A "type" is a commonly found cluster of traits
among members of a larger group. A typical member of the
group may be part of a majority or a minority of the group,
and may be one of several types. There are and always
have been many types of Americans, and one of the
ludicrous and sad strains of American history has been the frequent
disposition of some one type to regard itself as the
only true American type.
As an example of a New England type, we may pose a young woman
of a God-stricken family of Norwich Dissenters, who receives a letter
from an uncle recently arrived in Massachusetts, say 1638, who
beseeches her to find a man who would marry her and further
indenture himself to accompany her to New England, where they
would become the indentured servants of a farmer who would be
paying for their passage. Mortgaging their future services, they board a
vessel that shakes them up and feeds and bunks them
miserably for two months, until it docks at Boston.
Turned over to their master and allotted a shed leaning against his
frame house, they go to work from dawn to dusk
except on the Sabbath, when they attend church. Their life is poor,
their social status low, but at least they know that, unlike in England,
their services are sorely needed. They have seven children: one dies in
childbirth, a second of infant colic, a third of the smallpox; one marries
a boy of a nearby town and gives birth four months later; one boy goes
to sea at thirteen and never returns; the oldest boy stays on and raises
corn and rye on an eighty-acre farm that his father,
the immigrant, had come to own. (Maybe it was his rye that spoiled,
and gave such strong hallucinations to people around Salem that they
acted like witches or put "witches" to death.)
"New England," wrote Sir Josiah Child in 1693,"is the most prejudicial
Plantation to the Kingdom of England."
This commercial magnate and economist meant that
its people were alienated from the Old Country:
moreover, their economic activities fitted poorly those of
England. There was no love lost between the two cultures. The
Puritans had been given their moniker in England to begin with
as a religious slur against them; they were "purist," concerned
overmuch with their souls and behavior - and those of others.
After outliving their purism, they still did not please people, and so
were called Yankees, another ethnic slur. Later on, and especially by
Southerners, all Northerners were called Yankees. Then the Yankees
came to call themselves such, and the rest of the world began to call all
Americans Yankee, including Southerners. So it became sometimes
and in some places, where Americans of
all sections of the USA had outworn their welcome,
"Yankee, go home!"
Perhaps the name came from the Indian attempt
at pronouncing English, to wit, "Yengees."
Or from the Cherokee epithet, "eankhes, "meaning "slavish coward,"
used by Virginians in referring to their New England allies.
The New York Dutch may have had a derisive term for
New Englanders, "Janke," the diminutive of "Jan,"
that is, "Johnnie."
The word was used to describe the peculiar dialect of many New
Englanders, full of special words (later conveyed vast distances by
internal migration), spoken in what uncharitable linguists still call a
"nasal whine or twang;"
"They spoke in Yankee, which I couldn't make out."
Then it was extended, viz,
"The coast was infested with Yankee privateers."
By 1755, it could serve as the subject of a song,
Yankee Doodle, composed in derision of the American provincial
militia by a British surgeon named Shuckburgh
serving in the army of Lord Governor Amherst.
(In slow tempo, the song has in it a typical
sound of the musical age of the Baroque.)
The Pilgrims so-termed were leftist (that is, more democratic)
precursors of the thousands of Puritans that came in the next decades
to Massachusetts. When the Puritans began to arrive in numbers, in the
1630's, they confirmed what had begun to shape up, a theocracy, that
is, a government by elders, reluctant to claim their legitimacy in the
name of the King, just as loath to base their authority on the large
body of people, but eager to speak in the name of God, which they
did, at great length, with a powerful elders-directed oligarchy,
enamored of laws prescribing and proscribing conduct, still with a
Governor (John Winthrop outstandingly), a council and councils in
each township that they set up, councils that in
most cases were town meetings of the
few that held the right to vote.
Winthrop, in a master stroke, arranged for the seat of the owning
corporation to be transferred to Massachusetts from London.
Thereupon the colony could be governed by the men on the spot.
This kind of government turned out to be too strong for
the King of England to extirpate. Although he might remove the
Puritan governors and appoint a royal governor -
as he would before the century was out -
he could hardly penetrate the decentralized autonomous
middle and lower ranks of governance.
The years 1629 to 1640 saw a total of perhaps 198 boats, carrying
according to original sources some 21,000, but, according to recent
indirect statistical studies, about 10,000 Puritans, across the ocean to
Massachusetts and away from intolerant and intolerable Charles I and
his Anglican Archbishop William Laud. Economic depression and
plagues were over the land, compounding political troubles.
Equal numbers, more or less, emigrated to Ireland,
the Netherlands, Germany, and the Caribbean region.
The numbers of this type of emigrant dwindled with the short-lived
triumph of the Dissenters in England; some settlers even returned
home to fight the struggle or profit from the victory of the
Parliamentary Party. The emigration was not resumed, and New
England was not a heavy receiving center for two centuries,
but for convicts and other odd batches and persons,
until the large immigration of the traditional enemies of the
Dissenters, Irish Catholics, commenced.
A majority of immigrants came from an area of sixty miles radius
around the market town of Haverhill in East England.
The balance came from a thousand parishes representing
all except two counties of England. New England fertility
became proverbial; families of nine children were
common. Averages of seven and eight children per
household were the rule in a number of seventeenth century towns.
Three centuries later there would be ten million and more Americans
with one or more ancestors among
this single set of immigrants -- 1,000 for1.
Puritans came mostly in family groups, mature
men and women, with children under sixteen equaling them
in number. (In the Middle States, except for German sects, and
especially in the South, men outnumbered women greatly
for several generations.) Again in contrast to
other American immigrants of the time,
most of them paid their passage.
If they were to be assigned to a social class, on, say,
the six-level Warner scale one would place
them largely as lower-middle class. Two-thirds of the
adult males could at least sign their names; most were skilled
or semi-skilled. About one-quarter were farmers, a smaller number were
servants and laborers, another quarter had been in the
cloth trades, and a larger number had been in other crafts and trades.
They were urban folk, as much as a third from large towns,
with a small fraction having lived in the country.
The rural image of New Englanders, an American
nostalgic myth, developed from the American experience.
Cleverly, the Puritans settled in villages right away.
Not only was it traditional with them, but their creed
called for a communitarian life, together
under God and their ministers. A group of them would be
allotted a town site, where it would put up a meeting house in the
center, surround this with a commons where each family could
graze its animals, assigned each head of family
a lot for his house and a patch of land to till.
The farming land was extended outwards as the population grew,
to the edge of the wilderness. Within two biological
generations developed a high correlation among several conditions:
large amount of land held (100 acres or more), church membership and
leadership, and political power.
The Puritans did not like the wilderness.
It sheltered devils, incubi if not succubi,
not to mention Indians and wild animals.
They built paths and stuck to them.
They cleared the wilds in groups. The wilderness in many
places had been farmed by Indians, but most Indians had died from
disease, and a second wild growth was there to be
chopped down or burnt. The Indians around them also
believed that nature was full of spirits.
Puritans did not have the enchanted interest in
natural surroundings that the Indians possessed.
They believed, with the Bible, that
man was on earth to subdue nature and exploit it.
For housing, they erected a familiar Kent and East Anglia
form, the Salt Box. A square floor plan, two stories,
with an attic beneath peaked roof, a central or
off-side fireplace, a kitchen lean-to on one side, and
an outhouse. They built of wood, as was the custom in the East of
England. For two centuries they cut and planed oak,
hackmatack, white pine and cedar, until these
hard woods were exhausted except at impossible prices.
Thereafter softer and cheaper woods were employed.
Clearing wilds, building roads and paths,
erecting bridges, and a number of other tasks were
for the public good and every man could
be called up to work at them. The village green or
the commons often was too trampled by beasts or
drilling militia to be more than a tawny muddy mess.
The militia, a famed institution of colonists everywhere, was an
impressed body of males called up to fight against
Indians, rioters, foreign intrusions, and other militias if needs be.
The butt of ridicule by professional soldiers, and thereafter
by historians, the militia served until the Revolution
usefully, if untidily, and rarely attempted to
take over the civil government or abuse the population
as professional soldiers had a way of doing.
Militiamen were assembled more often than anyone would be
summoned for jury duty. If they were held too long,
or their rations were not forthcoming, they would begin to desert
and the show might have to be called off, whatever it was.
On the march the Massachusetts soldier was promised
a pound of pork, a pound of bread, and a
gill of rum daily.
The authorities tried vainly to keep people within a
short distance of the physical center of town, but
gradually the population's increase and the ambition to farm
ever larger farms - an individualistic itch and a
craving for privacy, too - drove men to dwell far off.
A passion for fences began early, perhaps out of
fear of the wilderness, possibly, too,
from a lower-middle-class and Protestant covertness and anxiety
over property rights. Anyway the abundant stone
needed to be cleared away for farming. Fence building
and fence mending took up as much time
as watching television today.
Puritans, we have noted, were townsfolk -
and landlubbers, one might add. Fishermen rarely
came with the Great Migration.
Where did all the fishermen then come from, who brought in the cod,
built the boats and manned them, settled the fishing villages of
New England, and ultimately sailed the Seven Seas?
We are inclined to find this population in a large casual
immigration that the records of ship lists
and organized migrations will not contain. A close study of two
villages, Gloucester and Marblehead, has afforded
rich material to contemplate.
At one and the same moment, a site at Cape Ann beckoned to a
newly formed Dorchester Company and the Pilgrims of Plymouth.
Both groups dreamed of a fishing fleet profitably operating
there and being supplied, again profitably, with
food, salt and ship supplies. The Dorchester expedition had
poor boats and for two years arrived after the
potential catch of the fishing grounds had swum off.
The Plymouth company set out in 1624 but
arrived late, too, and besides spent more time in bibulation
than with the fishing lines. They constructed a fishing stage
for drying the hoped-for catch.
But when they returned the following season,
Captain Miles Standish at their head, they found that
the Dorchester crew had seized the platform and was ready
to do battle for it. Standish decided to retire,
and brought his crew home. The Dorchester crew
failed once again, and quit.
Next Cape Ann was settled by a group from around Salem that
numbered several who had experience in fishing out of Gloucester,
England, so renamed the site by Cape Ann as Gloucester and set to
work. They were joined by a score of Welsh families led by an English
pastor. The fishing enterprise began to work well, but the Welsh and
the English began to quarrel and divided the village into two factions,
who composed two political parties, who fought over the town
leadership and government for a decade and more. Perhaps it was the
first urban ethnic conflict of American history,
the first of thousands.
While Gloucester stabilized, and grew to 300 persons
by 1680, its neighbor to the South, Marblehead,
grew faster and obtained about 600 inhabitants,
a disorderly community, as it turned out. Its population was
mobile and diverse. It was settled by immigrants from the ports of
Wales and Ireland, English West Counties, Jersey (of the
Channel Islands, where the language and culture were French), and
Newfoundland, having usually fled from creditors or
ship masters or constables.
So, what with men calling one another
"a thievish Welsh rogue," and a"knave, Jearse cheater, and French dog,"
and the court docket loaded with suits for debt,
defamation, assault and battery, sexual molestation,
drunkenness, and general disorderliness, Marblehead
acquired a certain notoriety among inlanders and the
The women of Marblehead made up in boldness,
lewd behavior and ferocity what they lacked in numbers.
When, after some distressing losses at sea and the
pirating of fishing snacks by Indians up the coast,
a boat returned to port with two Indian prisoners,
seized while attempting to capture the boat, a
gang of women flew into a frenzy at the sight of them.
Screaming like Bacchae, they beat off their menfolk
and hacked the prisoners to pieces. Bring them to
Boston, the women shouted, and they would surely be freed.
People of Marblehead hated their rulers in Boston, and the
authorities from Salem as well, whom, on one occasion,
they drove off riotously and tumultuously when these came
to requisition the town's only means of defense, two cannon.
They hated, too, the inland merchants who stripped them
of their earnings. Martial law was
imposed on the town at one point.
Nobody in town was qualified to vote for the colonial legislature.
Their selectmen, who made up the town council,
were often in trouble for graft and theft. Most men
shirked taxes and labor service for the town, and
did not attend town meetings. "Participatory democracy"
would have been cusswords to them.
Still, Marblehead was productive and growing. As a result,
proper executives and merchants were sent in by the moneyed
interests from elsewhere and the town finally had an elite of its own,
and instead of one church that could barely survive,
it had two that contested bitterly the leadership of
the town, one of the affluent, the other of hoi polloi.
While in many places of New England the one Puritan mind
was certainly dominant - the one that myth-making has found
convenient, the stable, godly, repressive, conscientious type -
a second, erratic, troublemaking, boisterous, defiant
mind was operative in many other places and
even underground in the same places.
North of Massachusetts was New Hampshire, and
men of Puritan stock may have gone there,
but they shed virtues on the way. They mostly
had quit the fisheries and the salt flats, or had left home to become
adventurers. They dealt in rum and furs, two quarts of rum for an otter
skin, and the Indians got drunk and the men made
more on a single trade than in a week's honest toil.
The French Jesuits had banned the trade, but the Dutch of New York
continued to sell liquor and the New Hampshire men did so as well.
Not only did French trade diminish sharply, but shifty
Indians let themselves be baptized as Dutch Reformed and
Congregationalists as part of the rum bargain.
The Jesuits had to admit to lifting the restriction.
With the proceeds, New Hampshire built its New England villages, and
when these declined from losses in the Civil War and the
destruction of the environment and the out-movement of small
enterprise, the villages were gentrified by New Yorkers and others.
The Puritans and those who dissented from them at
Plymouth, Connecticut and Rhode Island, promulgated
the religious doctrines of Jean Calvin of France and
Geneva, Switzerland, correlated with those of John Knox of Scotland,
transmitted as Presbyterianism to Northern Ireland, and
elsewhere with a dozen sections of so-called Reformed churches.
They fed theologically also upon certain German divines,
the most prominent being, naturally, Martin Luther.
A strong belief of immediate relationship to the God of Israel
and Christ demanded a much simplified ritual and liturgy,
crowned with a sermon by the one in closest relationship,
according to those who had elected him, the minister.
Several cardinal doctrines distinguished the Church
from other Christian sects, theologically speaking
and anthropology aside. The several doctrines are to be
lived, enforced, repeated at larger council
meetings, and made the basis of everyday conduct.
A person is predestined to salvation in Heaven, and, logically,
could also be sent to Hell, by an Act of God;
we do not argue with Him; He chooses us.
When we behave well, and are successful in life,
we do not earn a place in Heaven, but only
demonstrate that we are among the elect whom
God will be calling to Himself. Most people are not
so lucky: witness their lapsing conduct.
Humans are totally depraved by nature, and
the majority will never be able to atone for their sins.
As for those who do not recognize the Christ,
there can be no apology for being, no rights.
Any sympathy for the Indians resides in their
potentiality as Christians, and this was often
doubted. (One needs note the parallel with the Papal Bull that
declared non-Christians to be without territorial rights.)
By the same token, the chosen few are irresistibly graced.
Men will recognize the authority of these elect
just as they would recognize the authority of Jesus.
They shall be the legitimate elite. They are the
elders of the church. "Democracy" was termed
by top elder John Cotton in 1664
"the meanest and worst of all forms of government."
By the end of the 1600's the Puritan government,
which came later in American textbooks to seem
divinely inspired and democratic, got into
trouble with its own people and with the outside world,
both colonial and overseas, not to mention the Indians.
Several Puritanical features were offensive.
For one, despite its assertion that church and state should form
exclusive and separate organs, the theocracy firmly united church and
state, a medieval Catholic idea that the Dissenters of
England were even then fighting against.
Separation of church and state was to be a
basic idea of American thought, even when
contradicted hypocritically in practice.
Puritan government was paternalistic, interventionist,
a welfare state. There was no philosophical or
theological principle inclining the elite
to keep their hands off of other people's business,
personal or commercial. In this sense, their
economic theory was Old Testament.
Interfere, restrain, forbid, guide, and prescribe
whatever God seems to indicate to you is
good and proper. Generally this meant being on
the side of the rich against the poor,
for the status of men on earth reflected their
standing in the eyes of God.
The price of basic goods was fixed.
Certain luxury goods were banned.
Rates of pay for workers were determined by law,
and were as low as could be set without
prompting them to leave town. Relatives were
held responsible for the keep of the sick and penniless,
while luckless ones without caring relations
managed slightly better through the agency of the Church
than the elderly slaves of the South.
So quick to impose laws upon their people,
the Puritan oligarchs could hardly be expected to have a
tender regard for human rights. Constables were
permitted to enter homes without warrants. Indeed,
none of the esteemed rights contained in the American Federal
Constitution were deemed to have extraordinary merits
at law or in principle. The liberty of the Church,
as a corporate body, from outside religious or secular control
was the paramount liberty.
The government was quick to punish religious crimes.
Blasphemy, for instance, was punishable by death,
but could be confused with sedition, also punishable by death.
In 1631 a man was fined, whipped,
had his ears cut off and was banished for "uttering malicious
and scandalous speeches against the government and church of Salem."
John Cotton, in 1636, as if rehearsing for the
Ayatollah Kohmeini vs. Salman Rushdie affair
three-and-a-half centuries later, defined
capital laws "which is a cursing of God by atheism,
or the like, to be punished with death."
In 1639, Ambrose Martin was merely fined
and sentenced to reeducation by a minister for speaking
of the church covenant as a "stinking carryon," and
arguing that God would never let preachers
take the place of Jesus. Joseph Gatchell of
Marblehead had his tongue pierced with a
hot iron in 1684 for arguing
vehemently that preachers were duping people,
telling plain folk that the Scriptures were
verbatim the words of God whereas they were
only the sayings of men.
In 1641, the Massachusetts General Court, by which name the
representative assembly was known, promulgated the "Body of
Liberties," a code of one hundred laws. Many of them would be
considered repressive in a modern democracy, and were thought so
even by fellow-Puritans of England, especially by the radical Levellers.
There was to be no slavery among Puritans but only among prisoners
of war and strangers who "selle themselves or are sold to us." The
articles portray naturally, through their theology, the oxymoron which
was clearly enunciated in the twentieth century by Fascist Duce Benito
Mussolini as "compulsory voluntarism," to wit, that a good citizen
must logically wish himself to be good and therefore welcome the
government's compelling him to conduct himself properly.
Such doctrines rid the colony of some difficult characters,
among them Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.
For preaching the equality of man, tolerance of opinions and religion,
and the general brand of radical democracy excrescent in
England, Roger Williams was banished, and set up shop
at what was to be the State of Rhode Island
and Providence Plantations, not far down the road.
There Anne Hutchinson found him, when she was banished for
preaching against the Puritan party line.
Williams, in fact, laid the foundations of the Baptist Church
in America, the membership of whose several branches is second
only to the Roman Catholic Church in numbers.
Also at odds with the Puritan Elders was Samuel Gorton, who
displayed such impieties as denying the Three-Beings
Holy Trinity doctrine, decrying the payment of
ministers, asserting each man is his own priest,
casting doubt on heaven and hell, allowing
every person a chance at salvation, and of course
democracy in government.
It may have been that he was much influenced by German
theological circles of the times, that included not only
Luther but also Agricola and Johann Andreae.
Many Puritans had emigrated to Germany and were in touch with
their movement in England and America. Still, the fully
operative ideational force bringing pressure
upon the political mind of the Puritans would have been the
Levellers movement in the Commonwealth Army of Cromwell.
When questioning themselves or asked by others the source of their
authority, the Puritan leaders would reply that
God had granted them this legitimacy because of their
understanding of His word and will.
God had covenanted with them as He had
with Biblical Abraham; telling them what
they must do and compelling them to agree to do it.
Right reason would persuade anyone of this.
To their critics, naturally, right reason as the
source of legitimacy had even less of a presence
than God when you needed it.
They believed in covenants, and psychologically they were thus
prepared to believe in a contract between the source of legitimate
authority and the subjects of the authority. The ideas of popular
consent, democracy, elections and representative government were
invented before the Puritans thought of coming to America, but the
idea of written constitutions to which all
responsible members of the community pledged
their adherence owes much to the idea of men
being bound by religious covenant. Magna Carta of 1215 was a
contract between king and barons. The "Compact" signed aboard
the Mayflower was a contract or covenant standing above the
parties, to which all pledged loyalty.
The Connecticut contribution to benign democratic rule was larger.
Thomas Hooker and his Congregationalist followers moved out of
Massachusetts with the express purpose of ridding themselves of a
"magisterial autocracy." They drafted and signed the set of
Fundamental Orders that was a true constitution of state, separating
church from state to a large degree, and basing authority on the
free consent of the people.
The people, to them, also meant a larger body of free and voting
citizens than was the case to the North. Constitution-drafting was a
catching habit. Spreading from colony to colony and from one kind of
group to another, it was applied to all forms of institutions in America.
Nothing could be done, nothing had validity, without an
As the power of the first three generations of Elders waned, the
People became an obvious choice as the source of authority; the
People could act by themselves, or, using a legal fiction, be
represented by persons acting in their name. Such persons would have
to be chosen, and if chosen by the People, they would be anointed with
Popular Legitimacy and Authority.
America would spend a hundred years and more
arguing over just who constituted the People and
how their Collective Will could enter the brain and vote
of the Legislative Representative, but in principle
there it was. The atom had been smashed;
the source of legitimate authority in modernity was to
occur in the fast-breeder of democracy.
There was reason to expect this to happen. The anarchistic
conditions of the first settlements of the country and the turbulent
contemporary history of their homelands let few
Americans believe in the King as the god-given or charismatic source
of fundamental authority. Many believed
in God as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe,
but once the Puritan ideology softened, few outside of the
Puritan congregations believed that God was specific
enough to designate the Puritan Elders as
His agents for secular official affairs.
Puritans were not at all deprived of lust by their religion.
But the authorities were meddling and officious.
Sometimes the controls they exercised over sexual conduct
were distinctive. They allowed courting couples to speak privately,
while sitting, by means of a double-belled trumpet;
the enamored could speak and hear through it, but their
elders around and about them could hear nothing.
They also allowed courting couples to bundle into
a bed together, with a board between them and
the girl wrapped from the waist down.
Wrappings and board and clever fingers and teeth....
Marriages were simple ceremonies; rings were not exchanged.
Ministers declaimed continuously against the perils of lust,
masturbation, fornication, and dating without a chaperon.
Contraception was strictly forbidden.
Adultery was a capital crime, yet often indulged.
The repressive moral code of the Puritans has long been shown to
have had a reverse. Fornication was common. Conception out of
wedlock was frequent, entailing an obligation to marry.
Prostitution was deplored but widely practiced.
Syphilis and other venereal diseases were known and feared.
A disgusting story told by Governor Winthrop
concerns a wet nurse who contracted the disease from her
mariner husband and spread it among seventeen infants
brought to nurse at her sore breasts.
Bestiality was punished by death.
Deformed piglets provoked a determined search for a human parent.
Unlike Spanish and French Catholics, Puritanical Protestants
brought with them a frequent aversion to and fear of sex among
themselves, which was projected onto the foreign races next to them,
Indian and African, and engendered sexual, personal, social and racial
disturbances. Guilt and punishment attended any overstepping of racial
boundaries in matters of affection. The contradiction of great
temptation and severe repression induced sick attitudes on
both race and sex.
Too, some of the circumstances abetted homosexuality.
Close quarters on boats, long voyages, reliance of males upon males,
the presence of helpless small boys everywhere. First Massachusetts
Governor William Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantations
wonders why "sodomy and buggery (things fearful to name) have
broke forth in this land," and lays it to "our corrupt natures, which
are so hardly bridled, subdued, and mortified."
The extraordinary Governor John Winthrop a few years later,
in his History of New England, remarks on a married man
with a record of sodomy in England who "had corrupted a great
part of the youth of Guilford by masturbations" and,
when questioned about the lawfulness of his practices,
declared himself skeptical of God; he was executed at
New Haven in 1646.
Studies of English society in this period show
widespread homosexuality. The employment of children
and the around-the-clock proximity of master and apprentices in the
economy and households are reasons that come readily to hand.
The quality of affection, one of life's basic goods,
is a priority question in seventeenth century America and
by extension in the centuries ahead. Would it be correct to say
that Americans began their collective existence with palpable
problems of affection, worse than beset the French,
Spanish, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Irish, and
English of the Age? The answer would be, yes,
with certain prominent reservations.
Beginning with the heavier German and Irish Catholic
immigration, and continuing, markedly reinforced,
with later immigrant groups, with the more frequent occurrence of
family groups and with the lesser presence of the
"Puritan shame complex," affection may have come to
be in larger supply (granted that immigrants would always be
attitudinally dominated, as in the social, economic, and
political spheres, by those who came before,
the "affectionally deprived.")
The slave culture, as we shall examine it, also wreaked
havoc upon affectional relations: letting
people develop intense relations, as they will
under oppressive conditions, and then breaking them
up frequently and traumatically. Although we are only in the
beginning of Euro-American history here
we need to recognize a condition of general
affectional deprivation and demoralization
at all ranks of society, and especially in the lower ranks
(in respect to other values), whereas often the
poor have at least been let alone to be loving.
Today American magazines carry many stories and counsels
concerning everyone's need for love and how to increase one's
affectional receipts and how to expend love upon others, including
one's children and senior citizens. But historians seem to be especially
immune to this concern. The word "love" hardly enters the
historiography of America. It may occur as "love of one's country," or
in an oblique quotation from a poem of Walt Whitman, who was a
great lover of persons, people, and democracy, and a
poet whom the ordinary American feels uncomfortable with.
A certain prize-winning and prestigious American
colonial history book of the past generation,
although giving itself ample space by
largely eschewing warfare and governance, does not
carry within its fine index the words:
love, affection, marriage, or family; it does not
treat them, and has only several paragraphs on
Actually, European America was born in a crisis of love.
The shortage of males was acute, and here we speak
even of the Puritans and then more emphatically of
the Virginians, Carolinians, and other settling-ins
that landed more like war parties than family gatherings.
Sexual, social and racial disturbances resulted.
With exceptions in the case of families and cults arriving
as affectional groups in the first place, people
who arrived were largely male -- males, too,
whose early American experiences with affection often
took the form of whoring, homosexuality,
rape, and bargaining for or purchase of women.
Since males had so often been thrown upon their resources,
often in their early teens, they had only experience with a
mother, often a bad one, with kind strangers,
and women of the streets. Thereupon, landed in the colonies,
they were mostly bereft of the company of girls and women.
They were taught that sex and concubinage with Indians,
Africans, or any combination of races was
taboo, even against the law, and punished.
Love was tied to vile sexuality and prohibited objects.
In sum, the average American male throughout the sixteenth century
and into the future was mal-conditioned in sexual affairs,
affection generally, and severely deprived. Furthermore,
he was conditioned to treat Indians, Blacks,
foreigners and any others available as if inferiors,
unworthy of his deeper affection, though often as objects of lust.
Seeking out a Black woman for sex, a White man might say
superstitiously and to deny his lust,
it was "to change my luck."
Quakers, who professed love as the basis of love and religion, were
few in numbers, though influential. Their concept of
love had heavy platonic overtones, despite
the example of Benjamin Franklin, reputed to be a womanizer.
Still, brotherly love was more like the true and full
article than the love that the Puritans loftily discussed,
which was essentially the insensible and condescending
love God spared for erring Mankind, and,
too, an affection that almost entirely assimilated into
relationships of respect.
The Quaker personal and private love for God and
for mankind, including even Indians, their preachments of
absolute peace, their method of making group decisions
by consensus, and then particularly their evangelism:
all this was too much for the Puritan oligarchs.
When Quakers came to Massachusetts, whatever standing they might
have had in Pennsylvania, they were banished.
If they returned, as did four such Friends, they were caught
by hostile locals and hanged; one was a woman.
Thirty were roughly treated and jailed.
This was by the law of May 1661, but
on September 9 of the same year there issued a
mandamus to the Colony to cease corporal punishment and the
execution of "vagabon Quakers," ordered by
none other than King Charles, hardly the democrat.
Still the persecution of Quakers continued.
Puritan colonists, often en famille,
cultivated affectional attitudes and relations that tended to
be formal and conditioned upon respect of elders,
propriety of women in respect to their men, secure
worldly goods, and godliness.
Children were authoritatively and gruffly treated;
physical punishment was severe and normal. Although the
breakaway rate for Puritans was high, the guilt and shame
syndrome did not break away with the escapees,
but continued in not very sublimated ways,
in literature, science, education, and
The novel Manon Lescaut, that I referred to earlier,
exemplified in the next century and in the Louisiana Territory,
not only the sale of "women of ill repute" to New Orleans males,
but typifies in the character of Manon the perpetual and true
ambivalence of the American male who must love a woman,
but cannot make up his mind whether to love the
"good-bad girl," like Manon, or the "good-good girl,"
the morally unambiguous creature that his mother,
teachers, preachers, and all the rest of the authorities
insisted he must prefer.
The Puritans had also a bad record in regard to witchcraft.
A long time after Calvin's Geneva had stopped burning
so-adjudged witches (in one year 34 had been burned there),
Massachusetts took up the practice.
It was about the time when Ludwig van Beethoven's
Great Grandmother had been burned at the stake for being a witch,
fortunately after parturition. In 1692,
20 women and men were put to death for
dealing with the Devil and putting the
hex on persons roundabout.
The basic cause was the corpus of Christian belief itself,
of the late Renaissance and Reformation variety.
Immediate causes may have been the ingestion of
large amounts of spoiled rye bread, which
produces a drug not too different from LSD in its effects.
Psychologically witch-hunting blended well with the Puritan ethic,
which regularly promoted a high level of paranoia in the population.
Too, the proverbial sexual repression of the Puritans
protruded from the welter of claims, testimony,
confessions, and accusations..
Being handled by the accused was sexual molestation.
One student of the subject has gone back to the plague of syphilis,
which would bring about a general misogynism,
which would then be projected onto women as witches,
causing several kinds of trouble.
Puritans were superstitious, perhaps excessively so,
possibly because of the paranoia of a God-watched culture:
"It's vain.. for Men to cover the least iniquity:
the Judge hath seen and privy been to all their villainy."
thus one of the most famous poems of the time called
"God's Controversy with New England," by Michael Wigglesworth.
Until the twentieth century, there occurred cases of digging up coffins
in order to rearrange a relative's bones when the corpse
was suspected of sucking the life force from the living,
or another such vampirish offense.
Basic literacy skills were esteemed, and New England was always
ahead of the other sections of the country in this regard. Its boats
carried more men who had studied at Cambridge and Oxford, too,
though it must be borne in mind that these places were less immersed
in the real world than a Bible College of today. Harvard and Yale were
started up in the latter part of the 1600's, and though not much to
begin with, became within two political generations sources of a
ministerial, professional and political elite. But a proper full-scale
elementary education system had to wait
another three political generations and more:
state intervention did not go so far as that.
The New Englanders kept a great many diaries and published more
items than the rest of America put together. The Reverend Cotton
Mather alone authored 400 religious tracts, one-fourth of the regional
production of all books, almost entirely theological and preachy
rubbish. Playing music was practically forbidden, composing it
impossible. (A contemporary of Mather, Alessandro Scarlatti of
Palermo, Sicily, was meanwhile composing 115
operas, and bringing up Domenico and several other
gifted children there and in Naples.)
The Rev. Edward Taylor wrote poems of obscene innuendos,
one might infer, about his relationship to Jesus,
as asking God to put Christ's nipples in his mouth
as the Virgin drawing him the lover unto a pure baptism.
Still, literature must begin somewhere in an
A literate father or mother breeds literate children.
A literate pastor has literate children who become
teachers, doctors, editors, writers, poets, and
conscientious civil officers, if they are not
pastors themselves or missionaries. A relatively
small number of people of this sort form a
large proportion of the elite of the land. There is a
hereditary quality to the elite demography of
de-celibated Protestantism, that Catholicism of
that age, castigated for its nepotism
and bastard favorites, hardly approached.
However, education and the kind of education
(liberal religion and pragmatism were New England inventions)
are not the only explanation of the unquestioned
prominence of the Puritans in American history.
First of all, success: they and their descendants
ended up on top of the heap. If ,
like the Indians, they should turn out to be
no longer on top with the passage of time, then
other groups will be invited to rewrite history - Quakers,
Mennonites, Jesuits, Mormons, Jews, Catholics, etc. - just as would
have happened if the sacred geese had not alerted the Romans to the
Gauls scaling their ramparts: we all might be studying Gaelic, and
memorizing the details of this great night of the capture
of Rome to recite at the Feast of the Honking Geese.
It took six biological generations for the New Englanders
to make it and they gave up many dreams on the way.
But whereas in 1670 practically nobody
owned knives and forks, or glassware or any
tea or coffee equipment, by 1720
two or three out of a hundred did so, and
by 1774 in Massachusetts about half
the households owned knives and forks, glassware, tea
and coffee equipment and a third possessed china ware.
Only the "wealthy" were likely to have some mahogany
furnishings. Practically no household
possessed a musical instrument.
With the growth of their material possessions, the Puritans,
now Yankees, did manage to gain and hold
lots of money, respect, education and science,
political power, and power over the country's imagery,
especially when relieved of the Southern competition by the
Civil War and of the Middle Northerners by the latter's
industriousness. They wrote and published many books,
that others had to read for lack of better.
They had a high birth rate when children could count on
obtaining land to farm, ships to build,
money to lend, insurance companies to organize, and so on.
They discovered what whale oil could bring, and
timber, and slave-trading, and gadgets, and furs.
They became inventors when industrial revolution was in
order. They financed railroads. They were hosts and masters of a
continual steam of immigrants who could be used as
domestics and laborers, before losing them and
going on to exploit the next wave.
Many of the most famous and long-lived and richest
families of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York,
South Carolina, and Virginia were in the process of becoming so
by participating profitably in the slave trade,
the internal and foreign rum trade, the fur trade,
and land speculation. Smuggling, profiteering,
double-dealing the Indians, privateering, and
buccaneering were all part of the picture.
The poorest half of the population gained nothing from
any occupation except a precarious subsistence,
this, too, often denied in infancy and old age.
Women were universally subordinate in law and in fact.
Not until one gets toward the upper echelons of the
population pyramid, among the top twenty per cent,
does one encounter decent material
standards of living for the times.
New Englanders embraced a melancholy culture;
it would have remained so even if dancing on
the green were permitted. When the Great Awakening was
brought to New England, many felt no need for it:
they were already in the habit of consulting their soul and
finding it wicked. They learned earlier than other Americans
to portray themselves from the start, mostly correctly,
as a suffering lot, who had the right to ask themselves a
and their descendants and the whole world to suffer in
commemoration. They learned that philanthropy in
religion, education, in charity, and even in business could pay
profits directly or indirectly. They never ceased
to profess a higher level of morality than ordinary people.
They cultivated hypocrisy, a useful trait,
in that it let them misbehave secretly, and to
make money hand over fist while professing sanctity.
One more bit of luck, for which they scarcely had
major responsibility, befell the Puritans
with the writing and adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
This, as we shall be seeing, was in many ways perfectly
suited to the ideals and machinations of the Puritan elect.
The general Puritanical elite thereupon developed
as the largest and most significant component
of the elite in the United States; it survived until the
mid-1900's before coming apart at the seams.
And, further, as elites are rated in history,
it might have been among the better ones.
It may have been unfortunate for America, this idea that an
omnipotent God labored in its interest, that its actions, if gainful,
were god-blessed, and if injurious, divinely mysterious.
The so-called savage Indians had no such ready reference
to their God with every action they took.
Yet anthropology books have been full of statements to the
effect that, unlike the western world, the savage world
was at every moment superstitious and prone to explain
everything as the work of spirits and gods or devils.
By quickly resorting to God in happy or unfortunate circumstances,
the ignorant clergy, no matter how filled with docta ignorantia, as
Erasmus said, can avoid naming names, the
real names of those responsible for good and evil in the world.
The Pilgrims in prayer upon arrival, and
the Priest carrying the cross alongside Columbus in landing,
united to deprive the New World of at least one promise that
could justify it: a truly new start.
The Pilgrims were only the first of the most. It is erroneous to
believe that American Puritanism, a source of wonder,
amusement, contempt, and anger around the world was
a product of the Pilgrims, Puritans of Massachusetts, and
a few individuals here and there. The essential
vices and virtues of Puritanism were inherent in and
derived from a number of Protestant sects who came to
America shortly after the New Englanders:
Quakers, Pietists, Moravians, Lutherans, Huguenots,
Anabaptists and Baptists, and later on the
Scots-Irish Presbyterians and Methodists, all
conveyed an essentially Puritanical ideology.
The New England Puritans took the lead, because they were
Anglophone, directly connected to England and the English
Universities, had the most prestigious intellectual apparatus in America
and met aggressively (abetted by their motley Marblehead types) the
wide world, up and down the coast and overseas.
When all the less prestigious cults and sects prescribing the
Puritanical formulas for the good life came to the country, and
met up with the New Englanders who had moved South and west,
whether in person or by word of mouth and the press,
they were much encouraged to insist upon their
reasonable facsimiles of New England Puritanism.
Tight-lipped Yankee bankers would lend tight money to tight-lipped
pastors of poor but tidy churches. Thus the conglomerate of attitudes
usually termed American Puritanism came into being. Backsliding
Protestant ministers and worldly Catholic priests might get into the
swing of things by dusting off the Puritan idols they had been keeping
on their back shelves.
Despite the deism that the names of Franklin, Washington,
Jefferson and the rest bespeak, and Tom Paine's atheism,
a majority of immigrants to America came believing that
God was crossing with them, further that the
kingdom of God could be set up here after
failing in Palestine and Rome and Country X.
And, in due course, whatever the law of the deists,
promulgated in the Constitution's First Amendment,
might demand in separating church from state, the
preponderant sentiment would work its way through
onto the dollar bill where it says "in God we trust," and
onto the Great Seal of the United States of America