Essay on A Study of Outsiders Integrating Into a Puritan Community

Essay on A Study of Outsiders Integrating Into a Puritan Community

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Popular mythology conjures up images of Puritan New England as a pious, homogenous, agrarian community, a "Citty upon a Hill" intended to inspire the English homeland to turn to Puritan ways.(1) However, Puritan New England was more than a collection of small, agrarian communities. The harbors of New England supported shipping and fishing industries, and abundant timber and ore supplies inspired the Puritans of North America to pursue a colonial version of the English iron industry. These new American Ironworks required skilled labor; it was not possible simply to take the offspring of Puritan farmers and merchants and turn them into iron workers. The experienced, skilled laborers needed were mostly recruited from England and, generally, were not Puritans. Stephen Innes describes these iron workers as having "had a long, and apparently well-earned, reputation for stout-hearted truculence and profane living."(2) How, then, did these most un-Puritan individuals function in Puritan Society?

Essex County Court records concerning the Leonards, a family of immigrant iron workers, will be examined as a case study of the social integration of outsiders into a typical Puritan community. The Leonards do seem to epitomize the "truculent and profane" iron workers that Innes describes. The court cases involving the various Leonard family members often seem to be of a different, darker character than other, perhaps more typical, cases. While most Puritan lawsuits involved boundary lines and bad language, the Leonards were brought before the court charged with arson and highway robbery. As skilled and thus valued iron workers, the Leonard family was tolerated for pragmatic reasons. But the level of toleration shown by the community seemed to ...


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...ntinued to watch over them and, sometimes forcefully, point them in the proper Puritan direction. The Essex County court records, then, demonstrate that Puritans were willing to forgive offenders and welcome them back into the community. Their priority was forgiveness and redemption, not condemnation and exclusion.

Works Cited

The book of the general lauus and libertyes concerning the inhabitants of the Massachusets. Cambridge, Mass.: Printed according to order of the General Court, and are to be solde at the shop of Hezekiah Usher in Boston, 1648. (Early English books, 1641-1700; 698:12.)

Dow, George Francis, ed. Records and files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts. Reprint ed. 9 Vols. Salem, Mass.: 1911-78.

Innes, Stephen. Creating the Commonwealth: The Economic Culture of Puritan New England. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.

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