Current Issue Article Abstracts

Spring 2022, Vol. 20.2

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“I Hear that God Saith Work”: Wunnampuhtogig and Puritans Laboring for Grace in Massachusetts, 1643–1653
Sarah Pawlicki

“ ‘I Hear that God Saith Work’: Wunnampuhtogig and Puritans Laboring for Grace in Massachusetts, 1643–1653,” details how beliefs about life after death transformed, and were transformed by, labor practices for both wunnampuhtogig (“praying Indians”) and English colonizers as they navigated the fraught terrain of seventeenth-century colonial encounters. This article argues that beliefs about the afterlife and those about labor were mutually constitutive, building distinctive and sometimes paradoxical worldviews for wunnampuhtogig and English alike. Traumas wrought by virulent epidemics among Eastern Algonquian polities catalyzed reassessment of eschatology and labor practices, the two variables appearing profoundly intermeshed in the conversion narratives spoken in Wôpanâak by wunnampuhtogig and translated for English readers across the Atlantic. Epistemological emphasis on the confluence of labor and cosmology was not a foreign imposition, but an engrained element of Eastern Algonquian cultural histories. Labor and eschatology converged in English evangelists’ rhetoric in ways that both reinforced and strained key tenets of Puritan covenantal theology, pointing toward scriptural tensions that preoccupied colonial evangelists. This article examines how religious beliefs about death and afterlives organized, inflected, and recast the labor performed by Indigenous and settler communities in Massachusetts throughout the mid-seventeenth century.


“France takes Possession of the West”: The Council at Sault Ste-Marie, 1671
Allan Greer

By a ceremony of prise de possession held at Sault Ste-Marie in June 1671, a subdelegate of the intendant named Daumont de St-Lusson formally laid claim to the North American interior for France. This incident is frequently cited in early American literature and consistently misunderstood. Though he purported to act in the name of Louis XIV, St-Lusson was actually engaged in a somewhat shady fur trading operation, in defiance of the governor of New France and against the wishes of imperial authorities. The general impulse to expand into the west came from Canadian traders, missionaries, and colonial officials; and the specific origins of St-Lusson’s expedition lay in a competition for spoils pitting the governor against the intendant. “France” as embodied by the king and his naval minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, sought to consolidate its hold on the St. Lawrence Valley, avoiding any spatial dispersal of efforts. This article demonstrates that “the French” did not form a monolith with a unified, centrally directed approach to colonialism. Instead, the Sault Ste-Marie case illustrates the complex dynamics of imperial expansion, which typically involves metropolitan governments, colonists on the periphery, and Indigenous peoples, all pursuing divergent interests in fluid circumstances.

“The Fishes Life”: Social and Physical Liminality in Mather’s The Fisher-mans Calling
Dan Walden

The majority of early English settlements in America were by definition coastal, but critical attention on Puritans and the environment has largely focused on the terrestrial landscape. While recent interventions have argued for an oceanic focus, such a reorientation remains blind to the unique influences of coastal environments and the cultural conflicts that happened there. Drawing largely on Cotton Mather’s maritime sermons written between 1704 and 1726, with particular emphasis on The Fisher-mans Calling (1711), this essay argues that early New England Puritan communities had a nuanced and difficult relationship to the liminal coastal, environmental, and sociocultural worlds around them. The cultural conflict, in particular, is best represented by fishermen as a distinct subset of the local population. Unlike merchant mariners and deepwater sailors, fishermen were often local citizens who consistently bridged the gap between maritime and terrestrial worlds. They were themselves liminal figures who presented unique problems around community inclusion for civic and ecclesiastic leaders. Understanding the problems fishermen posed for Puritan community leaders offers new insights into the ways environment and culture interacted in early America.

General Gage Comes to Salem: Interests, Ideologies, Identities, and Family Alliances Collide on the Eve of the American Revolution
Richard J. Morris

Following the Boston Tea Party and passage of the Port Act, General Thomas Gage, the new royal governor of Massachusetts, moved the seat of government to Salem. Upon his arrival, Gage was greeted by dueling addresses signed by 48 of Salem’s Royalists and 125 of its Whigs. The addresses exhibit contrasting political ideologies; however, the signers’ backgrounds reveal each group embraced views that served its interests. On the one hand, Royalists supported a polity that promoted order, stability, and the rule of law, a system that benefited an interrelated group of old elite families with lucrative kinship ties to the Bay colony’s political establishment led by former Governor Thomas Hutchinson. On the other hand, Whigs demanded a government that protected people’s rights, especially their property rights. This suited artisans, master mariners, and rising merchants determined to preserve meager or recently acquired holdings from Englishmen, whom Salemites asserted had “an interest in laying burthens upon us for their own relief.” The property that Whig signers sought to defend served various purposes. It provided economic security, and it was a source of personal liberty, masculine pride, and a voice in government.

A Royal in Revolutionary America: Prince William Henry and the Fall of the British Empire in Colonial America
Vaughn Scribner

Although historians have generally framed Prince William Henry’s time in occupied New York City—September 26, 1781, to November 4, 1782—as an interesting side note to the American Revolution or a brief blip in the future king’s adolescence, the royal’s tenure in the New World has more to reveal. As the first member of the British royal family to visit colonial America, the sixteen-year-old prince rested at the confluence of a muddled-but-important dyad: for Loyalists, the prince defined how dreams of monarchical aid clashed with the reality of declining royal influence in colonial America, while Patriots also used him to assert their fantasies of republican liberty while lambasting the shortcomings of British Hanoverian monarchy. Ultimately, Prince William’s presence in colonial America confused as much as clarified, forcing all parties involved to confront the messiness of revolution as monarchical rule in the thirteen colonies was steadily replaced by equally muddled notions of American republicanism.


Sintsincks to Sing Sing: Empire, the War of 1812, and the Transformation of U.S. Prisons
Lee Bernstein

In the 1820s, incarcerated workers constructed Sing Sing Prison between the Hudson River and a limestone quarry. The prison’s name evoked the site’s legacy of conquest and colonization, while the War of 1812 served as a catalyst for large prisons like Sing Sing where confinement would be shaped by labor, violence, and coercion. During the war, both the British and the United States held captives in large prison complexes in North America and England. Initially envisioned as humane alternatives to earlier prison ships, British and U.S. military prisons soon became sites of intimidation and violence. Soon after, the cultural memory of the war helped reshape the meaning and experience of incarceration at Sing Sing. This led prison advocates, including veterans of the war, to reject the religious idealism of earlier prison advocates without rejecting prisons altogether.