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  • Banished: Common Law and the Rhetoric of Social Exclusion in Early New England by Nan Goodman
  • Cornelia Hughes Dayton (bio)
Banished: Common Law and the Rhetoric of Social Exclusion in Early New England. Nan Goodman. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. 224 pp.

Would "the Lord Jesus be well pleased that" a Christian and Englishman "be denyed the common aire to breath in, and a civil cohabitation" in one of his majesty's Atlantic colonies (77)? So asked Roger Williams, in the wake of his forced departure from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. In this study, Nan Goodman revisits the competing definitions of community at play in what she calls the "banishment narratives" produced in the Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony between 1620 and the revocation of the former's charter in 1684. She argues cogently that Williams, Anne Hutchinson, Thomas Morton, and others whose protests are preserved in print were as much legal as religious dissidents. Not only did they advocate for alternative visions of political and legal membership, but like the Puritan leaders they locked horns with, they celebrated and drew heavily on their understandings of English common law.

In her first chapter, Goodman sets up the contradictions tugging at colonial Puritan rulers between Christian principles of hospitality and the leaders' conviction that their godly communities would succeed only if like-minded believers were admitted as legal inhabitants. The trained lawyers among the earliest settlers would have been familiar with international legal writers Francisco de Vitoria, Hugo Grotius, and Samuel Pufendorf, who argued that there existed a freedom to travel and a right to be received hospitably. Hospitality, in this rendering, was more than "a social virtue or biblical injunction," and New World puritans' "culture of homogeneity" worked against it (35, 59).

Each of the book's four chapters offers readings of a set of texts relating to one or more banishments. In chapter 1, Goodman argues that Thomas Morton (expelled three times from Plymouth Colony) and Anne Hutchinson stood up for a common-law custom of hospitality and a vision of community as porous and heterogeneous. Chapter 2 revisits Roger Williams's fifteen-year pamphlet war with Boston minister John Cotton over the logic [End Page 230] of Williams's banishment. Quakers and their published "sufferings" populate chapter 3. We meet travelers like Marmaduke Stevenson, who journeyed purposefully from Barbados to Boston in 1658 "to test" the recently passed "Bloody Laws" that imposed death on banished Quakers who dared to return (93). Both here and in a final chapter on the forced relocation of nearly five hundred Christian Indians to a Boston harbor island during King Philip's war (a military strategy that other scholars interpret as internment, not banishment), Goodman argues that Puritans' extreme experiments in banishment led consequently to more inclusive policies. Under pressure from the king, the Massachusetts General Court repealed the death penalty for once-banished Quakers; soon after, Congregational ministers passed the Half-Way Covenant in recognition that their own community of faith contained a spectrum of believers (114). Goodman views the praying Indians as being deterritorialized by their internment (even though survivors returned to reconstituted praying towns). She argues that Indian men who agreed to fight for the English emerged after the war as "common-l aw actors," petitioning and litigating in ways not possible before 1675 (127, 139-39).

Goodman loves the word frenzy. She repeatedly refers to the frenzied use of banishment by New England colonies and yet she remains vague about the numbers. I doubt very much that "thousands" were banished by the four Puritan-inflected colonies of the region in the seventeenth century, which Goodman's "guesstimate" suggests (163n.). On the other hand, we should pay attention to the author's points that Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies ordered banishments more frequently than did the English state, and their insistence on the right to do so (the former, based on a clause in its original charter) was an "oppositional" gesture, harkening back to the medieval legal landscape in which local units like parishes had license to banish miscreants (16).

Wider frames exist for a study of early modern banishment that would focus on practice as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-147X
Print ISSN
0012-8163
Pages
pp. 230-232
Launched on MUSE
2014-03-09
Open Access
No
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