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Faithful Bodies

Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Faithful Bodies
    Book Description:

    In the seventeenth-century English Atlantic, religious beliefs and practices played a central role in creating racial identity. English Protestantism provided a vocabulary and structure to describe and maintain boundaries between insider and outsider. In this path-breaking study, Heather Miyano Kopelson peels back the layers of conflicting definitions of bodies and competing practices of faith in the puritan Atlantic, demonstrating how the categories of white, black, and Indian developed alongside religious boundaries between Christian and heathen and between Catholic and Protestant.Faithful Bodiesfocuses on three communities of Protestant dissent in the Atlantic World: Bermuda, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In this puritan Atlantic, religion determined insider and outsider status: at times Africans and Natives could belong as long as they embraced the Protestant faith, while Irish Catholics and English Quakers remained suspect. Colonists interactions with indigenous peoples of the Americas and with West Central Africans shaped their understandings of human difference and its acceptable boundaries. Prayer, religious instruction, sexual behavior, and other public and private acts became markers of whether or not blacks and Indians were sinning Christians or godless heathens. As slavery became law, transgressing people of color counted less and less as sinners in English puritans eyes, even as some of them made Christianity an integral part of their communities. As Kopelson shows, this transformation proceeded unevenly but inexorably during the long seventeenth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1426-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    To the casual observer, the crystals appear to be inert lumps of quartz, roughly shaped. But to the seventeenth-century individuals who placed them in the corners of their new building at Magunkaquog in the heart of their homeland, they were hope and insurance for the future, connection to the past, and an active shaping of their present. The crystals not only expressed the intent to continue The People’s place in the land that was theirs, to sink deep into the earth in the face of all the changes that followed on the heels of the Coat-men who had invaded it...

  6. Part I Defining

    • 1 “One Indian and a Negroe, the first thes Ilands ever had”
      (pp. 25-50)

      In August 1616, the English shipEdwinreturned to Bermuda after a voyage to the Caribbean. In addition to “plantans, suger canes, figges, pines, and the like,” it carried two individuals whose arrival marked an important event in Bermudian history and in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. Disembarked on the twenty-one-square-mile island were “one Indian and a Negroe, the first thes Ilands ever had.” In having these first non-European inhabitants brought to Bermuda, Governor Daniel Tucker had acted on the Somers Islands Company directives to send a ship to the Bahamas to trade for “sundrye things . ....

    • 2 “Joyne interchangeably in a laborious bodily service”
      (pp. 51-73)

      In June 1675, Awashunkes, thesaunksor female leader of the Saconets, an Algonquian people who lived on the coast of what the English called Narragansett Bay, had an important decision to make.¹ It was not one she could make alone, so she called for all those within her influence to gather for anickómmo,a ritual dance and feast. Two decades earlier, the colonist, trader, and sometime religious exile Roger Williams had noted that Narragansetts (as did other peoples in the region the English knew as New England) held the nickómmo in times of crisis—“in sicknesse, or Drouth,...

    • 3 “Ye are of one Body and members one of another”
      (pp. 74-100)

      The metaphor of the body of Christ organized community life as a diagram for how Christians should live together. Passages throughout the New Testament referred to the church as Christ’s body and Christians as members of that body, while the central ritual revolved around consuming the body and blood of Christ as—depending on one’s theological emphasis—memorialized by or simultaneously present in the bread and wine of a meal that remembered or reenacted Christ’s last supper with his disciples.¹ Body metaphors were ubiquitous and a point of common reference because the universal experience of being embodied grounded the relationship...

  7. Part II Performing

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 101-106)

      His name was Adam. He was probably given a different name at birth, one that reflected his kinship ties to older living relatives, or created a link to a relative who had died and conferred some qualities of that ancestor on the new infant.¹ Becoming a captive in the slave trade might have spurred him to cast off his old name in search of better fortune, but his purchasers would have been indifferent to any of his names, simply counting him as part of the cargo (or consciously failing to note his presence to ease upcoming port duties) in the...

    • 4 “Extravasat Blood”
      (pp. 107-125)

      Adam Saffin’s actions challenged varying levels of puritan notions of bodily order. Laying the descriptions of Adam’s behavior that had landed him in court against a consideration of his motives and perspective suggests the unstable place of an African man who insisted on personal dignity backed by physical force in Boston at the opening of the eighteenth century. In 1701, Adam thought he was free. He had served out his time, and so when his former master John Saffin demanded that he leave Boston for Bristol and then work for someone in Swansea, Adam refused. Instead, he got dressed in...

    • 5 “Makinge a tumult in the congregation”
      (pp. 126-149)

      At the end of January 1672/3, Bermudians assembled in Devonshire Church, called there by the governor who had proclaimed a special day of fasting and prayer. A day of humiliation, as seventeenth-century puritanism termed the practice, was a community action meant to direct members to meditate on the “wrath of a just God” and to renew their spiritual resolve to act in godly ways. The governor likely hoped for a somber, reflective day when Bermudians sat and listened to the words of the minister, William Edwards, quiet except for the occasional cough, the rustling of clothing, and perhaps muffled stamping...

    • 6 “Those bloody people who did use most horrible crueltie”
      (pp. 150-170)

      In 1661, Bermuda’s Governor William Sayle announced “that there hath bin a dangerous Plott Combination by the Irish and Negroes that if the Irish cannot have their freedom their intentions are . . . to cutt the throats of our Englishmen,” a plan he and his council found to be “of dangerous consequence for our inhabitants.” As the governor and his council were not “willing to have” the inhabitants of the island “destroyed by those bloody people who did use most horrible crueltie to our English Protestants in Ireland which like hath not bin heard of in any Nation,” they...

    • 7 “To bee among the praying indians”
      (pp. 171-191)

      In June 1676, as the coalition of Nipmucs, Pocumtucks, Narragansetts, and Pocasset and Pokanoket Wampanoags began to run out of food, ammunition, and other supplies in their fight against the English, Mohegans, Pequots, Niantics under the leadership of Ninigret, and most Christian Indians of various tribal affiliations, English officials called on James Quanapohit to give testimony about the allegiance and activities of Wuttusacomponum, also known as Captain Tom, during the previous winter. Quanapohit, a Christian Nipmuc who had lived in the praying town of Nashaway before the outbreak of King Philip’s War, had served as a spy among the anti-English...

    • 8 “In consideration for his raising her in the Christian faith”
      (pp. 192-214)

      In several long-term indentures of African and mulatto children in mid-seventeenth-century Bermuda, the contracts specified that the master had use of a person’s labor

      “in consideration for” raising that person “in the Christian faith,” and perhaps teaching her or him a trade. Long-term indentured servitude with terms of thirty years for Bermudians of color persisted into the late seventeenth century and sometimes included an apprenticeship in a particular trade; in the healthier Bermudian environment these were not the life indentures that ninety-nine-year terms were. One of these bills even specified the type of Christianity in which the child was to...

  8. Part III Disciplining

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 215-218)

      In 1652, Thomas Higginbottom, an English man, and “Sarah the malato,” both

      “servants to Capt Turner of Sandies Tribe,” were convicted of fornication in Bermuda. Higginbottom petitioned the governor and council to spare him the “shamefull punishment of the post.” Having “served [his] countrey with faithfullness” as a soldier, he was “altogether ashamed” that he had “transgressed the law of god & man” in “giving way . . . to lusts” and “committing that hatefull sin of uncleanness.”¹ If Sarah spoke in court, the clerk did not record her words. Even if she did, perhaps to plead for the court’s...

    • 9 “Abominable mixture and spurious issue”
      (pp. 219-230)

      In 1691, Virginia passed a law that has become a benchmark in the history of race, sex, and law. Aimed at preventing the “abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may encrease in this dominion, as well by negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white woman, as by their unlawfull accompanying with one another,” it decreed exile for “whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a negro, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free.” Another act from the same session mandated a prohibitive £15 sterling fine for “any English...

    • 10 “Sensured to be whipped uppon a Lecture daie”
      (pp. 231-248)

      In December 1678, the Bermuda court accepted the word of “Black Moll servant of Mr William Hall” that “black Tom servant of Mr John Squire” was “the reputed father of a bastard childe,” and both were “sensured to be whipped uppon a Lecture daie.”¹ Moll and Tom’s punishment came from the idea that godly order required individuals to restrict their sexual impulses to marriage. When they did not do so, the court punished the erring couple in the religious arena of a lecture day. The attempts to regulate the legitimacy of sexual relations between two people of color placed them...

    • 11 “If any white woman shall have a child by any Negroe or other slave”
      (pp. 249-270)

      In 1723, Bermudian lawmakers revised the “Act against Bastardy” to include racial categories: “white women” convicted of having a child “by any Negroe or other slave” received an automatic whipping, while their partners would be

      “publickly whipt . . . under the Gallows by the Common Hangman.”¹ For an English colony in the Americas, 1723 was a comparatively late year to codify evolving understandings of human difference in its statutory laws on fornication or marriage. Antigua passed a law in 1644 that specified gradated penalties for “Carnall Copulation” between “any Christian man or woman” and “A heathen man or woman.”...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 271-274)

    By the time the first two pearl divers stepped on Bermudian shores in 1616, southern Algonquian homelands that English colonists would come to call New England had known human habitation for as long as anyone could remember, with the memory stretching back and forward through stories passed on until they described a time out of mind. Or for those who ascribe to an alternate way of understanding the past, many thousands of years ago. The ancestors of present-day Natives built astronomically significant mounds and chambers that assisted them in moving through the world as faithful bodies that cultivated the expression...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 275-314)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 315-358)
  12. Index
    (pp. 359-372)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 373-373)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 374-374)