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Errands into the Metropolis

New England Dissidents in Revolutionary London

Jonathan Beecher Field

Publication Year: 2009

Errands into the Metropolis offers a dramatic new interpretation of the texts and contexts of early New England literature. Jonathan Beecher Field inverts the familiar paradigm of colonization as an errand into the wilderness to demonstrate, instead, that New England was shaped and re-shaped by a series of return trips to a metropolitan London convulsed with political turmoil. In London, dissidents and their more orthodox antagonists contended for colonial power through competing narratives of their experiences in the New World. Dissidents showed a greater willingness to construct their narratives in terms that were legible to a metropolitan reader than did Massachusetts Bay's apologists. As a result, representatives of a variety of marginal religious groups were able to secure a remarkable level of political autonomy, visible in the survival of Rhode Island as an independent colony.

Through chapters focusing on John Cotton, Roger Williams, Samuel Gorton, John Clarke, and the Quaker martyrs, Field traces an evolving discourse on the past, present, and future of colonial New England that revises the canon of colonial New England literature and the contours of New England history. In the broader field of early American studies, Field's work demonstrates the benefits of an Atlantic perspective on the material cultures of print. In the context of religious freedom, Errands into the Metropolis shows Rhode Island's famous culture of toleration emerging as a pragmatic response to the conditions of colonial life, rather than as an idealistic principle. Errands into the Metropolis offers new understanding of familiar texts and events from colonial New England, and reveals the significance of less familiar texts and events.

Published by: Dartmouth College Press

Series: Reencounters with Colonialism: New Perspectives on the Americas


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Title Page

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p. xi

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pp. xiii-xv

The opportunity to acknowledge the many debts I have accumulated in writing this book is one of the greatest joys that comes with finishing it. What is good in this book is largely the responsibility of the names that follow; its limitations and errors...

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pp. 1-16

In 1663, Charles II, the restored king of England, granted a charter to the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The king put his seal to several colonial charters in the early years of his reign, but the charter for Rhode Island was...

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1. 50% Cotton: Authorship, Authority, and the Atlantic

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pp. 17-25

The first dissident errand from New England to London was Roger Williams’s 1643–44 trip to London. Roger Williams began and ended his this trip by publishing works concerning Indians. However...

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2. A Key for the Gate: Roger Williams, Parliament, & Providence

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pp. 26-47

Among the first generation of English settlers in New England, Roger Williams is one of the most appealing figures for present-day readers. In contrast to contemporaries whose names are bywords for intolerance, scholars hail Williams as a prophet...

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3. "A Belcher-Out of Errours": Samuel Gorton and the Atlantic Subject

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pp. 48-71

Roger Williams demonstrated to his neighbors at home in Rhode Island that it was possible for a member of a religious minority to describe the state of affairs in New England in a way that would persuade Parliament to intervene on its behalf against...

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4. Antinomians, Anabaptists, and Aquidneck: Contesting Heresy in Interregnum London

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pp. 72-89

Samuel Gorton’s errand secured the integrity of the mainland portion of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and, in the form of Gorton’s passport, generated a rebuke to the Bay Colony for its highhanded relations with its neighbors...

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5. Suffering and Subscribing: Configurations of Authorship in the Quaker Atlantic

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pp. 90-115

In the late 1650s and early 1660s, Quakers suffered in New England and published in England, just as Clarke and Gorton had before them. Publishing Quaker sufferings, however, was a far more elaborate proposition. Quaker apologists...

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Conclusion: "A Lively Experiment”

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pp. 116-127

Quaker sufferings in New England reached their zenith as the Restoration occurred in England, and shaped the nature of their appeals to metropolitan authority. At the same time, the Restoration was a moment of great uncertainty for the inhabitants...


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pp. 129-148


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pp. 149-154

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658238
E-ISBN-10: 1584658231
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657743

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Reencounters with Colonialism: New Perspectives on the Americas
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OCLC Number: 667077309
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Errands into the Metropolis

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rhode Island -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Rhode Island -- Politics and government -- To 1775.
  • Dissenters, Religious -- Rhode Island -- History.
  • Dissenters, Religious -- Political activity -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Politics and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Discourse analysis -- History -- 17th century.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- Administration -- History -- 17th century.
  • Great Britain -- Colonies -- America -- History -- 17th century.
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