Dissenting Bodies

Dissenting Bodies: Corporealities in Early New England

Martha L. Finch
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Dissenting Bodies
    Book Description:

    For the Puritan separatists of seventeenth-century New England, "godliness," as manifested by the body, was the sign of election, and the body, with its material demands and metaphorical significance, became the axis upon which all colonial activity and religious meaning turned.

    Drawing on literature, documents, and critical studies of embodiment as practiced in the New England colonies, Martha L. Finch launches a fascinating investigation into the scientific, theological, and cultural conceptions of corporeality at a pivotal moment in Anglo-Protestant history. Not only were settlers forced to interact bodily with native populations and other "new world" communities, they also fought starvation and illness; were whipped, branded, hanged, and murdered; sang, prayed, and preached; engaged in sexual relations; and were baptized according to their faith. All these activities shaped the colonists' understanding of their existence and the godly principles of their young society.

    Finch focuses specifically on Plymouth Colony and those who endeavored to make visible what they believed to be God's divine will. Quakers, Indians, and others challenged these beliefs, and the constant struggle to survive, build cohesive communities, and regulate behavior forced further adjustments. Merging theological, medical, and other positions on corporeality with testimonies on colonial life, Finch brilliantly complicates our encounter with early Puritan New England.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51138-4
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Embodying Godliness
    (pp. 1-28)

    John Robinson, pastor of an English separatist congregation living in exile in the Netherlands during the early decades of the seventeenth century, was deeply concerned about the bodies and souls of the men and women who were members of his church, many of whom soon would establish Plymouth Colony in New England. Believing that puritan reforms of the Church of England were insufficient for achieving purity in polity and worship, Robinson’s congregation refused to conform to the mandates of English church and civil authorities. Its members had separated themselves from the national church and, threatened with imprisonment and execution in...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Massasoit’s Stool and Wituwamat’s Head: Body Encounters
    (pp. 29-62)

    Excrement, sickness, healing, murder, hangings, beheading, theft, whipping, starvation, sex—such was the visceral stuff of encounters among English settlers and New England native people in March of 1623 near the young village of New Plymouth. Three interrelated incidents—the curing of an Indian leader’s illness, the physical and moral disintegration of an English settlement to the north of Plymouth, and the killing of another Indian leader and the impaling of his head on Plymouth’s meetinghouse-fort—and their attendant details evoke central themes in meanings of embodiment early in the colony’s history. The company of saints who arrived in New...

  7. CHAPTER 2 A Banquet in the Wilderness: Bodies and the Environment
    (pp. 63-98)

    The first company of English separatists sailed within sight of Cape Cod on a cold day in November 1620, after a grueling transatlantic voyage aboard the Mayflower. Upon their initial glimpse of the sandy, wooded shoreline, William Bradford reported, “they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven” for their safe arrival in a “new world.” Having endured two months of stormy ocean passage during which most had become ill and two people had died, they were “not a little joyful” to be able again “to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.”...

  8. CHAPTER 3 As on a Hill: Public Bodies
    (pp. 99-136)

    Before they stepped off the Mayflower into the New England landscape, male company members signed a document, now remembered as the “Mayflower Compact,” in which they agreed to “combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.” The compact reflected John Robinson’s instructions to them to “join [in] common affections truly bent upon the general good.” God had endowed each person with something to contribute, he believed, and all were to work together to care for each other and “avoid as a deadly plague of your both common and special comfort all retiredness of mind . . . and all singularly...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The True and Visible Church: The Body of Christ
    (pp. 137-176)

    In October of 1627 Isaack de Rasieres traveled from Dutch Fort Amsterdam to New Plymouth to discuss trade relations between the two competing colonies. Rasieres understandably was interested in the military capabilities of these English religious dissenters, including the layout of their plantation and particularly their fort, located at the top of Burial Hill overlooking the village. He described the fort as “a large square house with a flat roof, built of thick sawn planks stayed with oak beams, upon the top of which they have six cannon, which shoot iron balls of four and five pounds, and command the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 As in a Mirror: Domestic Bodies
    (pp. 177-216)

    When fifty-year-old New Plymouth resident Mary Ring died in July 1631, she left behind two daughters in their twenties, an eleven-year-old son, and a one-year-old granddaughter. Mary and her husband William had been devout members of John Robinson’s separatist congregation in Leiden and were among those who had hoped to sail to North America with the first company in 1620. However, the ship they were on, the Mayflower’s sister ship the Speedwell, sprang a leak when leaving England, forcing most of its passengers to return to the Netherlands. When William died, Mary and her children set sail with a company...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 217-260)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 261-274)