COLONIAL MATERIALISM AND
LOCKE AND NEWTON
The Puritans were not indifferent to the study of nature and the natural sciences, even though they made no significant contribution to the advance of science in a period when British and European science was developing rapidly. The Puritan colonials were not creative scientists, but rather absorbers of science. The reason for this may well be that the Puritan clergy studied scientific materials not for their own sake, but for the sake of the moral and theological lessons to be drawn from nature. The Puritans mastered the "new" astronomy — the Copernican system. At Harvard, Copernican astronomy was certainly a subject of instruction by 1659 and may have been taught even earlier. The New England almanacs of the period contained essays on the new astronomy in popularized form. The interest which lay behind this study, however, was not an interest in the heavens as such: It was the heavens as the work of God, and astronomy as a repository of illustrations for sermons and tracts on the Providence of God, that interested the Puritans.
Though the scientific interests of the New England Puritans were those of amateurs, they were more than those of dilettantes. Within some twenty years after the formation of the Royal Society of London there were American colonials elected as fellows of that Society. These Americans, some of whom were bearers of the best‐ known of Puritan names, like Mather, Leverett, and Winthrop, sent communications to England reporting their observations of natural phenomena in the colonies. After 1672 astronomical observation in the true sense became a possibility for American students, when Harvard was given a telescope by the younger John Winthrop. This was the telescope used by Thomas Brattle in observing the comet of 1680. Brattle's reports of his observations were used and