Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Survey: Colonial Questions

Students in the survey often wonder about the relevance of the colonial era. This semester I focused on two thematic responses: 1) the birth of religious pluralism and 2) the regulation of inequality. Bill Nelson's article "The Utopian Legal Order of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630-1686, 47 Am. J. L. Hist. 183 (2005), provided a jumping off point. By recovering the utopian origins of Massachusetts Bay, Nelson shows how the Puritans brought with them rebellious tendencies, a "radical antinomianism" that they themselves could not control, leading to the banishment of Puritan dissenters like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson who themselves became pivotal to the formation of new colonies. Further, Nelson shows how the Puritans struggled to manage class tensions, building a legal order "so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor nor the poor and despised rise up against and shake off their yoke." Rather than aim for a classless society, in other words, the Puritan "Modell of Christian Charity," aimed at interclass harmony, an effort to successfully manage - or regulate - inequality that would become a recurring them in American legal history. Of course, this prompts the question: to what extent did Puritan efforts to achieve interclass harmony fail? To what extent did they engender resistance? Timothy J. McMillen and Veta Smith Tucker both locate a response in the over-taught yet under-theorized Salem witchcraft trials, placing Tituba's testimony within the larger context of slaves who testified against their masters in Puritan New England (see "Black Magic: Witchcraft, Race, and Resistance in Colonial New England," 25 J. Black Studies 105 (1994)); and "Purloined Identity: The Racial Metamorphosis of Tituba of Salem Village," 30 J. Black Stud. 625 (2000)). Of Particular interest here is not only Tituba's description of Satan as a Puritan minister, but a little known slave named Candy who testified that her master Margueritte Hawks instructed her in witchcraft, prompting her arrest. Anyone know more about Candy? her story seems to be occluded from most studies of the period, though her riestance seems just as, if not more significant than that of Tituba.

Photo credit: Creative Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment