SINCE 1893, when Frederick Jackson Turner presented his frontier hypothesis, American historians have pondered the relationship between the wilderness and the American mind. Despite this widespread interest in frontier history, there have been few studies of the impact of the forest upon the first American colonists. The otherwise comprehensive analyses of the seventeenth-century mind by such intellectual historians as Perry Miller have dealt only tangentially with this problem. This void in historical scholarship is particularly surprising since throughout the seventeenth century the colonial settlements, regardless of geographical position, were largely wilderness communities. During this period, the differences between costal and interior towns were less significant than the essential similarities in their relation to their natural environment. The main thrust of this study, therefore, is to examine the role of the wilderness in the thought of one group of colonists, the settlers of New England. It will analyze both the Puritan attitude toward the forest and the influence of the wilderness upon Puritan social thought.
The nature of the topic enjoins the intellectual historian to remain methodologically flexible. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum, but are closely intertwined with social, economic, and political currents. At times, ideas generate ac