Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen: The Puritan Adjustment to Quakerism in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts Bay

Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen: The Puritan Adjustment to Quakerism in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts Bay

Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen: The Puritan Adjustment to Quakerism in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts Bay

Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen: The Puritan Adjustment to Quakerism in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts Bay

Synopsis

Chu explains the rise of religious toleration in America through an examination of the Puritan response to Quakerism in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. He casts the phenomenon in a new light, arguing that toleration for Quakerism emerged out of the very values and structures of Puritan life in Massachusetts Bay as early as the 1660s. Intolerance, Chu submits, became a threat to the separation of church and state, of local and central authority. The interaction of local forces and interests thus led to a rapid adjustment to and toleration of the Quakers. Chu illustrates this through an examination of Quaker populations in the townships of Kittery and Salem. He describes how the Quakers lived and suggests why they eventually turned from radical proselytizing missionary work to a more restrained and conventional lifestyle.

Excerpt

The commonplace understanding of Quakers in Puritan New England is that they represented an unacceptably radical religious position and received uniformly heavy suppression at the hands of authorities. Some Puritan reaction to the Society of Friends in the mid-1600's lends credence to this sterotype, and documentation limited to selected Massachusetts divines has perpetuated a facile viewpoint to our own day. This important study, however, goes beyond such easy generalizations and carefully surveys a wider range of evidence in Puritan plantations over a more extensive period of time. The author shows that New England Puritan response was more complicated, less rigid, and more discriminating than was previously thought.

Professor Chu has produced a benchmark study that will have to be reckoned with in subsequent inquiries into this area. He is the first scholar systematically to examine local court records regarding Quakers, and he has performed yeoman service in researching wills, tax lists, and legislation to shed light on his subject. He significantly expands current usages in local history to supplement general Puritan studies, and moreover he has pioneered ways of showing who New England Quakers were and where they fit into colonial social structures. His work is the most inclusive and thorough interpretation of Quaker-Puritan relations that pertained in Massachusetts before it became a royal colony in 1690.

Puritan ministers influenced magistrates of the same faith in cooperation efforts to regulate a righteous society. Religious uniformity was a desideratum, but heterodoxy was not a crime. How could orthodox Calvinists, in a context that poses difficult questions about church, and state, prevent heresy within the law? By equating religious error with sedition and by accusing theological . . .

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