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Prospero's America

John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676

Walter W. Woodward

Publication Year: 2013

In Prospero's America, Walter W. Woodward examines the transfer of alchemical culture to America by John Winthrop, Jr., one of English colonization's early giants. Winthrop participated in a pan-European network of natural philosophers who believed alchemy could improve the human condition and hasten Christ's Second Coming. Woodward demonstrates the influence of Winthrop and his philosophy on New England's cultural formation: its settlement, economy, religious toleration, Indian relations, medical practice, witchcraft prosecution, and imperial diplomacy. Prospero's America reconceptualizes the significance of early modern science in shaping New England hand in hand with Puritanism and politics.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-13

The larger Atlantic world connections of colonization are now transforming Puritan studies. Colonial historians are rediscovering, although in new ways, something that Perry Miller noted more than two generations ago: New England’s Puritans were continuing participants in a complex culture...

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One: John Winthrop, Jr., and the European Alchemical Movement of the Early Seventeenth Century

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pp. 14-42

Today most historians of science view alchemy as an important contributing factor in the development of modern chemistry and experimental science. While they are still working out the exact nature of alchemy’s contributions and the complex motivations leading early modern Europeans to pursue the...

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Two: The Republic of Alchemy and the Pansophic Moment

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pp. 43-74

On the November 1631 day that John Winthrop, Jr., stepped ashore to the welcoming salutes of cannon fire and musket volleys from the Bay Colony’s train-bands, he began a career of colonial leadership that would see him become one of the most important figures in all English America. Twenty-five years...

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Three: Founding a New London

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pp. 75-92

John Winthrop, Jr., returned to New England in 1643 filled with a sense of possibility. Inspired by the alchemical contacts he had made in England and in Europe, Winthrop had formed a pansophic vision of New England’s potential to serve as a vanguard in the restoration of knowledge and improvement of...

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Four: Which Man’s Land?

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pp. 93-137

Two conflicts that surfaced with explosive force in New England in 1637 reverberated with particular impact on Winthrop’s new plantation in the mid- 1640s. For more than a decade, the success or failure of the alchemical project hinged on how the issues raised by these earlier events would be resolved. The...

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Five: Alchemical Vision Refined

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pp. 138-159

Uncas’s sustained harassment during the initial years of settlement had a chilling effect on the launch of Winthrop’s alchemical plantation. Continuous unrest discouraged relocation to the new plantation. It also precluded the possibility of shipping ore from the mine at Tantiusque to the harbor town,...

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Six: “God’s Secret”

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pp. 160-209

Jonathan Brewster’s concern that news of his discovery of the “Elixer, fitt for Medicine, and healing of all maladyes,” would bring a throng of people to his remote woodland plantation was more than just a projection of imaginative desire. It reflected the reality he had seen in the demand for the alchemical...

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Seven: The Magus as Mediator

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pp. 210-252

Between 1647, when New England hanged its first witch, and the end of the Hartford witch-hunt in 1663, the Puritan elite prosecuted witches with zeal. Thirty-four persons were tried for witchcraft, and fifteen of them were convicted and hanged. Connecticut assumed leadership in Puritan witch-hunting...

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Eight: “Matters of Present Utility”

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pp. 253-301

By the time John Winthrop, Jr., became governor of Connecticut in 1657, he had achieved an international reputation as an alchemist. During his travels to Europe he had met and made a lasting impression on members of the European republic of alchemy, several of whom he had sustained correspondence...


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pp. 302-308


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pp. 309-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781469603070
E-ISBN-10: 1469603071
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469600871
Print-ISBN-10: 1469600870

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 9 halftones
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia