Banished: Common Law and the Rhetoric of Social Exclusion in Early New England

By Ablavsky, Gregory | The Historian, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Banished: Common Law and the Rhetoric of Social Exclusion in Early New England


Ablavsky, Gregory, The Historian


Banished: Common Law and the Rhetoric of Social Exclusion in Early New England. By Nan Goodman. (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. Pp. vi, 206. $59.95.)

This slim volume, part of a recent resurgence of interest in colonial legal history, examines four cases of banishment from the seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay Colony. Author Nan Goodman, a leading scholar of law and literature, employs an interdisciplinary approach to interrogate the legal construction of community through the "distinction between inside and outside" required "to make and keep members" (142). She persuasively argues that events that have been unquestioningly interpreted through the lens of religion can be profitably explored through law--particularly the common law, the allegiance to purportedly immemorial custom "emerging as victorious" at the moment of Puritan settlement (22).

This frame allows Goodman to offer new perspectives on four familiar episodes seldom considered together: the exiles of religious dissident Anne Hutchinson and Anglican bon vivant Thomas Morton; the long-simmering dispute over the fractious minister Roger Williams; the repeated "invasion" and ultimate execution of English Quakers; and the removal, during King Philip's War, of Christianized Indians to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. The predominantly analytical chapters employ diverse theoretical perspectives to examine closely the texts and legal rhetoric these controversies produced. All four incidents, Goodman suggests, offered challenges to the Puritans' legal project "to map a religiously bounded community onto a geographically bounded one" (160). Entertaining all comers, Hutchinson and Morton asserted the norm of hospitality against official boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. Williams, earlier apprenticed to eminent jurist Sir Edward Coke, advanced the unsettling jurisdictional claim that civic community could not rest on religious homogeneity and must encompass diverse peoples. …

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