Thursday, January 07, 2010
A Colonial Spectrum: God versus Money
I'm reading this book on John Winthrop for a class. I like him and thought I would tell you about him. He's the guy who started the Massachusetts Bay Colony back in 1629. I had always had this impression that Puritans were religious nutcases. But, after doing so much work on North Carolina nutcases in the colonial period, crazy and overzealous Barbadian settlers fighting tax-evaders and pirates of the Outer Banks, the Puritans started looking a whole lot better! lol As I've said before, the North Carolina Colonial Records read like a Jerry Springer show transcript!
Winthrop's "City on a hill" was designed to be an example to the world... a repudiation of Anglicans, Arminians, Antinomians, Nihilists, etc, etc,... and for the most part it was a highly organized bunch of people whose focus was not on themselves, but on God. That worked for awhile. Winthrop had troubles though, despite his really cool goatee. Sooner or later, people just want to be noticed. They got fed up with no attention on their bright, cheery faces.
Dissension was a constant force of "evil" for Winthrop. As a natural leader, he could hold the government of Massachusetts Bay together for awhile. Punishments became necessarily severe at times... for odd things (to us) like not coming to church. Union of the church equated with the union of Massachusetts, as Winthrop knew and once that union failed... so did the state.
Dissension is arguably and naturally human. Differences can't really be avoided. So, when Roger Williams began pounding the pavement (and colonist's nerves) with his denouncement of England's Anglican ways, it became a problem. Winthrop wanted in no way to tick off the King by telling him that he was evil. That probably would've done it. I mean, Massachusetts wasn't quite ready to tell England to go away... yet. :) (We were not ready in 1775, but we just got REAL lucky!)
Williams was persistent. Winthrop tried to convince him of the error of his ways... that you could not escape the evils of the world, but had to constantly fight them. Alas, Williams left for Salem and started his dissension business there, even had the backing of the congregation in Salem. Inevitably, however, Williams' vibrant personality and stubbornness eventually got to the Salem crowd and they wanted him out.
Roger Williams was almost sent back to England in chains. However, the Massachusetts guys found a better place for him than jail... Rhode Island. Williams was banished (along with 20 or so people he convinced and dragged with him) to found another colony that became as hard to get along with during the Revolution as England herself. Of course, they were probably the most entertaining group of the thirteen colonies!
Then, along came Anne Huthinson who basically repudiated everything! No one can be saved! The whole world is evil and we're all doomed! Well, it wasn't complete Nihilism... maybe. Still, she frightened Winthrop even more. So, banish her, too.
All this banishing means the beginning of dissenter states around the one, true Godly one... it begins to represent modern times with thousands of separate denominations, saying that they all know what God wants and that everybody else is full of it. Well, obviously this isn't going to work.
Still, at least the Puritans tried. I no longer think of a Puritan as someone who is going to burn me at the stake or hang me for just being there (of course, that did happen in 1692 Salem...). Still, Winthrop was a caring man that really tried to keep everyone together. More specifically, I guess... Winthrop was the one I really admire. Maybe Puritans in general are still nutcases. lol
However, North Carolina seems downright radical when compared to Puritans... they almost had no controls when it came to land, money, and women. Colonial Carolina Anglicans also "worshipped" an inept deity. There is no doubt that these were pure capitalists who cared little for religion (except as a way of condemning a competitor). Charleston had some Anglican ministers who did not drink too much and make a fool out of themselves, but they were few and far between. North Carolina, unfortunately, had fewer. Still, North Carolina began quickly to differentiate from Charleston and became as stubborn and independently minded as some Puritans... in fact, they became downright Quakerish! With good reason! This is the state that led the American fight in the southern field of the Revolution, supplied the most troops and frightened the devil out of the British. I refer of course, to the Over-mountain Boys! I'd never want to face that crowd!
In short, the spectrum line was drawn between New England and Carolina. Everything in between became a battle zone between one belief and another. God vs. Capitalism. Carolinians would have challenged the devil himself... for a high enough profit margin!