Essay: American Colonies the Puritans Who Arrived

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¶ … American Colonies

The Puritans who arrived in America in 1630 were on a mission to build a -city upon a hill- as an example of what could be done in a society committed to Gods laws. In the first century of settlement, however, the challenges that they encountered compromised aspects of their mission. Discuss these challenges and the Puritans' response to them.

Some of the first settlers who arrived in America in 1630 were Puritans, determined to make their new settlement "a city on a hill" as a symbol of how successful a society could be if it were committed to God's laws. However, the challenges they faced upon their arrival in the New World compromised aspects of this mission, and the Puritans responded by doubling down on their religious and social isolation and exclusionism. Specifically, the Puritans' lack of any particular plan for constructing their new, idealized society meant that upon arrival, they were faced with the reality of multiple, differing strains of religious thought that did not coincide with the strictly theocratic view of a God-centered society that motivated the Puritan movement as a whole.

Because "New England's churches could not have been thoroughly 'Puritan' if they did not exclude, in some way, someone," the need arose to purge the city on a hill so as to ensure that it was populated by people who believed in the Puritan mission, or, if they did not believe, at least were willing to go along with its dictates (Carpenter, 2003, p. 44). Thus, the Puritans attempted to combine "the exclusive and the national," because "by being exclusive, they helped preserve their particulars; by being national -- that is, requiring, at first, everyone to attend one of the established churches, they guaranteed that those particulars would be presented to non-adherents -- people who did not necessarily share their culture" (Carpenter, 2003, p. 44). This is how the Puritans first attempted to deal with the promise, and threat, that American freedom posed to them, because although the new colony offered a place wherein they could construct their ideal society free from the dictates of the state, this also meant that individuals were similarly free to ignore the dictates of Puritanism.

These efforts to be simultaneously exclusive and national did not work out, because over the course the first hundred years "the City upon a Hill' faced two nearly simultaneous and theologically related challenges: the antinomianism of Anne Hutchinson and the dualism of Roger Williams" (Carpenter, 2003, p. 45). Both of these theological divergences challenged the Puritan mission because they represented "a strand of dualism that would weaken or sever the organic unity that Puritans envisioned between the individual's heart relation to God and life in the secular world;" in short, they did not believe that religion should play the dominant role in determining social and political matters, the central tenet of the Puritan's proposed theocracy (Carpenter, 2003, p. 45). Rather than adapt their mission to include these divergent strains of religious thought, the Puritans simply excluded them, such that, for example, William's "Providence plantations became a kind of safety valve for New England," because they were "the 'basin' into which the outcasts of Puritan New England could be sent" (Carpenter, 2003, p. 46). Thus, the Puritans responded to challenges facing their mission by doubling down on their strict theocratic beliefs, and this actually served to aid them in their quest to build a completely religious society; though Puritan society was undoubtedly horrible for a large number of its citizens, and Puritanism demonstrates once again the dangers of allowing public policy to be dictated by the instructions of imaginary characters, for all intents and purposes the first hundred years of the Puritan's project was largely a success, due to the Puritan's ability to grow steadily while purging themselves of any dissenters.

2. What were some of the long-term effects of cross-cultural exchanges among Native Americans, Africans, Englishmen, and other ethnic groups? Discuss both specific benefits and negative aspects in detail, illustrating your answer with examples.

The cross-cultural exchanges among Native Americans, Africans, Englishmen, and other ethnic groups in the American colonies is not as simple as one might expect at first glance. Obviously, these cross-cultural exchanges benefited Englishmen more than anyone else, if only due to the fact that the English settlers were not subjected to genocide, in the case of Native Americans, or slavery, in the case of Africans (although a number of European arrivals to the colonies were indentured servants, this indentured servitude does not represent the same kind of large-scale enslavement that would befall Africans). However, recognizing the most obvious negative effects of cross-cultural exchange between Europeans and others, while important, serves to obscure some of the most interesting elements of these exchanges, namely, the interactions between Native Americans and Africans, both before and after the arrival of European settlers, and the cross-pollination of European religious thought with the folk religions of Native Americans.

In recent years, more and more evidence has emerged that African explorers likely interacted with Native Americans well before Columbus ever set foot on Hispaniola. In fact, Columbus records seeing Africans who had apparently been living in the Americas well before his arrival, and "from 1305 to 1312, Abu Bakari II, the kind of Mali, sent two expeditions across the Atlantic" (Smallwood, 1999, p. 19). All of this is on top of archeological evidence that suggests Africans may have been interacting with Native Americans possibly as far back as anywhere from 1200 to 400 BC (Smallwood, 1999, p. 19). Thus, by the time the African slave trade began bringing Africans to the American colonies en mass, Africans and Native Americans had coexisted for some time. This coexistence, and a mutual aversion to the European settlers, resulted in runaway slaves and Native Americans forming "mostly Indian and black communities, which became known as maroon communities" (Smallwood, 1999, p. 20). The Native American's agricultural and geographical knowledge, coupled with the runaway slaves' experience as soldiers and laborers, meant that "some maroon communities were so well organized and defended that Europeans were forced to sign treaties granting them independence," as in the case of those communities residing in "the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and Virginia" (Smallwood, 1999, p. 20). Thus, the early cross-cultural interactions between Native Americans and Africans actually helped to form the communities of freed and runaway slaves that would become integral to the Underground Railroad in later years.

In addition to the beneficial interactions between Native Americans and Africans, the American colonies also saw some positive cross-cultural exchanges between Native Americans and English settlers. Aside from the more well-known contributions Native Americans made to the settlers agricultural expertise, the colonies were also the site of interesting exchanges between the religions of either group. Although there were undoubtedly some clashes between Native American religious belief and the strict dictates of the early settlers, there was actually a fair bit of intermingling, such that "local residents regularly consulted cunning men, folk healers, astrologers, and diviners" (Winiarski, 2005, p. 147). This mingling of religious belief gave rise to much of the specifically-American superstitious beliefs regarding devils, and particular the appearance of Satan, and although one can quite convincingly argue that any cross-cultural exchange which reinforces religious belief is negative, if there must be religious belief at all, it is at least positive that the Native Americans and early settlers were able to coexist, at least for some small period of time, with relatively little conflict.

3. If colonial America differed from England because it offered greater opportunities, the degree to which one could take advantage of these opportunities depended upon gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Consider the ways in which two of these factors enabled some people to enjoy the promise of Colonial America more fully than others.

Though colonial America offered greater opportunities than England, the fact remains that these opportunities were not available to individuals across the board. While many preexisting notions of class and political power were practically non-existent in the early colonies, and thus individuals were free to forge their own way independent of certain restrictions, many of the underlying biases which characterized life in England remained. In particular, the opportunity promised by colonial America was not completely open to anyone who was not a white, Christian male, and a look at the experience of women, and particularly women who did not conform to Christian standards of behavior, will demonstrate that this was the case.

The restrictions placed on woman mostly had to do with the centrality of Christianity within early colonial communities. As an inherently misogynistic religion, explicitly concerned as it is with dictating women's sexual behavior as well as excluding them from positions of authority, Christianity's centrality to early American colonies meant that women were not free to enjoy the same opportunities as men. For example, in 1681 a woman named Katherine Watkins "brought a charge of rape against John Long, a 'mulatto' man," and the nature of the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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