Friday, April 26, 2019

Killing Quakers

Broadside detailing the arrest and execution of Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1660.
This week we're on a colonial America kick. On Tuesday, we posted about the wild life of Captain John Smith before his Virginia days. Today, we're obsessing about a broadside that we found in the collections. Printed in London in 1660, the poster caught our eye immediately because it calls Quakers "pernicious." As if that weren't enough to rouse one's interest, the proclamation goes on to state that the government in Boston, Massachusetts, had actually executed some of them. "Why are Puritans in Massachusetts hanging Quakers?!?" we wondered to ourselves. And, with that question, we began our dive into the murky world of New England colonial politics, the insidious intertwining of church and state in the "New World," and the eventual dissolution of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's charter by King Charles II. What follows are the briefest of talking points about this strange time in the history of colonial North America and the Quaker faith.

At the risk of oversimplifying everything to do with English conflicts over belief systems, the English Civil War in the 1600s gave rise to the Puritans but also saw the emergence of numerous other dissenting Christian groups including the Quakers. In brief, the Quakers were seen as a problem theologically and politically. They refused to swear fealty to the Crown because of religious beliefs and they also threatened to undermine the power of the clergy through their insistence that God spoke directly to all people and not just through ministers and appointed ecclesiastical officials. Not surprisingly, persecution towards Quakers spiked in England in the 1650s and many of them fled the country for other lands. Some even came to Boston, Massachusetts, and began proselytizing, which promptly resulted in banishment from the Colony.

However, the number of Quakers in the colonies continued to grow. In 1659, a group that came to be known as the Boston Martyrs returned to Massachusetts in defiance of the law of banishment that promised death as punishment. You can see where this is headed. All three martyrs were quickly arrested, and two of them, Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson, were hanged the same year in Boston. Mary Dyer, the third, was spared at the last minute and deported, but eventually returned and was also hanged a year later, in 1660. A fourth Quaker from Barbados, William Leddra, was hanged in 1661. By then, however, Charles II had regained the throne and was eager to establish a policy of religious tolerance. He forbade the Massachusetts Bay Colony to continue killing Quakers. They grudgingly agreed, but still found other ways to make Quakers miserable until 1684, when the king revoked their charter and installed a royally-appointed governor to administrate the territory.

To see this broadside, which provides a fascinating window into Puritan intolerance and Quaker martyrdom in colonial New England, come to Rauner and ask to see Broadside 660940.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Gunning for Glory

John Smith jousting with a Turkish knightMost Americans have heard the quasi-mythical story of Pocahontas, the daughter of a Powahatan chief, and how she saved the life of English colonist and soldier John Smith. John Smith himself was, and still is, a central figure in the story of the English colonization of North America, including the founding of Jamestown in Virginia. Always a controversial figure, Smith nevertheless contributed significantly to European knowledge of the American continent through his explorations and mapping of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as well as of a coastal region that he named "New England."

Given his importance to early settlers, popular knowledge of John Smith understandably begins with his adventures in North America. However, most people aren't aware of the life that Smith lived before he arrived in Virginia, despite his having written a book about his early years titled The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain John Smith, in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, from Anno Domini 1593 to 1629. This publication was printed in 1630, six years after his well-known General History of Virginia hit the streets of London. With it, Smith attempted to capitalize on the success of his previous work by recounting his youthful adventures, perhaps in a prescient retelling of his life before his death in London the following year.

What is most fascinating about Smith's pre-Virginian life, at least for me, is how full a life the
John Smith shooting a Turkish knight with a pistol while both are on horsebacktwenty-seven-year-old had led by the time that he made landfall in North America. As a teenager, he had abandoned his late father's desire to apprentice him to a merchant and instead joined a group of British soldiers who were helping the Dutch in their war of independence from Spain. After that, he bounced around the Mediterranean, dabbling in piracy before joining the Austrian army in their battles against the Ottoman Empire. He was promoted to captain, sent to Transylvania, and reportedly killed three Turkish knights in single combat. It's worth noting that, in at least one of these bouts, Smith used a pistol on horseback to dispatch his opponent after their lances had both shattered.

John Smith being sold into slavery
In a later skirmish during the same campaign, Smith was captured and sold into slavery to a Turkish woman of Greek descent. He soon escaped and returned to Transylvania, where he was knighted by the prince of that country for his derring-do. All of this, we are told by scholars and critics, is to be taken with a grain of salt, given what is known about John Smith the man. However other scholars have argued that, while Smith may have embellished the details of his life, the larger scope of his life journey was very likely true.

To see John Smith bring a gun to a lance fight, and to read more strange and wonderful tales from his only-partially-but-maybe-mostly-true autobiography, come to Special Collections and ask for Hickmott 480.