Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England

By Jane Kamensky | Go to book overview

TWO
A MOST UNQUIET
HIDING PLACE

What if New England was no different? The question has dogged me since I undertook this project. It is easy enough to demonstrate that early New Englanders came to cherish their rules for right speaking, and that they imposed penalties upon those who breached them. But were theirs different rules, different penalties, different mentalités from those of other early modern peoples? Isn't anxiety over loose words and concern with reputation endemic to face-to-face societies, a seeming universal of village life? Does the vaunted exceptionalism of England's northern colonies--which, in any case, is very much in doubt these days--extend to the Puritan understanding of speech? What, in short, is the exclusive New England "angle" to my story?

Only close, comparative study will yield a fully satisfying answer to this question. I hope others are curious enough to pore through local court records, church archives, and personal papers to discover how (and whether) the meaning of speech in Massachusetts differed from that in Maryland, or the Carolinas, or England and Scotland, or even Connecticut and Rhode Island. 1 But I want to pose a different question, one that treats speaking as a cultural practice as much as a social one. Rather than asking whether the verbal culture of colonial New England was indeed exceptional, my task is to explore why Puritan migrants themselves worried so much about the novelty of their ways of ordering language. At its very core, the New England experiment was about trying to be different

-43-

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Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • A NOTE ON THE TEXT x
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 3
  • One The Sweetest Meat, the Bitterest Poison 17
  • Two A Most Unquiet Hiding Place 43
  • Three The Misgovernment of Woman's Tongue 71
  • Four "Publick Fathers" and Cursing Sons 99
  • Five Saying and Unsaying 127
  • Six The Tongue is a Witch 150
  • EPILOGUE 181
  • Appendix - Litigation over Speech in Massachusetts, 1630-1692 195
  • Notes 203
  • Index 281
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