Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century

Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century

Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century

Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century

Synopsis

From angels to demonic specters, astonishing visions to devilish terrors, dreams inspired, challenged, and soothed the men and women of seventeenth-century New England. English colonists considered dreams to be fraught messages sent by nature, God, or the Devil; Indians of the region often welcomed dreams as events of tremendous significance. Whether the inspirational vision of an Indian sachem or the nightmare of a Boston magistrate, dreams were treated with respect and care by individuals and their communities. Dreams offered entry to "invisible worlds" that contained vital knowledge not accessible by other means and were viewed as an important source of guidance in the face of war, displacement, shifts in religious thought, and intercultural conflict.

Using firsthand accounts of dreams as well as evolving social interpretations of them, Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England explores these little-known aspects of colonial life as a key part of intercultural contact. With themes touching on race, gender, emotions, and interior life, this book reveals the nighttime visions of both colonists and Indians. Ann Marie Plane examines beliefs about faith, providence, power, and the unpredictability of daily life to interpret both the dreams themselves and the act of dream reporting. Through keen analysis of the spiritual and cosmological elements of the early modern world, Plane fills in a critical dimension of the emotional and psychological experience of colonialism.

Excerpt

Sometime in March or April 1629, an English silversmith cast “2 seales in silver” for the newly formed Massachusetts Bay Company. shortly thereafter, samuel sharpe, a passenger on the George, carried one of the two official stamps to the rocky shores of Massachusetts Bay. The following year, Governor John Endecott brought the other—along with the official notice of his election, stamped in wax with the seal’s imprint.

On the seal, inside an oval field, stands a human figure bracketed by two pine trees, with copious foliage gathered strategically to hide the otherwise unclad midsection. The figure bears a bow in one hand, an arrow in the other. Much has been made of this stark image. Its deceptively simple design hides a world of meanings. As one scholar notes, the seal was intended “to define the colonizers and their mission,” and it is undeniably true that the seal represents the Indians of Massachusetts Bay, or at least an English silversmith’s version of them. Generations of undergraduates have written indignant response papers about the plea that emanates—in a banner—from the central figure’s mouth (“Come Over and Help Us”). The best of them rail at the condescension and arrogance of Europeans who would assume that the Algonquian-speaking indigenous peoples of Massachusetts would have either needed or wanted such help. Further, the absurdity of calling for it in English is highlighted only by the most perceptive.

But like so many seemingly transparent issues, the 1629 seal becomes more complicated on deeper acquaintance; and like most things involving the English colonists of Massachusetts, the most pressing references—even in the unstable present of the seventeenth-century—always referred back to the certainties of the past. This was a past known through scripture, a biblical past whose resurgence in the present was both eagerly sought and breathlessly . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.