Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630-1692

Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630-1692

Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630-1692

Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630-1692

Synopsis

This study offers a new interpretation of the Puritan "Antinomian" controversy and a skillful analysis of its wider and long term social and cultural significance. Breen argues that controversy both reflected and fostered larger questions of identity that would persist in Puritan New England during the 17th century. Some issues discussed here include the existence of individualism in a society that valued conformity and the response of members of an inward-looking, localistic culture to those among them of a more "cosmopolitan" nature. Central to Breen's study is the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, an elite social club that attracted a heterogeneous yet prominent membership, and whose diversity contrasted with the social and religious ideals of the cultural majority.

Excerpt

In February 1638, John Winthrop confided to his journal that he and other magistrates harbored strong misgivings about a petition that had recently come before the Massachusetts General Court. The petition, subscribed by some of Boston's most prominent citizens, requested permission to establish a private military company modeled upon the fashionable “artillery gardens” of London and other English cities. But the Court, said Winthrop, recognizing “how dangerous it might be to erect a standing authority of military men, which might easily, in time, overthrow the civil power, thought fit to stop it betimes.” For reasons that Winthrop did not explain, these doubts were overcome within a few monthsapos; time. The Court not only granted permission to organize what would subsequently be known as the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston but also extended broad privileges to the fledgling organization, providing a onethousand-acre tract of land for the Company's support, allowing it to assemble in any Massachusetts locality, conferring upon it the right to elect its own officers, and instructing towns to schedule military trainings and town meetings so as not to conflict with its musters. The Artillery Company emerged rapidly as a key institution in Puritan Massachusetts, functioning not only as an elite social club but as a prime recruiting ground for military leadership over virtually all the colony's trainbands, militias, and expeditionary forces.

Winthrop's account of a muted controversy over the commissioning of the Artillery Company concealed as much as it revealed about his true . . .

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