Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mussels and Garlic Sausage, Portuguese Style


My wife and I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Portugal, where we ate seafood almost every day.  This recipe adapts the Portuguese method of cooking clams and garlic sausage together in a covered pot, a cataplana.  Portuguese clams are different from ours, so I have substituted mussels.  Butter clams would also be good.

2 pounds of mussels
1/3rd of a pound Spanish chorizo sausage, cut into 1/4” cubes
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4” squares
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 onions, sliced and minced
1 box Pomi brand chopped tomatoes (26 oz.), or two cans
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika (I like smoked paprika)
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine (or vermouth)
Chopped parsley

In a large pot with a lid, melt the onions in olive oil, then add the garlic.  After a minute or two, add the chopped tomatoes, bell pepper, bay leaf, paprika, and hot pepper flakes.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Add the white wine, stir, and then add the shellfish.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes or so, until all the shellfish have opened.  Discard any that remain closed.

I shell half the mussels, then spoon those and the remaining mussels into soup plates and sprinkle with parsley.
Serves 2.  For more servings, add 1 pound shellfish per person, more onions (1 for every 2 people) and garlic (ditto). 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Brad Watson's New Novel, Miss Jane

     That fine writer Brad Watson has just published a new novel, Miss Jane (W. W. Norton, 2016).  Drawing in part on family stories about his great aunt, Watson has set Jane Chisolm’s story in the east-central Mississippi farm country of 1915.  Jane is born with a urogenital sinus anomaly with persistent cloaca—her urethra, vagina, and anus fused into a common channel, precluding intercourse, and her sphincter doesn’t function.  Corrective surgery was not possible at that time, so Jane remains incontinent and must wear diapers all her life.  Jane is strangely different, and that difference propels the novel.  As an adolescent, Jane has a crush on a neighbor boy, so her parents promptly send her away to the nearby town to help her elder sister run her dry cleaning and laundry business.  After her father drinks himself to death, she returns to the family farm to care for her increasingly despondent mother.  After her mother’s death, Jane lives alone on the farm.  Eventually, she is offered corrective surgery, but she refuses it.  She continues to live on the farm until she dies in her sleep.

     The voice of the narrator is matter of fact yet sympathetic about Jane’s otherness, and it immediately establishes our senses of Jane and of place. Take the first sentence:  “You would not think someone so afflicted would or could be cheerful, not prone to melancholy or the miseries.”  Instead of keeping the audience at arm’s length, that “you” pulls us in and makes us complicit.  At the same time, the reference to “the miseries” reminds us of an earlier,  country mode of speech.  The next sentence about Jane is straightforward narration:  “Early on she acquired ways of dealing with her life, with life in general.”  But the next, concluding this opening paragraph, hints at what Watson does so skillfully, alluding to a dimension that remains just out of reach:  “And as she grew older it became evident that she feared almost nothing—perhaps only horses and something she couldn’t quite name, a strange presence of danger not quite or not really a part of the world.”

     As a young child one evening on the verge of dropping off to sleep, Jane hears “the low growling of something, a growl of something that sounded massive, slow, and fierce passing just below the window of her room.  Some unspeakable monster.  Her heart seized and she shouted out" (p. 61).  Her father checks the ground outside her window for tracks:  nothing is there.  Her sister Grace ups the ante by suggesting that it could have been a bear, but her father dismisses that possibility scornfully.  “‘Not only would we’ve heard that,’ her father said, ‘we  sure would’ve smelled it.  Nothing stinks quite like a bear.’”  Comforted by Grace’s presence, Jane does go back to sleep.  What the narrator makes clear is that this unspeakable monster remains in Jane’s mind, even though she is never conscious of it:  “her only nightmares would be about the nameless beast she had heard, her sleeping mind imagining it in all kinds of forms, none of which she was ever able to recall upon waking” (p. 62).  Later, when as an adolescent Jane is trying to figure out the mechanics of making love, she spies on the young couple who are sharecroppers for her father.  Afterwards, Jane worries that she has done something terribly wrong, with the result that she has become the monster outside the window, the other who cannot do what normal people do in loving one another.

     Jane’s guilt is assuaged by Dr. Thompson, the man who delivered her and who continues to care  (in every sense) for her.  As she matures, he explains the facts of life to her, facts that unfortunately will never apply to her personally.  Dr. Thompson never loses hope that eventually surgical procedures will be discovered to correct her problems.  In this sense, he serves as a foil to Jane:  what he sees as an abnormality, she of course takes to be normal for her, and she adapts reasonably successfully.  Both of  them learn how to live alone and not be lonely, and their love for each other is no less real for being Platonic.  At some point after Dr. Thompson has died, Jane receives a letter from Johns Hopkins offering to perform the operation they have pioneered, free of charge.  She feels indignant because she sees no reason to be “fixed”; she has long since become accustomed to who she is, and that’s the end of it.

     But Jane’s life is not defined by loss.  On the contrary, she possess an altogether remarkable and to some degree compensatory awareness.  It ranges from relishing the mud squishing up between her toes the first time she goes wading in the beaver pond to her visits to her secret meadow, a clearing in the woods she considered her very own.  There she could step altogether out of time:  “The eyes of all the wild, invisible animals watching her.  Time was suspended, or did not exist.  She could linger there as long as she liked and when she returned no time had passed at all since she had stepped into the clearing and then awakened from it” (p. 75).  At their most intense, these feelings deepen from sensuous to sexual (although Watson is careful to say that she was too young to verbalize what this meant):  the taste of her first raw oyster, the soft skins of wild mushrooms, the pecan nuts in their smooth brown shells that  she rolled between her palms—these were all more than sensuous for Jane. They produced a sexual climax: “She felt it inside herself though, as deeply and truly as a lover.  She fell into the grove’s rough, tall grass and into darkness, some charged current running through her in pleasant palpitations of ecstasy” (p. 110).

     Over time, the peacocks that Dr. Thompson had introduced on his place so multiply that they come to inhabit Jane’s farm as well.  He had introduced them on his farm because they were at once beautiful and strange—he felt people didn’t know what to make of them.  In this sense, the peacocks are like Jane.  The peacocks are also the creatures Jane sees before she goes to sleep for the last time.  As she does, she dreams she moves through her secret clearing and, in her yard, enters a secret avian cathedral.  It’s not filled with peacocks—that would be too easy.  No, these are “some kind of winged and feathered things” that she had never seen.  They don’t appear to be the monsters she dreamed about in her youth but never recalled when she woke up, but neither do they appear to be altogether benign.  Miss Jane ends with the sentence, “They stood very still, hushed, their gleaming black eyes fixed on her, white beaks open in a strange, alert anticipation.”  Is this the “strange presence of danger not quite or not really a part of the world” that Brad Watson invokes in the opening of the novel?  Or is this one last suggestion that this wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful character Jane can perceive what the rest of us cannot know, tethered as we are by being altogether ordinary?

     Sir Francis Bacon observed in his essay “Of Studies,” “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, . . . some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”  Miss Jane falls into the third of Bacon’s categories.  A tour de force, it abundantly rewards reading with diligence and attention.  I would add only that the best of these books are to be read slowly and with appreciation, their language heard in the mind's ear the way good whiskey is savored on the tongue.  Brad Watson’s Miss Jane is one of those.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Plagiarism: What Is It & Why Does It Matter?

When you use another writer's intellectual property--language, visuals, or ideas--in your own work without giving proper credit to that person, you commit plagiarism.

Pretty simple, right?  And I bet you didn't realize that this description of plagiarism is itself plagiarized:  I took it word for word right from Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference (Bedford/St. Martin's).  I did make a few changes.  I substituted "writer's" for her "author's," I left out some of her statement, and I added "to that person," but these minor changes in no way get me off the hook.  I used Diana Hacker's language and her ideas without giving her credit.  I passed them off as mine.  I stole them, to put it bluntly, and that constitutes intellectual theft.  If I used Hacker's definition in public--in a blog post, a speech, or an essay--and didn't give her credit, I would add fraud to theft.

The first time I ever taught a Shakespeare course at the University of Washington in Seattle, I discovered a wonderful example of plagiarism.  I had been preparing to teach this introductory course for some months, but a fair amount has been written on Shakespeare's plays and I was barely keeping one week ahead of my class as I continued to read up on the plays I was teaching.  Then the term papers came due.  As I started to read a student's paper on The Winter's Tale, I had a sense of deja vu:  this was very like something I'd only read a week or so ago.  I reached over to the stack of books on my desk and pulled out E.M.W. Tillyard's Shakespeare's Last Plays, turned to the chapter on The Winter's Tale, and there it was:  the term paper copied Tillyard word for word, and without any acknowledgment.

I wrote at the end of the paper, "This is an excellent paper, but of course Tillyard is an excellent critic.  Because you have plagiarized without any acknowledgment of your source, your grade is F.  Please see me if you have any questions."

A young woman promptly came to see me.  I have long since forgotten her name; I'll just call her Jane Doe.  Jane Doe kept repeating that she just couldn't understand her grade.  Finally, in some frustration, I said, "Miss Doe (this took place many years ago, remember), I can't understand why you don't understand.  You copied your paper word for word, paragraph for paragraph, from Tillyard's book, Shakespeare's Last Plays, and you never acknowledged him as your source.  This is plagiarism, and that is why I am failing your paper."

At this, Miss Jane Doe burst into tears.  I silently handed her a box of tissues.  Finally she said, "Oh, Professor Cox, I copied this from my sorority's file of term papers.  But if I had known it was plagiarized, I never would have copied it!"

We now have the spectacle of the Trump campaign denying that Melania Trump's speech on July 18th was in part plagiarized from the speech given by Michelle Obama in 2008.  It is bizarre to have a possible First Lady quoting from the current First Lady (as opposed, say, to Mrs. Hoover), but all anyone has to do is look at the two passages side by side to realize that part of the speech did plagiarize both language and ideas without acknowledgment.  Melania Trump reportedly told NBC's Matt Lauer before she gave the speech, "I wrote it.  And with as little help as possible."  Oh, right.  But who wrote the speech is not the issue, it's who plagiarized it.  Even more bizarrely, the people running Trump's campaign apparently thought that that she/they could get away with this.  These days, all you have to do to identify plagiarism is type a phrase or two into a software program.

Most bizarre of all is the level of dishonesty on display.  For the Trump campaign initially to deny that plagiarism ocurred is beyond belief.  Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, came up with the statement, "We don't believe there is anything in that speech that doesn't reflect her thinking"--as if thinking and plagiarizing were synonymous.  The opposite is more likely:  people plagiarize to avoid thinking.  And Chris Christie bloviated that ninety-three percent of the spech is completely different--as if plagiarizing only seven percent of the speech made the problem somehow recede into something acceptable.  At least Miss Jane Doe acknowledged (albeit comically) that she had copied someone else's work.  She ended up passing my course.  So far, Donald Trump's campaign managers and staff writers deserve an F for plagiarism.



Monday, June 6, 2016

My Family's Puritan Ministers, Part 3 of 3

This is the third of three posts about my recent discovery that my father's side of the family abounded not only in Puritans but in Puritan ministers.  The first post focuses on why Puritan ministers left England for what they hoped would be a "New" England.  The second post concerns those who came in the early 1600's to Masachusetts Bay Colony. 

Other Puritan ministers in my father's family went first to Massachusetts Bay and then on to what is now Connecticut.  Reverend Nicholas Street (1603-1674) was from Bridgewater, Somerset.  Atypically, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Pembroke College, Oxford, before changing to Emmanuel College at Cambridge, where he received his A.M. in 1636.  After coming over on the Susan & Ellen in 1635, he was ordained in Taunton in 1640/1.  Nearly twenty years later, in 1659, he removed to New Haven, the most strict of all the colonies.  So far, I haven't discovered why he moved.

Ephraim Hewitt (1604-1644) was from Wraxall, Warwickshire.  He attended St. John’s, Cambridge, and then became a curate at Knowle, Warwickshire.  He was silenced by John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester, in 1638; Laud reported that Hewett had “condemned the decent ceremonies commanded by the Church.”  Hewitt consequently arrived in Windsor, CT, the following year.  He was ordained in Windsor in December 1639.  He died five years later.

Reverend John Jones (1593-1665) followed the more typical route of coming to Massachusetts Bay first and later moving to Connecticut.  Born in Northamptonshire, he went to Queens’ College, Cambridge, receiving his A.M. in 1616.  He had become a deacon at Peterborough in 1613; he became rector at Abbot’s Ripton, Huntingdonshire, in 1619.  He served there until 1630, when he was deprived of his living "for refusing to adhere to rites and ceremonies in the book of public prayers."  I don’t yet know how he survived the years between 1630 and 1635, when he sailed on the Defence, together with Peter Shepard.  He lived in Concord from 1635 until 1644, becoming ordained in Cambridge in April 1637, with Peter Buckeley as teacher.  (His daughter Sarah married Bulkeley's son Thomas about 1640.)  In 1644, he moved to Fairfield to become the minister there for the next twenty-one years.  He presumably was present when Goody Knapp was hanged as a witch in 1653.  He died between January 17th and February 9th, 1665.

The most influential of these ministers in my family who came to Connecticut was Thomas Hooker (1586-1647).  As did so many Puritans, he attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge, earning an A.B. in 1608 and an A.M. in 1611.  He then became a Fellow there.  After serving first as a rector in Surrey and then as a lecturer at St. Mary, Chelmsford, in Essex in 1625-29, he was silenced for non-conformity.  Hooker then kept a private school at Little Baddow, Essex, for two years (his usher in the school was John Eliot, later to become famous for his work with the Indians).  Becoming persecuted again, Hooker left for Holland.  He preached at Delfthaven for two years and then hoped to accept a position in the English congregation at Rotterdam.  But because he became involved in a dispute with John Paget, he didn’t obtain that position.

In 1633, Hooker came over with John Cotton on the Griffon.  He became the minister at Newtown (Cambridge), where some 58 from his congregation in Essex, England, had already settled; 53 more were soon to follow, according to Bailyn.  Believing the Boston-Newtown-Watertown area was too crowded, Hooker applied to the General Court for permission to leave and settle in Connecticut.  Fearing that geographic dispersal would weaken the spiritual support afforded by these nearby congregations, the Court denied his petition.  

Undaunted, and never less than contentious, Hooker reapplied the next year, and this time he was successful.  In 1636, he led most of his congregation overland to the Connecticut River, where they founded Hartford.  Although Benjamin Trumbull declares in his romanticized Complete History of Connecticut (1818) that they had to travel “more than a hundred miles, through a hideous and trackless wilderness” with no guide but a compass, they actually could follow an existing Indian trail.  Even if they had more provisions on their way to Hartford than the milk of the 160 cattle Trumbull says they subsisted on, theirs was quite a journey.  Hooker’s wife, my 9th great-grandmother Susanna Garbrand, was so sick that she had to be carried on a litter the entire way.  (She recovered, however, and outlived him by nearly thirty years, marrying twice in succession during that period).  He was the minister for the Hartford church until he died in 1647.  He had at least twenty works published. His Survey of the Sum of Church Discipline (published in 1648) has been called one of the classic statements justifying congregational policy. Their son Samuel went to Harvard College, became a Fellow there in 1654, and was ordained at Farmington, Connecticut, in 1661.

While in Hartford, Hooker mentored Roger Newton (1620-1683).  Newton had matriculated at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1636 but left before graduating.  He arrived in New England in 1638 and in 1640 studied at Harvard College (which had been founded in 1636) but again left without graduating.  Not only did Newton study theology with Hooker, he wooed and married Hooker's daughter Mary in 1644.  How long Newton continued to study with his father-in-law is unclear.  Thomas Hooker died in 1647, but Newton did not follow him as the minister at Hartford.  In October 1652, Newton was ordained as the first minister of Farmington, being installed the first day the church was formed.  He left after three years, and it doesn’t seem to be known what he did in the interval before he was installed at Milford on August 22, 1660.  Newton remained at Milford until his death on June 7, 1683. 

Scholars disagree on how many Puritan ministers came over to New England.  Estimates range from somewhere in the 90’s up to perhaps 130.  The nine ministers in my family that I’ve written about here therefore make up less than 10% of the total.  But all of them had been tried by adversity and not found wanting.  Even after the Parliamentary forces gained control in England, these ministers remained in New England.  (Susan Hardman Moore has estimated that 25% of the ministers who had emigrated returned to England during the Interregnum.)  After their arrival, they devoted themselves to making the best they could of this "new" England, hoping that its renewal would become the saving revival of the older one.  

Even though I find nothing appealing in their Calvinist theology, the research I've done on these ministers has made me respect their integrity.  Part of Thomas Shepard’s journal has survived.  He dedicated it to his son Thomas, writing on the top of the second leaf:  “Try all things and hold fast that which is good.” Thomas Shepard the younger earned a bachelor’s and a master's at Harvard in 1653.  Like his father before him and his son Thomas (who also became a minister) after him, we can assume he did his best not only to move his congregation to practice what he preached, but to follow that way himself.  I have no sympathy for their Puritan theology, but I do respect their unyielding resolution, generation after generation, to do what they conceived to be good, just, and right, no matter what sacrifices they had to make.
_____________

Selected sources:

Ashely, Maurice.  England in the Seventeenth Century.  Penguin Books, 1965.

Bailyn, Bernard.  The Barbarous Years.  The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of  Civilizations, 1600-1675.  New York:  Vintage, 2012.

Bremer, Francis J.  Shaping New Englands:  Puritan Clergymen in Seventeenth-Century England and New England.  New York:  Twayne Publishers, 1994.

Delbanco, Andrew.  The Puritan Ordeal.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard Univ. Press, 1989.

Fischer, David Hackett.  Albion’s Seed:  Four British Folkways in America.  Oxford Univ. Press, 1989.

Gura, Philip F.  A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory:  Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1660.    Middletown, CT:  Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1984.

McGiffert,  Michael, ed..  God’s Plot:  Puritan Spirituality in Thomas Shepard’s Cambridge.  Rev. ed.  Amherst:  Univ. of Mass. Press, 1994.

Mather, Cotton.  Magnalia Christi Americana.  London, 1702.  Bk. III, Ch. xvi.

Moore, Susan Hardman.  Pilgrims:  New World Settlers & the Call of Home.  New Haven:  Yale Univ. Press, 2007.

Seller, W. C., and R. J. Yeatman.  1066 and All That.  New York:  Barnes & Noble, 1931.

Weis, Frederick Lewis.  The Colonial Clergy and the Colonial Churches of New England [1936].  Lancaster, MA, 1961.



My Family's Puritan Ministers, Part 2 of 3

One of my forebears, Reverend Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), left a manuscript describing his encounter with Archbishop Laud (see list of sources at the end of Part 3).  We should perhaps allow for Shepard heightening the drama, but he represents Laud in the interview as enraged:  "He asked how long I had lived in his diocese.  I answered, Three years and upwards.  He asked who maintained me all this while, charging me to deal plainly with him, adding withal that he had been more cheated and equivocated by some of my malignant faction than ever was man by Jesuit, at the speaking of which words he looked as though blood would have gushed out of his face and did shake as if he had been handed with an ague fit, to my apprehension by reason of his extreme malice and secret venom."  Shepard, by all accounts one of the mildest of men, begged to be excused from answering (in fact, he had been supported in Essex by Dr. Edmund Wilson, the brother of my ancestor Reverend John Wilson, whom I’ll mention below).  Laud then began to rail bitterly at Shepard, eventually sentencing him as follows:  “I charge you that you neither preach, read, marry, bury, or exercise any ministerial function in any part of my diocese, for if you do, and I hear of it, I will be upon your back and follow you wherever you go, in any part of the kingdom, and so everlastingly disable you.”

We need to recall that Laud wielded both religious and political power.   Laud’s “charge” to Shepard was legal and all-encompassing, having effect throughout the realm of England.  It quite literally took away Shepard’s means of supporting himself as a minister.  Not only that:  I take Laud’s use of “everlastingly” at the closing of his charge—“and so everlastingly disable you”—to mean that any disobedience of Shepard will mean that he’ll be lost both in this life and in the life to come.  The interview ends with Laud exclaiming, “Get you gone, and now make your complaints to whom you will!”  “So away I went,” Shepard relates, and his next phrase quietly underscores that he serves a greater master:  “and blessed be God that I may go to him.”  

For Thomas Shepard and other ministers of the Puritan persuasion, Archbishop Laud’s burning zeal to enforce uniformity made many of them question whether they should—or could—stay in England.  In The Barbarous Years, Bernard Bailyn magisterially sums up the outcomes of Laud’s campaign:  “It created fear and a sense of desperation, forged a mutually supportive community of previously scattered dissidents, steeled their resistance, propelled many from a ‘loose conformity’ to outright nonconformity, and precipitated a willingness on the part of certain of the Puritan leaders to contemplate flight.”

One of the ministers in my family tree who did take flight was Samuel Whiting (1597-1679).   Originally from Boston, Lincolnshire, Whiting received his A.M. from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1620, and, subsequently, his D.D.  He served as Rector of Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, from 1625 to 1636.  His second marriage was to Elizabeth St John in 1629.  When his case came before Laud’s Court of High Commission, the Earl of Lincoln intervened on his behalf.  Having momentarily escaped Laud’s clutches, as he presumably saw it, Whiting came over to New England in 1636 and served as minister in Lynn for the next 43 years.  Three of his sons followed him into the ministry.

Another forebear was Reverend John Wilson (1591-1667), the brother of the Doctor Edmund Wilson who helped support Thomas Shepard in Essex.  He could have had an illustrious career in the Church of England:  not only had he gone to Eton, but his father was a canon at Windsor and his mother was a niece of Archbishop Edmund Grindal.  At King’s College, Cambridge, however, he became a Puritan.  He received his A.M. in 1613.  From 1616-1618 he was a Fellow of King’s.  A lecturer in Sudbury, Sussex, Wilson was suspended in 1627 and imprisoned for seditious speeches.  He was restored after the Earl of Warwick intervened on his behalf.  When he was investigated again, he resigned and emigrated to Boston in 1630.  His wife, Elizabeth Mansfield, flatly refused to accompany him, so he went back to England the next year and eventually persuaded her to return with him.  After being the teacher in Boston, he became the first minister of the First Church in 1632, with John Cotton following him as teacher.  He volunteered to be a chaplain in the Pequot War in 1637.  He remained in Boston until his death in 1667.  His son, grandson, and great-grandson all became ministers in their turn.

Reverend Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659) was the brother of my ancestor Judith Bulkeley.  Their father Edward came from a landed family in Odell, Bedfordshire; he had been a Fellow at St. John’s, Cambridge, earned a D.D., and then became the Rector of Odell.  Peter Bulkeley followed his father to St. John’s, earning his A.M. in 1608 and then on his father’s death becoming Rector in Odell.  The Lord Keeper Williams was a long-standing friend of the family, so he had overlooked first Edward’s and then Peter’s non-conformity, but when Laud became Archbishop in 1633 that was no longer an option.  Bulkeley was silenced with his case being referred to the High Commission.  With no hope of reinstatement, he sold his estate and came over to New England with his family in 1635.    
Peter Bulkeley settled first in Newtown (Cambridge).  The next year, with twelve others, he purchased land from the Indians and began the town of Concord.  John Jones was the first pastor at Concord, and Bulkeley was the teacher.  Then, in 1637, Bulkeley was installed at pastor.  That Concord never suffered attacks by Indians was generally credited to his good relationships with them.  He served the church in Concord until his death in 1659.  A son, Edward, and a grandson, John, followed him into the ministry. 

This brings us back to Thomas Shepard, whom we left right after his interview with the furious Archbishop Laud.  Silenced and unfrocked, Shepard, his first wife Margaret Toutville, and their son Thomas (who would also become a minister) sailed on the Defence to Massachusetts Bay in 1635, arriving on October 3rd.   Thomas Hooker baptized their son, who was about a year old at that point. 

Hooker was about to lead his congregation to the Connecticut River, so Shepard and his congregation bought their houses and property.  Shepard was ordained at Cambridge on February 1, 1636, and ministered there until he died in 1649, aged 44.  Harvard College was located in Cambridge in part because of Shepard's ministry there, and he served as its unofficial chaplain as well as an overseer.  When the college was nearly insolvent, Shepard proposed a "motion of beneficence" to the Confederation of New England in 1644:  each family was asked to donate annually a quarter-bushel of wheat or its equivalence.  The motion gave Harvard nearly 270 pounds over the next nine years.  Shepard had some fifteen works published during his lifetime and after his death.  Three of his four sons followed him into the ministry.  Described by Edward Johnson as a "poor, weak, pale-complexioned man," Thomas Shepard by all accounts was an extraordinary preacher, a "Pastor Evangelicus," in Cotton Mather's phrase.

My Family's Puritan Ministers, Part 1 of 3


Some fifty years ago I took two graduate courses at Stanford on the New England Puritans.  I disliked their doctrinal hairsplitting, their emphasis on predestination, and, closely related to that, their perpetual anxiety about whether they were sanctified.  Ironically, thanks to ancestry.com, I have discovered recently that nearly all the branches on my father’s family tree stem from Puritans.  And not just Puritans, but Puritan ministers.  Faced with this version of cognitive dissonance, I’ve done a lot of research in early American history.  After much reading, I still don’t agree with their doctrines, but I have come to see these Puritan ministers in a different light.   

The program ancestry.com is a great resource for discovering familial relationships extending back in time.  Not surprisingly, it is best at identifying names and supplying relationships:  parental, marital, siblings, and so on.  Previous users have scanned in additional material on what some of these people did, but not all of it is relevant, any more than all the familial relationships are factual.  I perhaps should admit here that tracing generations back into New England is relatively easy.  There are baptismal records, marriage records, wills, and probate records—all of which are in English and many of which can be accessed through ancestry.com.  Research in New England is thus considerably simpler than trying to find information about forebears who may have been living in this country but who continued to use the language of their country of origin.  It is exciting to trace back members of a family, discovering relations between generations, but what I found even more exciting was trying to discover who these people were, fleshing out their names, so to speak, and trying to understand why they were in a given place at a given time.

As I began to get back eight or nine generations, I began to notice that many of them were living in Connecticut.  I wondered why so many of them were there.  Then, going back another generation, I noticed that many of these same families had been in Massachusetts, or, more accurately, the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Only at this point did I realize that these ancestors of mine had to be Puritans, and therefore the same as the ones I had so disliked studying when I was getting my PhD at Stanford.  These weren’t the equivalents of English Cavaliers, “Wrong but Wromantic,” to quote 1066 and All That; these forebears were Puritans, the equivalent of English Roundheads, “Right but Repulsive.”

Nevertheless, I was related to them, and I felt I owed it to them as my forebears to learn more about them.  I had read David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed:  Four British Folkways in America some years ago, never dreaming that the chapter on “East Anglia to Massachusetts:  The Exodus of the English Puritans, 1629-41” had anything to do with my family.  I reread that chapter, impressed all over again by the disparate elements Fischer is able to pull together into a coherent whole, and then began to ask historians I knew at Cornell what I should read.  Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years, a study of the “Peopling of British North America” from 1600-1775, was recommended by everyone.  It is a breathtakingly good overview, and its extensive documentation provided me with a useful guide to further research. 

As I read Fischer and Bailyn and then the primary and secondary sources they cited, I began to notice some names that were similar to the ones I’d traced through ancestry.com.  Could they be the same people?  I checked their dates of birth and death, and to my surprise, they were the same.  Not only were many of my forebears Puritans, some of those Puritans were ministers, key figures in settling first Massachusetts Bay and, very soon after, Connecticut (which at first was an extension of the Bay Colony).

But why, I wondered, were ministers key figures in the Puritan migration to New England?  From what I was reading, a given minister would decide to emigrate, and many in his congregation then would emigrate with him.  I could imagine that a minister might well inspire his flock to follow him, but what factors in England made the ministers want to leave?  Trying to answer that question gave me even more information about these forebears.  

For the sake of convenience, I have divided a longish essay into three parts, the first dealing with the conditions in England that motivated ministers to emigrate; the second with those in my father's family who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay; and the third with those ministers who settled along the Connecticut River. 

Part 1

It’s alway useful to define terms, so let me begin with the term, “Puritan.”  A Puritan is someone who believed that the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century had stopped too soon:  the Church of England still needed to be “purified” further.  Their ideal church was one similar to that of the early Christians.  Puritans wanted to substitute a congregational structure for the hierarchal one of archbishop, bishops, and priests; they wanted to reduce the number of sacraments from seven to two, baptism and communion.  The Puritans viewed The Book of Common Prayer as merely a collection of empty forms that a parrot could pronounce.  What the Puritans believed important for salvation was neither participating in the liturgy nor partaking of grace through the sacraments.  What was critical was reading the written Word in the Bible and hearing the Word explicated in sermons.  Puritans wholeheartedly agreed with Paul in Romans 10:17, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”   

Under Queen Elizabeth, who ruled from 1558-1603, the Church of England more or less successfully kept to what has been termed the via media, a middle way between the traditions and practices of Roman Catholicism and those of Continental Calvinism.  Unlike the recrusants, the English Roman Catholics who were persecuted as traitors both to the Church of England and to Queen Elizabeth, the Puritans who kept their heads down were left pretty much alone.

After James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603, however, the Puritan challenge to the hierarchical nature of ecclesiastical authority became an issue.  The reform-minded faction urged the abolition of bishops because they were not sanctioned in the Bible or the early church.  King James correctly saw this issue of ecclesiastical hierarchy as part and parcel of the notion of order that would later became known as the divine right of kings.  At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604,  James agreed to three of the four requests by the Puritans:   he was willing to countenance abolishing baptism by women, let a “preaching ministry” continue, and reduce the number of livings a cleric could have.  But when one of the Puritan representatives suggested that “prophesyings”—meetings of the clergy to expound doctrine—should be revived and any disagreements resulting from them should be referred not to the bishop but to a group of presbyters, King James blew up.  He smote the table with his fist and declared, “No Bishop, no King!”

Matters became even more strained when King Charles I succeeded his father James in 1625.  King James had appointed William Laud as Royal Chaplain,  Not only did Laud continue in that position, but under Charles he gained more and more influence.  Laud became first the Bishop of London and then in 1633 the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Laud controlled the Church’s Court of High Commission and the Privy Council’s criminal Court of Star Chamber.  To ensure uniformity of worship, Laud began the practice of “visitations” all over the country to verify that worship followed the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.  If he saw his efforts as curing the Church of a malignancy, Puritans saw them as persecution of the godly.  

And thus we have come to compelling reasons for ministers of the Puritan persuasion to migrate.  As visitation after visitation occurred, as minister after minister was stripped of his living, excommunicated, or imprisoned, Puritan ministers began to believe that a new age of martyrs was almost at hand, one that would soon replicate the imprisonments, the tortures, and the burnings at the stake in the reign of Queen Mary.  


Friday, May 20, 2016

Not Coming Over on the Mayflower


I’ve been doing some genealogical research on my father’s side of my family.  He knew some names as far back as his great grandfather and several stories, but that was about it.  One family story had some ancestor (name unknown) settling in Long Island in 1642, and another story posited someone equally unknown being a major in the Great Swamp Fight (whenever that was), but that was the extent of it.  As so often happens, neither of those stories appears to be true.  What I have discovered, however, is that some were captured by the Indians, or fought in various wars, or founded towns.  I thought I’d devote a series of posts to some of these individuals, trying to place their lives in their historical context.  This post focuses on my ancestor who refused to come over to America on the Mayflower

His name was Thomas Blossom, and he was born in in 1568 in Parham, Somerset County, England.  Blossom was one of those who fervently believed that the Church of England required further reformation.  He shared with those reform-minded Puritans the conviction that the entire episcopal hierarchy of archbishop, bishops, and priests was a corrupt, papist innovation, sanctioned neither by the Bible nor by the practices of the early Christians.  Instead of this top-down structure, as we might describe it, Blossom wanted a bottom-up, congregational structure.  A few God-fearing worshippers would form their own congregation, elect a minister and perhaps a teacher, and remain altogether independent of every other congregation.  This independence meant in turn that their congregation would be entirely apart—separate from—the Church of England.  As a consequence, in their time they were called Separatists; we have mythologized them as the Pilgrims.

Under the successive reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I, the Church of England was the national church.  Attendance at Sunday service was obligatory; you were fined for being absent.  The more radical Puritans like the Separatists had therefore only two choices:  they could meet to worship in secret, or they could leave the country and go to Holland, another Protestant country, and one far more tolerant than England.  Blossom may well have done both, marrying his first wife Ann Sarah Palmer (1570?-1650) about 1588 or so and taking care to avoid notice by the ecclesiastical establishment.  His daughter Frances (1589?-1635) apparently was borne by Ann Palmer.  Blossom’s second marriage took place in 1605:  he married Anne Elsdon, who was the mother of his two sons Thomas and Peter.  In 1609, his daughter Frances married William Palmer (no relation to Blossom’s first wife), by trade a maker of nails. 

At some point, Blossom and his family emigrated to Holland, first probably to Amsterdam, where William Brewster had established a congregational church in 1608, and then, like Brewster in 1609, to Leiden, where they became members of John Robinson's church.  In Leiden, the Separatists were indeed free to worship as they pleased.   The difficulty was that, with a few exceptions, the Separatists were desperately poor.  Not only were most of them at an initial disadvantage in knowing no Dutch, but many of them had been farmers and herdsmen.  In Leiden, an urban center, they could gain only menial employment at minimal wages.  Worried about their children becoming more Dutch than English, anxious that the twelve year truce between Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland would be expiring in 1621 and war might resume, the Separatists began to consider emigrating to North America.

When their congregation finally obtained financial backing from a company of investors in London, Blossom decided that he, his wife, and his two sons would be among the 30 or so passengers on the Speedwell, a ship that would sail from Holland, meet the Mayflower in England, and then sail in company to New England.  The Speedwell had been fitted with new masts and sails, and there is some evidence that its master deliberately overmasted the ship because he had no desire to cross the Atlantic.  The two ships met up at Southampton and duly sailed.  Both began to leak, the Speedwell alarmingly so, with the result that they returned to Dartmouth for repairs.  Again they set out, and again the Speedwell leaked alarmingly.  Back they went to Plymouth, and this time the master refused to continue in the Speedwell.  The outcome was that the already crowded Mayflower took aboard some of the Speedwell’s passengers and made the voyage alone (it may be relevant that the Speedwell continued subsequently as a trading vessel for a number of years).  They arrived late in the year, and what with inadequate shelter, insufficient food, diseases, and the cold, nearly half of the passengers died that winter.

Thomas Blossom and his family were among those who decided not to go on the Mayflower.  They returned to Leiden, presumably hoping that they could soon make the crossing to New England.   Money continued to be scarce, so not many more were able to emigrate.  His son-in-law William Palmer came over on the Fortune in 1621; his daughter Frances, on the Anne in 1623.  Not until 1629, nine years after the Mayflower sailed from Old Plymouth, did Blossom and his family finally reach New Plymouth—on, coincidentally, a ship also named the Mayflower, but an altogether different vessel.  

Thomas Blossom was soon elected a deacon of the church in Plymouth.  (Robinson's church in Leiden appointed deacons for life, so Blossom may well have been a deacon before coming to Plymouth, but there's no record of it.)  Apparently he fulfilled that lay office well for the three years he had yet to live.  He died in 1632.  In his history Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford mentions Blossom by name as one of the "ancient friends" from Holland dead from an "infectious fever" that struck upwards of twenty people.  In The Barbarous Years (New York, 2012), the first volume of his work on “The Peopling of British North America,” Bernard Bailyn quotes a contemporary description of Deacon Thomas Blossom:  he was “a holy man and experienced saint, . . . competently accomplished with abilities” (349).  That sounds to me like a worthy epitaph.