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Faithful Bodies

Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic

Heather Miyano Kopelson

Publication Year: 2014

In the seventeenth-century English Atlantic, religious beliefs and practices played a central role in creating racial identity. English Protestantism provided a vocabulary and structure to describe and maintain boundaries between insider and outsider. In this path-breaking study, Heather Miyano Kopelson peels back the layers of conflicting definitions of bodies and competing practices of faith in the puritan Atlantic, demonstrating how the categories of “white,” “black,” and “Indian” developed alongside religious boundaries between “Christian” and “heathen” and between “Catholic” and “Protestant.”

Faithful Bodies focuses on three communities of Protestant dissent in the Atlantic World: Bermuda, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. In this “puritan Atlantic,” religion determined insider and outsider status: at times Africans and Natives could belong as long as they embraced the Protestant faith, while Irish Catholics and English Quakers remained suspect. Colonists’ interactions with indigenous peoples of the Americas and with West Central Africans shaped their understandings of human difference and its acceptable boundaries. Prayer, religious instruction, sexual behavior, and other public and private acts became markers of whether or not blacks and Indians were sinning Christians or godless heathens. As slavery became law, transgressing people of color counted less and less as sinners in English puritans’ eyes, even as some of them made Christianity an integral part of their communities. As Kopelson shows, this transformation proceeded unevenly but inexorably during the long seventeenth century.

Published by: NYU Press

Title page, Series page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to thank all of those who have helped me over the years of researching and writing this book. Several institutions provided key financial support: the University of Iowa Graduate College and Department of History, the John Nicholas Brown...

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pp. 1-22

To the casual observer, the crystals appear to be inert lumps of quartz, roughly shaped. But to the seventeenth-century individuals who placed them in the corners of their new building at Magunkaquog in the heart of their homeland, they were hope and insurance for the future, connection...

Part I: Defining

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1. “One Indian and a Negroe, the first thes Ilands ever had”

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pp. 25-50

In August 1616, the English ship Edwin returned to Bermuda after a voyage to the Caribbean. In addition to “plantans, suger canes, figges, pines, and the like,” it carried two individuals whose arrival marked an important event in Bermudian history and in the history of the Atlantic...

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2. “Joyne interchangeably in a laborious bodily service”

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pp. 51-73

In June 1675, Awashunkes, the saunks or female leader of the Saconets, an Algonquian people who lived on the coast of what the English called Narragansett Bay, had an important decision to make.1 It was not one she could make alone, so she called for all those within her influence to...

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3. “Ye are of one Body and members one of another”

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pp. 74-100

The metaphor of the body of Christ organized community life as a diagram for how Christians should live together. Passages throughout the New Testament referred to the church as Christ’s body and Christians as members of that body, while the central ritual revolved around consuming...

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Part II: Performing

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pp. 101-106

His name was Adam. He was probably given a different name at birth, one that reflected his kinship ties to older living relatives, or created a link to a relative who had died and conferred some qualities of that ancestor on the new infant.1 Becoming...

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4. “Extravasat Blood”

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pp. 107-125

Adam Saffin’s actions challenged varying levels of puritan notions of bodily order. Laying the descriptions of Adam’s behavior that had landed him in court against a consideration of his motives and perspective suggests the unstable place of an African man who insisted on personal...

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5. “Makinge a tumult in the congregation”

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pp. 126-149

At the end of January 1672/3, Bermudians assembled in Devonshire Church, called there by the governor who had proclaimed a special day of fasting and prayer. A day of humiliation, as seventeenth-century puritanism termed the practice, was a community action meant to direct...

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6. “Those bloody people who did use most horrible crueltie”

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pp. 150-170

In 1661, Bermuda’s Governor William Sayle announced “that there hath bin a dangerous Plott Combination by the Irish and Negroes that if the Irish cannot have their freedom their intentions are . . . to cutt the throats of our Englishmen,” a plan he and his council found to...

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7. “To bee among the praying indians”

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pp. 171-191

In June 1676, as the coalition of Nipmucs, Pocumtucks, Narragansetts, and Pocasset and Pokanoket Wampanoags began to run out of food, ammunition, and other supplies in their fight against the English, Mohegans, Pequots, Niantics under the leadership of Ninigret, and most...

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8. “In consideration for his raising her in the Christian faith”

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pp. 192-214

In several long-term indentures of African and mulatto children in midseventeenth- century Bermuda, the contracts specified that the master had use of a person’s labor “in consideration for” raising that person “in the Christian faith,” and perhaps teaching her or him a trade. Long-term...

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Part III: Disciplining

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pp. 215-218

In 1652, Thomas Higginbottom, an English man, and “Sarah the malato,” both “servants to Capt Turner of Sandies Tribe,” were convicted of fornication in Bermuda. Higginbottom petitioned the governor and council to spare him the “shamefull...

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9. “Abominable mixture and spurious issue”

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pp. 219-230

In 1691, Virginia passed a law that has become a benchmark in the history of race, sex, and law. Aimed at preventing the “abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may encrease in this dominion, as well by negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying...

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10. “Sensured to be whipped uppon a Lecture daie”

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pp. 231-248

In December 1678, the Bermuda court accepted the word of “Black Moll servant of Mr William Hall” that “black Tom servant of Mr John Squire” was “the reputed father of a bastard childe,” and both were “sensured to be whipped uppon a Lecture daie.”1 Moll and Tom’s punishment came...

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11. “If any white woman shall have a child by any Negroe or other slave”

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pp. 249-270

In 1723, Bermudian lawmakers revised the “Act against Bastardy” to include racial categories: “white women” convicted of having a child “by any Negroe or other slave” received an automatic whipping, while their partners would be “publickly whipt . . . under the Gallows by the...

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pp. 271-274

By the time the first two pearl divers stepped on Bermudian shores in 1616, southern Algonquian homelands that English colonists would come to call New England had known human habitation for as long as anyone could remember, with the memory stretching back and forward...


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pp. 275-314


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pp. 315-358


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pp. 359-372

About the Author

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pp. 373-374

E-ISBN-13: 9781479814268
E-ISBN-10: 1479814261
Print-ISBN-13: 9781479805006
Print-ISBN-10: 1479805009

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2014