cocaine"

Virginia was a failing colony until the cultivation of tobacco  – by black slaves – produced a valuable cash crop.  Such a boon to humanity!

Among the Maya tobacco had been widely believed to have had magical powers, useful in divining the future.

Pity they didn't foresee their own destruction.

A Planter's life
 

Dutch bargain

1609 – Henry Hudson, an English captain working for the Dutch East India Company, explores Manhattan Island. He finds his bay the following year.

1613 The Iroquois sign a treaty with the Dutch, agreeing to treat each other as "brothers". Fort Nassau is built on the Delaware River and a few huts are erected on Manhattan. Fur trading with the Mohicans begins.

1614 The United New Netherland Company is chartered by the States-General with a three-year fur-trading monopoly. In 1620 the Dutch, recognizing the value of the great sheltered harbour, buy Manhattan from the Algonquin Indians for a few trinkets.

1623 The Dutch West India Company is granted control over all Dutch possessions in the Americas; colonists are "employees". The same year, the Dutch Reformed Church of North America is established. Fort Orange is built at Albany.


 

Biblical followers of fashion

Geneva  Bible:

"Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches."

– Genesis 3.7.

 

 

 

Theocracy - 1650

"An elite of the elect, the saints, governed Massachusetts; an elite which itself was dominated by men of wealth, education and breeding." – Brogan, p46.

The theocracy of Massachusetts absorbed Salem (1630), Plymouth (1691) and spawned New Hampshire and Connecticut (1635) – which itself absorbed New Haven.

In 1628 New Hampshire found its own source of "gold" – illegal gun-running to the Indians.

After 1636, Rhode Island (Dutch "Roodt Eylandt", "red island") became a tiny enclave (48 by 37 miles) of anarchy and tolerance – in stark contrast to the draconian regime in the rest of New England.

 

 

Vigilant Pilgrims apprehend dangerous witch!

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." – Exodus 22.18.

 

Drowned for Jesus – all in a day's piety

 

 

 

 

The English take liberties

New York – named for Catholic Bigot

1664 – England, unwilling to tolerate an alien enclave dividing its colonies, seizes New Netherland/New Amsterdam. A thousand Dutch now live under the English crown.

The colony and settlement are renamed for James, Duke of York and Lord High Admiral, the fierce Roman Catholic brother of Charles II.

Similarly, Albany, capital of the state of New York, also derived its name from James, whose titles included Duke of Albany (Gaelic "Alba", that is, Scotland).

In 1688 James II's attempt to re-Catholicize England costs him his throne.

 

Pirate's Church

In 1698, Captain William Kidd, pirate extraordinaire, donated part of his booty to fund completion of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York.

Kidd possessed substantial houses in Manhattan and was a friend of the governor.

Kidd was hanged in London in 1701, having been found guilty of piracy and murder.

 

 

 

* Ergo ... Ergot

Warm, damp weather, can infect grains with the fungus ergot. Ingested the fungus produces convulsive disorders, muscle spasms and hallucinations. It may well have triggered the hysteria in Salem in 1692.

 

Buccaneers, Bigots, Slavers and Drug Traders

As the 17th century unfolded the eastern coast of North America became settled by a bizarre incongruity of theocratic colonies and the enclaves of pirates and slave traders. It gave birth to a uniquely American formula of violent criminality cheek by jowl with puritanical righteousness. In time the two extremes of dysfunctional human behaviour would feed off each other. The criminal, after a life of villainy, might find his salvation in religious rectitude and mortification. The theocratic tyrant, with access to wealth, power and women, would succumb to the blandishments of a carnal existence. Thus piety laced with corruption are as American as apple pie and turkey.

 

Jesus makes all things Bright and Beautiful

In the New World, ever adaptable Christianity morphed into new varieties of pious fraud.

For the intrepid pilgrim it stiffened his spirit and described his role as the new Israelite in a second Land of Canaan, the native Americans scripted in as the lost tribes of Israel and therefore not without hope of redemption. For the Puritans who followed, it gave the reassuring certainty of patriarchal authoritarianism and the redemptory value of a life of toil and self-denial. Theirs was the joy of building a New Jerusalem in a heathen land. For the adventurers and the avaricious who arrived in ever increasing numbers it preserved group identity and sanitized every act of inhumanity and greed, for their triumph and conquest was Divine Will made manifest. It was all part of God's plan, material success confirming His approval. For the weaker minds and the gentler spirits overwhelmed by the travails and brutality of unrestrained "enterprise" it offered the reassuring embrace of a guru who, in return, asked only for a little cash. And for the African slaves, imported by the hundreds of thousands to the plantations of hell, it offered consolation in their life of suffering, at one with Jesus, and the vain hope of a future kingdom in which they would "lay down their burden". Hallelujah.

 

No Honour Among Thieves

Between 1539-1542 conquistador Hernando De Soto conducted an "entrada" ("entrance") through the southeast region of north America as far as the Carolinas. His three-year invasion – with an army of around six hundred adventurers and accompanied by priests making baptisms along the way – devastated the native peoples primarily through disease and war. 'Living off the land', the Spanish seized foodstuffs, enslaved 'bearers' and burned the towns of all who demurred. Lands half the size of Europe felt the consequence of his rampage and increased their vulnerability to later invasions from Spain's enemies.

About the same time as De Soto was raiding the southeast a compatriot, Francisco Coronado, tracked a small army through the southwest and reluctantly recognized that the Pueblo communities of the upper Rio Grande were too poor to conquer. The Spanish, disheartened that they had not found the "seven golden cities of Cibola", concluded that the more northerly latitudes of the vast continent were of little value in their grande scheme of conquest and they concentrated on the rapacious exploitation of central and South America. Spain's most northern settlement remained San Agustin in Florida, a fortress/port designed to protect the annual treasure fleet from irritating predators, lying in wait in bays around the Caribbean. For 300 years San Agustin remained simply an isolated military outpost.


Hit and Run: Buccaneers

"From the earliest days of colonization, Virginia was a centre of piracy and pillage, a base to raid Spanish commerce and plunder French settlements on the coast of Maine – and to exterminate the "devil worshippers" and "cruel beasts" whose generosity had enabled the colonists to survive." – Chomsky, p21.


Other European powers viewed the vast Spanish empire with unrestrained envy. In the late 16th and early 17th century, Dutch and English adventurers copied the French example and began working the periphery of the Spanish/Portuguese empire, sneaking in to make illegal trades where a settlement was strong, raiding and pillaging where resistance was weak. Spain's limited interest in the northern continent provided an opportunity for the other maritime states to establish their own permanent toe-holds in North America and thus make piracy more efficient.

Even the colony of New Providence, established in 1629 by a sect of Puritans, succumbed to the seductive allure of thievery:

"Despite the strict religious principles of the colony's founders, the island had, within five years, become a base for pirates." – Hart, p6.


But of course the line between villainy and patriotic heroics was finely drawn. Until late in the seventeenth century colonial governors issued "Letters of Marque" which gave a veneer of legality to attacks upon vessels and outposts of other nations. As so-called "privateers" adventurous mariners could make a legal killing (and kill legally) on the "pirate round" to the Eastern Sea (the Indian Ocean), where they could plunder or capture Moslem, Mogul or French ships with the King's blessing.

 

Piracy in a frock coat

Henry Morgan was one villain who made a successful career move from pirate to colonial despot. After a number of years of hugely profitable raiding in the Caribbean he was knighted and made Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica.

In the early years of the 18th century more than a dozen "privateers" operated out of New York alone. One was Edward Teach, the notorious "Blackbeard". When Teach was ejected from the colony by a new, unaccommodating British overlord the buccaneer merely relocated to North Carolina where he became a buddy of the governor Charles Eden. Eden's impoverished colony, lacking viable exports of its own, welcomed the commercial activity which came from piracy and himself pocketed a share of plundered loot. Blackbeard, with a fleet of four ships and 400 crew, raided as far north as Virginia and as far south as Honduras.

Another New York crime boss was the Dutchman Frederick Philipse, pirate entrepreneur, member of the Governor's council and patron of the church. 

"The demand for the exotic goods that the pirates brought home grew so great that New England shipyards did a thriving business building and fitting out vessels for piracy ... One New York merchant, Frederick Philipse, actually did run piracy like a business and made so much money that he became the richest man in colonial New York." – Butting, p73.


Philipse amassed for himself a vast 90,000 acre estate along the Hudson River. A proper colonial "gentlemen" he franchised out the rough end of the business, preferring to supply and fit-out pirate vessels, import slaves and receive stolen goods. Philipse built himself a manorial hall at Yonkers which in later times would become City Hall.

When blatant support for piracy brought on the unwelcome attentions of the British navy the pirate fraternity decamped to an island hideaway – New Providence in the Bahamas, a riotous pirate shantytown but even then, pirate services were sought as "privateers" to circumvent the British Navigation Acts.

 

Staking a claim: Plantations

"Malaria came with Caribbean mosquitoes, like the rats, in the first ships. Plague and yellow fever came with the later ships; so, apparently, did jail-fever." – Brogan, p22.


In 1578 an aristocratic liegeman of the English queen, Sir Humphrey Gilbert (knighted for brutally imposing English "plantations" in Ireland) received "Letters Patent" from Elizabeth authorizing the planting of an English colony in America. Five years later Gilbert came ashore on Newfoundland and promptly claimed possession. Unfortunately for him he drowned on the return voyage but his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh (another veteran of brutality in Ireland) continued the family's colonizing ambitions with a new "patent". This royal licence grabbed nothing less than the whole of North America above Florida. Having claimed 2000 miles of real estate for the British crown Raleigh wisely called this vast territory Virginia in deference to the Tudor queen.
But for all the grandiosity of the claim the attempt to establish a settlement at Roanoke (in what is now North Carolina) between 1584 and 1586 proved a complete fiasco.

A decade later and the assault on the new continent had a little more success. Humphrey Gilbert's son Raleigh Gilbert followed his father into the plantation business when in 1606 he was one of several aristocrats who secured a new "Letters Patent" from King James I. This grant anticipated two colonial enterprises – the London Colony and the Plymouth Colony.

Having reconnoitred the coast at a safe distance from the Spanish fortress at San Agustin, the London Colony's three vessels entered Chesapeake Bay in May, 1607. The one hundred or so adventurers honoured the king by naming their settlement Jamestown.

In August of the same year a ship of Raleigh Gilbert's Plymouth or Popham colony arrived in what is now the state of Maine. Here the would-be settlers built a fort named for St George on a wooded peninsula by the Kennebec River. But unprepared as they were for the harsh winter and with Gilbert himself abandoning the adventure to claim his inheritance in England the disillusioned survivors returned home with him.

In any event, the French had beaten the English to the Americas and had established an early presence along the Mississippi and the St Lawrence rivers. This led the English (and the Dutch) to settle at other favourable harbours along the Atlantic seaboard and on the smaller islands of the Caribbean. Of the two, the Caribbean, with its immediate potential for hugely profitable sugar crops, supplemented by inter-island pillage, was the more important. Bermuda was settled in 1609, St Kitts and the Lesser Antilles between 1624-1628.

 

Jamestown 1607 – "Civilisation" arrives

" Drunken, gluttonous loiterers ... poor gentlemen, tradesmen, serving men, libertines, and such like, ten times more fit to spoil a commonwealth than begin one."
– Captain Smith describes his colonists (Brogan, p23)


The Jamestown colony was almost as short-lived as Popham. Hit hard by disease and starvation, only the timely arrival of relief ships stopped surviving settlers abandoning the colony in the spring of 1610.
They were ordered back. Even so, its poor location on swampy malarial land meant the colony was doomed without the support of local Indians. The Algonquians, however, were curious about the newcomers, at first holding and then releasing the leader of a foraging party, a mercenary adventurer named Captain John Smith, dominant member of the colony's seven-man council. Smith gave the Indians two cannon (symbolic, perhaps, of what was to come) and obtained maize in return. A near-fatal accident put Smith himself on a ship back to England.

The colony – almost all male – could barely be held together even by harsh military discipline. Some colonists melted into the wilderness and joined the natives, many no doubt seeking female companionship and a full belly. To deter such desertion in 1610 the Governor made living with the Indians a capital offence:

"Some he appointed to be hanged, some burned, some broken upon wheels, others to be staked and some shot to death ... all these extremes and cruel tortures he used and inflicted upon them to terrify the rest from attempting the like." (Jones, p124).


Death rates in the colony were appalling. In the winter of 1610 a man was burned for eating his wife:

"There was one of the companie who mortally hated his wife, and therefore secretly killed her, then cut her in pieces and hid her in diuers parts of his house: when the woman was missing, the man suspected, his house searched, and parts of her mangled body were discouered, to excuse himselfe he said that his wife died, that he hid her to satisfie his hunger, and that he fed daily vpon her.

Vpon this, his house was againe searched, where they found a good quantitie of meale, oatemeale, beanes and pease. Hee therevpon was araigned, confessed the murder, and was burned for his horrible villany."

– Peter Force, Tracts and Other Papers, 1836


With the colony unable to feed itself, still less show a profit, find gold or a passage to the South Seas, the London company (renamed the Virginia Company) found itself in difficulties. To encourage reluctant settlers it abandoned its own monopoly of land and offered "headrights" of 50 acres to every colonist.
But by then Indian resentment of the grasping, delinquent intruders burst out into an attack on Jamestown which left a third of the interlopers dead. For a time, the company kept itself afloat by lottery but then collapsed in 1624. At that point the King stepped in and Virginia became a Crown Colony. Rents thereafter accrued to the king, with a proportion set aside for the "recruitment and support of clergy." With the state's direct involvement the native Indians could now be taught the true meaning of "Christian civilization".

"We, who hitherto have had possession of no more ground than their waste ... shall now enjoy their cultivated places."

– A Jamestown colonist gloats over success in Indian war of 1622 (Times Atlas of Archaeology, p234)

 

Drug Money Saves the Day: Narconomics

"It was true that, given the fertility of the land, they might grow enough to feed and clothe themselves; but if subsistence farming was to be the destiny of Virginians, there was no sense in having come so far; it was available at home." – (Brogan, p26)


From their inception
the English settlements in the Americas were the haunts of desperate and determined fortune hunters. Not for them the grinding monotony of growing crops and a hand-to-mouth existence. Driven by avarice, to which "liberty" was merely an adjunct, each sought to better his fellows in a race for earthly riches. After all, the Pizarro brothers had shown the world that personal empires could be snatched in the Americas. The vast, "virginal" northern continent beckoned and taunted. Clearly gold was not simply waiting to be picked from the ground.

How, then, to make one's fortune?

Some English adventurers who had found the climate of Barbados and the Lesser Antilles debilitating and the islands already crowded with settlers relocated to Virginia, taking with them knowledge of "plantation agriculture". The region was not suitable for sugar but in the humid savannah and along riverbanks was a plant which grew in luxuriant profusion. It possessed neither nutritional value nor medicinal use, and might in other circumstances have been regarded as a worthless weed (it was in fact called "sotweed"). But the natives had discovered that, like the opium poppy, the marijuana and the coca plants, this big leaf perennial could be chewed, perhaps mixed with lime, as a flavoursome relaxant. Indeed, native shamans had discovered that in sufficient quantity, the plant could be used to induce "mystical experiences" or at least a very vivid delusional state which could be interpreted as a mystical experience. Unwittingly, they were ingesting an acrid smoke which contained carcinogens and powerful addictive agents, but who was to know that?

In any event the tobacco plant could be grown by anyone and – joy of joy – sold at a profit to a Europe newly taken by a fashionable novelty of smoking. Even the worthless sandy soil of the Appalachian piedmont became profitable. To be sure, the noxious plant exhausted even the best soil within seven years but – hell – there was limitless land and the natives surely were not making profitable use of it.

From a mere 20,000 pounds of production in 1619, Virginia was exporting one and a half million pounds by 1639. A vast acreage was set to the cultivation of a plant which essentially was not only useless but actually lethal. The colonists grew almost nothing else.

With an eye to such easy wealth, a rival colony, ostensibly a refuge for oppressed Catholics, set down roots north of the Potomac in 1632 – Maryland. This plantation was a concession granted to a crony of the king, Sir George Calvert (Baron Baltimore) – a convert to Catholicism who had tried to broker a marriage between the king's son Charles and the daughter of Philip III of Spain. The colony's charter envisaged a feudal structure of manorial estates. The second Lord Baltimore, Cecil, governed Maryland as an absentee landlord from his domain in England. With the ascendancy of Puritan fundamentalists in EnglandCharles I was executed on 30th January, 1649 and the monarchy abolished a week later – Cecil found it prudent in April that year to issue to the colony "An Act Concerning Religion" extending toleration to both Catholics and Protestants alike. Even so, violent clashes between Jesuits and Puritan ministers continued for a generation in the troubled colony.

By 1650 there were 50,000 English in North America, for the first time equalling the number of English colonists in the Caribbean.

 

Theocracy in the New World

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

"The Netherlands provided the Separatists with a good home – too good. They feared that their distinct identity was threatened, and that their children were becoming Dutch." – (Divine, et al, p26)


The dissenters who planted their colonies on the shores of North America were not believers of religious freedom per se but rather believers in freedom for their own particular interpretation of the divine. All rival sects were minions of the Devil and ought to burn in hell. If one sect could have imposed its favoured doctrines upon all others it would have – but it could not.

In 1620 the London Virginia company was in difficulty and struggling to despatch colonists to an untamed wilderness. Thus when approached by a motley bunch of English Separatists, self-exiled to Leiden in the Netherlands, it willingly granted the brethren a license to settle on its allotted real estate. The Separatists were not "escaping persecution" but rather, after a decade of exile, the seductive allure of assimilation into a tolerant society which threatened their notions of Christian purity. As chance would have it, the Pilgrims got lost and their ship came ashore not in Virginia but four hundred miles further north near Cape Cod. They named their settlement New Plymouth.

Arrival in the wrong spot immediately created discord and mutiny. On the coastal fringe of a vast and frightening continent, the Good Book – a bright new revision, the Geneva Bible of 1598, which kitted out Adam and Eve in suitably fetching apparel – gave reassurance and inspiration. Its uplifting tales of sacrifice and redemption gave certainty and law in a land that provided neither. Unfortunately it gave little in the way of guidance for physical survival and armed pilgrims upset the locals by scavenging corn from native graves. In the event, the curious Wampanoags kept the intruders alive in a step fatally reminiscent of events at Roanoke forty years earlier.

 

The Pure – Bigotry in a bonnet

"The people of England may be so religiously, peaceably, and civilly governed, as their good life and orderly conversations may win and incite the natives of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of mankind, and the Christian faith."

– King Charles I,
Charter granted to the Massachusetts Bay Company


The Separatists – extreme Protestants who had forsaken the "Anglo-Catholicism" of the Church of England – were not alone for long. When the London company was dissolved and Virginia reorganised as a Crown Colony the northern swath of the eastern seaboard – renamed New England – was parcelled out to a new breed of joint stock corporation, modelled on the Muscovy and Levant companies. One such company was the Dorchester Company which in 1629 set up a seaport at the mouth of the Naumkeag River and named it Salem (from Shalom, Hebrew for peace). The following year the New England Company, reorganized as
the Massachusetts Bay Company, dispatched a major assault force of a thousand migrants, many but not all zealots, unwilling to compromise with the "Catholic rituals" enforced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. Sensibly the migrants were in family units, bonded together to resist the temptations of the wilderness and heathen licentiousness. The pure Christians styled themselves "saints", those of questionable piety, "strangers".

Barely had they made landfall when the "company" metamorphosed into a colonial government of Christian rectitude based at Boston. The fiery spirit of zealotry was upon the land. Within months, a colonist from Plymouth, John Billington, was summarily hanged on a charge of murder, though in all probability condemned for his blasphemy and forthright criticism of the theocratic government. Within a few years the hanging of witches would become a regular feature of the Promised Land.

 

Life under the American Taliban

"Right liberty, Winthrop [first Governor of Massachusetts] carefully explained, was liberty only to do God's will. All other forms of liberty were frowned upon." – (Brogan p 44)


In the brave new Christian colony of Massachusetts Bay government and church were as one. The state existed only to further God's purpose. New England's very existence was a covenant with God. Thus heresy was a civil offence, as was profanity, blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, sodomy, Sabbath-breaking – and of course, witchcraft. A misjudged curse – "willful blaspheming the holy name of God" – would merit a painful sojourn in the stocks.

The small townships established across the New England landscape clustered about their church/meeting halls, snuggled up to Jesus. With a profane, carnal, wilderness all about them, theirs was a citadel of God-fearing self-control and restraint. Authority came directly from God, not a king or a bishop, and was entrusted to the Elders who interpreted His Holy Book and guided self-governing communities of the pure. A minority of Puritans supported a limited form of centralised leadership, Presbyterianism, but most favoured "each congregation an entire and independent body-politic under Christ"Congregationalism. Wary of outsiders, the Congregational churches accepted a member only if he could demonstrate that he was indeed among God's elect.

As believers in "predestination" the Puritans suffered the psychotic torment of never being really sure that they had received the "gift of God's grace" and were forever striving for more diligent standards of biblical behaviour. A sumptuary law of 1634 forbade "rich apparel" – woollen or linen clothes trimmed with silver, gold, silk, or lace. Another in 1651 expressed "utter detestation" that men and women "of mean condition" should be wearing the garb of gentlemen (those with "visible estates of £200" or more). It charged the religious police with vigilance:

"The selectmen of every town, or the major part of them, are hereby enabled and required, from time to time to have regard and take notice of the apparel of the inhabitants of their several towns respectively."


Narrowly focused on "biblical truth" the Puritans were strict Calvinists, censorious and neurotic about pleasure, particularly other peoples'. As with all repressed communities of the godly, sexual transgressions were a particular obsession. Adulterers were publicly whipped and forced to wear a stigma on their clothing. Fornication and other lascivious acts risked a stay in the stocks or whipping. Sodomy, rape, and buggery were all "capital offences lyable to death". In 1642, one poor soul, who was clearly addicted to animal love, a Thomas Graunger, was found guilty of "buggery with a mare, a cowe, two goats, diuers sheepe, two calues, and a turkey". He was hanged and, in strict observance of Leviticus 20.15, the mare, the cow and the rest of his menagerie of paramours killed and thrown into a pit. In 1656 a sea captain named Kemble, returning home after three years at sea, was convicted of "lewd and unseemly behaviour" when he kissed his wife in public.

The Puritans, "grave, serious and solemn", had no Christian love for the avaricious, hedonistic planters in the south (Protestant ministers were driven out in the 1640s). But early attempts at communal economics ("in the manner of the first Christians") were soon abandoned in favour of a much more realistic selfishness (“God helps those who help themselves”) centred on a fiercely patriarchal family structure. Church, kinship, family was everything; non-conformists and single people were suspect. Women had no property rights, divorce was almost impossible and before Bible schools were established children received instruction at home, minimizing secular influences.

In this bastion of faith in the Americas democracy was not on offer ("Ancient Israel was no democracy"). In electing the colony's governor and magistrates the franchise was restricted to adult male members of the church. Even when increasing numbers of "strangers" made up the bulk of the population, the "saintly" Puritans continued to dominate New England. Inevitably, in such a vast land, religious intolerance caused free spirits and dissenting voices to abandon the kingdom of Christian correctness and find a haven elsewhere.

 

A glimmer of light

"And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." – 2 Thessalonians 3.14.


An early challenge to the theocracy came in the form of Roger Williams who arrived in Boston in February, 1631. Williams was an independent thinker and preacher, sympathetic towards the plight of the Indians and always at odds with the dogmatic Puritans, particularly over the fusion of church and state and infant baptism. To escape deportation back to England he fled the colony to Narragansett Bay where he was befriended by natives and purchased from them land for a "Providence Plantation."

The same area became home to other victims of conscience, persecuted by the intolerant brethren. The preacher John Wheelwright and his sister, the charismatic Anne Hutchinson, and their followers were among them. Hutchinson espoused the "indwelling Holy Spirit" in every believer, a dangerously subversive notion for a salaried clergy. On his Providence plantation in 1638 Williams built what was to be the first Baptist church in America. A Royal Charter was secured in 1643 and Williams was himself governor of the tiny Rhode Island colony between 1654-1658. Williams, not the Puritans, championed the cause of religious liberty and free speech in America. Even so, Williams himself denounced an early Quaker critic of slavery as a "bundle of ignorance and boisterousness" (Thomas, p456) and Newport, Rhode Island, became one of the great slaving ports in North America.

 

Quaking and Shaking

"You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you." – John 15.14.


The "Friends", "Children of the Light" or "Quakers" were the most libertarian and fanatical of Protestant reformers, rejecting in toto formal religion. Anathema to the original English Quaker, George Fox, were priests in any form of employ of the state ("hirelings"). Moved by his own "direct revelation of the divine" – aren't they all – he eschewed "steeplehouses" (churches) and relied on his charisma alone to draw vast outdoor crowds. The hot gospelling, spirit-filled hysteria attracted a following and alarmed the Puritan elite, not least because the Friends refused any form of deference, oaths or tithes.

Quakers made their way to the New England colonies but were often apprehended on arriving ships and sent away again. Those who made it into the Puritan promised land were castigated as pariahs, stripped, whipped, branded, and imprisoned for their impertinencies. But even cutting off ears did not silence the heretics and a Massachusetts' law of 1658 introduced capital punishment for Quakers.

"... for theire rebelljon, sedition, & presumptuous obtruding themselves vpon us, notwithstanding theire being sentenced to banishment on pajne of death, as vnderminers of this government ..."


Inexorably, the heresy hunt produced its martyrs. In October, 1659 two defiant Quakers, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, were hanged, three others sent to Barbados as slaves, thirty-one brutally whipped tied to a cart. A women, Mary Dyer, a troublesome follower of Anne Hutchinson and convert to Quakerism, was hanged in June 1660.

An English aristocrat who, in his own paternalistic way, embraced the Quaker cause was William Penn. In 1681 Penn used his connections with Charles II to obtain a charter for a new inland colony where the Friends could enjoy the "inner light" without fear of persecution. In a breathtaking demonstration of his Quaker modesty Penn named the vast track of land – 45,000 square miles (more than four times the area of Massachusetts) – for himself: "Penn's Woods", Pennsylvania! His experiment in enlightened philanthropy (he would appoint the governor and rule through a council of rich landowners) foundered just as surely as all the other holy experiments of the promised land – and Penn himself landed up in debtors prison.

 

Witches and Warlocks

"A Christian ought always to think humbly of himself, and be full of self-abasing reflection. By loathing of himself continually, and being very sensible of what are his own loathsome circumstances, a Christian does what is very pleasing to Heaven." – Cotton Mather, Diary (Hulse, p184)


In the austere, joyless world of New England Puritanism hysteria was one of the few outlets for pent-up emotion. One accusation that had been levelled at Mary Dyer was that of being a witch (and "giving birth to a hideous monster"). The evangelism of the Quakers clearly vexed the brethren (the Friends quoted freely from the Bible after all). Surely this was the work of the Devil trying to confuse the Saints and destroy God's work? When several girls began to experience "fits" and "distempers" it was proof positive that the demon king was among them. Perhaps the catalyst was contaminated bread.*

Witchcraft panic reached its climax in Salem in the summer of 1692. 156 people from twenty four villages were accused before special courts. Nineteen victims were hanged and one crushed to death for refusing to confess to the practice of witchcraft.

Cotton Mather, the Puritan leader and witch hunter at Salem, thought the plague of witches had been due to the previous "devil-worshipping" Indians. Mather, together with other hardline Harvard clerics, went on to transform the Collegiate School of Connecticut into Yale College and to write a book warning of witchcraft ("The Wonders of the Invisible World").


From the humid waterways of Pamlico Sound and Chesapeake Bay to the frosty shores of Maine, Jesus Christ, the phantom saviour of Judaea, had marked in blood his entry into a New World.

 

Sources:
J. Spiller, et al, The United States 1763-2001 (Routledge, 2005)
Morrison, Commager, Leuchtenburg, The Growth of the American Republic (OUP, 1980)
Russell Bourne, Gods of War, Gods of Peace (Harcourt, 2002)
Douglas Butting, The Pirates (TimeLife, 1978)
Richard Hart, From Occupation to Independence (University of the West Indies, 1998)
Hugh Brogan, The Penguin History of the USA (Penguin, 1999)
Francis Dillon, A Place for Habitation (Hutchinson, 1973)
Phil Jones, Ralegh's Pirate Colony in America (Tempus, 2001)
Erroll Hulse, Who are the Puritans? (Evangelical Press, 2000)
James Walvin, The Quakers, Money and Morals (John Murray, 1997)
Susan Greenwood, The History of Early Witchcraft (Southwater, 2002)

 

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