Prospero's America

Prospero's America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Prospero's America
    Book Description:

    Prospero's Americaexamines the transfer of alchemical culture to America by one of English colonization's early giants, John Winthrop, Jr. Winthrop participated in a pan-European network of natural philosophers who believed alchemy could improve the human condition and hasten Christ's Second Coming. Walter Woodward demonstrates how Winthrop and his philosophy influenced New England's cultural formation: its settlement, economy, religious toleration, Indian relations, medical practice, witchcraft prosecution, and imperial diplomacy.Winthrop's commitment to pansophic reform led him to found a "new" London in 1645 as an alchemical research center. That commitment underpinned both his broad religious tolerance and his steadfast advocacy for the Pequot Indians; he overcame harsh censure largely through his expansive administration of alchemical medicine. Winthrop's occult knowledge provided him great authority in witchcraft cases, which as governor he used to permanently put an end to Connecticut witchcraft executions. In England, alchemical networks linked Winthrop to court patronage, which helped him obtain--and later defend--Connecticut's remarkable royal charter.Prospero's Americareconceptualizes the significance of early modern science in shaping New England hand in hand with Puritanism and politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0307-0
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The larger Atlantic world connections of colonization are now transforming Puritan studies. Colonial historians are rediscovering, although in new ways, something that Perry Miller noted more than two generations ago: New England’s Puritans were continuing participants in a complex culture whose intellectual roots extended throughout Protestant Europe. This study adds another dimension to the discussion of this complex culture by demonstrating how one leading Puritan transferred Protestant alchemical beliefs and practices from the Old World to the New and how this Christian natural philosophy helped inform colonial expansion and influenced early colonial New England’s culture.1

    The life of John Winthrop,...

  6. One John Winthrop, Jr., and the European Alchemical Movement of the Early Seventeenth Century
    (pp. 14-42)

    Today most historians of science view alchemy as an important contributing factor in the development of modern chemistry and experimental science. While they are still working out the exact nature of alchemy’s contributions and the complex motivations leading early modern Europeans to pursue the alchemical quest, the generally positive current attitudes of historians toward alchemy differ markedly from the views prevailing only a generation ago. Then, and for a very long time before that, alchemy was lumped together with pursuits such as astrology, geomancy, Cabala, and other occult arts and dismissed as pseudoscience. A great deal of careful work by...

  7. Two The Republic of Alchemy and the Pansophic Moment
    (pp. 43-74)

    On the November 1631 day that John Winthrop, Jr., stepped ashore to the welcoming salutes of cannon fire and musket volleys from the Bay Colony’s trainbands, he began a career of colonial leadership that would see him become one of the most important figures in all English America. Twenty-five years old and the firstborn son and namesake of Massachusetts’s governor, Winthrop was destined by birth for colonial preferment and position. His affable, entrepreneurial personality, intercultural sensitivity, political savvy, and scientific knowledge helped him parlay that preferment into positions of Atlantic world eminence. Over the next half century, Winthrop would found...

  8. Three Founding a New London
    (pp. 75-92)

    John Winthrop, Jr., returned to New England in 1643 filled with a sense of possibility. Inspired by the alchemical contacts he had made in England and in Europe, Winthrop had formed a pansophic vision of New England’s potential to serve as a vanguard in the restoration of knowledge and improvement of the human condition. In cooperation with other alchemical philosophers, he set out to implement a series of projects that would help transform New England and make it an example to the world of a society improved by the application of godly science. Through the creation of the New England...

  9. Four Which Man’s Land? Conflict and Competition in Pequot Country
    (pp. 93-137)

    Two conflicts that surfaced with explosive force in New England in 1637 reverberated with particular impact on Winthrop’s new plantation in the mid-1640s. For more than a decade, the success or failure of the alchemical project hinged on how the issues raised by these earlier events would be resolved. The first of these conflicts, the Pequot War of 1637, had reduced the once powerful Pequot nation to servile status and exacerbated already strained Indian relations in the former Pequot territory. At the same time, the war had created competing claims to the former Pequot lands between the English colonies of...

  10. Five Alchemical Vision Refined
    (pp. 138-159)

    Uncas’s sustained harassment during the initial years of settlement had a chilling effect on the launch ofWinthrop’s alchemical plantation. Continuous unrest discouraged relocation to the new plantation. It also precluded the possibility of shipping ore from the mine atTantiusque to the harbor town, because doing so would have required transporting the ore through Uncas’s territory. Equally problematic, extracting black lead from the hills of Tantiusque had proved to be a major challenge. Attracting laborers to the remote site was difficult, and the ore proved extremely hard to mine. The exceptionally cold winter, not to mention Uncas’s harassment of the local...

  11. Six “God’s Secret”: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemical Healing, and the Medical Culture of Early New England
    (pp. 160-209)

    Jonathan Brewster’s concern that news of his discovery of the “Elixer, fitt for Medicine, and healing of all maladyes,” would bring a throng of people to his remote woodland plantation was more than just a projection of imaginative desire. It reflected the reality he had seen in the demand for the alchemical medical services of John Winthrop, Jr. Demand for his advice and medicines came from all over New England and as far away as Barbados and across the Atlantic in England. Suffering people arrived at New London in numbers that strained the capacity of the town and of Winthrop...

  12. Seven The Magus as Mediator: Witchcraft, Alchemy, and Authority in the Connecticut Witch–Hunt of the 1660s
    (pp. 210-252)

    Between 1647, when New England hanged its first witch, and the end of the Hartford witch-hunt in 1663, the Puritan elite prosecuted witches with zeal. Thirty-four persons were tried for witchcraft, and fifteen of them were convicted and hanged. Connecticut assumed leadership in Puritan witch-hunting. That colony convicted and executed each of the first seven witch suspects it tried and was responsible for eleven of the witch hangings in New England before 1663. Although Connecticut was initially New England’s most aggressive prosecutor of witches, it subsequently dramatically reversed its attitudes toward witchcraft prosecution. From the end of the Hartford witch-hunt...

  13. Eight “Matters of Present Utility”: John Winthrop, Jr., the Royal Society, and the Politics of Intelligence in Restoration New England
    (pp. 253-301)

    By the time John Winthrop, Jr., became governor of Connecticut in 1657, he had achieved an international reputation as an alchemist. During his travels to Europe he had met and made a lasting impression on members of the European republic of alchemy, several of whom he had sustained correspondence with once back in New England. Alchemists from New England who had known Winthrop and later relocated to England spread reports about him that further enhanced his reputation. In 1660, Samuel Hartlib wrote Winthrop, “You cannot believe what secret reports I have heard of you of which I would be so...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 302-308)

    John Winthrop, Jr., died on April 5, 1676, in Boston, where, despite failing health, he had been helping frame the colonial response to the continuing devastation of King Philip’s War. The preceding month had brought fierce Indian attacks to seven New England towns; colonial prospects for winning the war were in doubt. Nevertheless, the anxious and beleaguered colonists paused to ceremonially mourn the passing of a leader they had come to revere as much for knowledge and compassion as for service. “The Blaze of Towns was up like Torches light, To guide him to his Grave,” eulogized the Boston poet...

  15. Index
    (pp. 309-317)