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BOOK REVIEWS Edited by Edwin B. Bronner Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen: The Puritan Adjustment to Quakerism in Seventeenth -Century Massachusetts Bay. By Jonathan M. Chu. Contributions to the Study of Religion, Number 14. Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1985. xiii, 205 pp. Tables, index. $27.95. Jonathan Chu's Neighbors, Friends, or Madmen joins a growing body of literature that has begun to expose cracks in the monolith of New England Puritanism. But while others have explored the theological context of religious diversity, Chu focuses instead on its legal aspects, investigating criminal proceedings against the Quakers in order to assess the extent of local communities' adherence to the New England Way. Within the limited bounds of the task he has set for himself, Chu's efforts are largely successful. Yet the book is, on the whole, disappointing. Chu's results, based on extensive research in legal records, contradict earlier works by Perry Maler and Kai Erikson, which presumed a uniformly harsh treatment of dissenters. In fact, Chu argues, the peculiar nature ofthe Puritan commonwealth hampered official attempts to suppress Quakerism. With vivid memories of their own persecution by English authorities, Massachusetts leaders forbade civil officials to meddle in matters of faith. Heterodoxy could be dealt with only when it inspired a civil offense—usually public disorderliness or sedition. Thus while the first Quaker missionaries' manifest contempt for Puritan authority brought them under the purview of the law, the real challenge to Massachusetts legal institutions occurred when local colonists began to convert to Quakerism. Resident Quakers often had extensive kinship and economic ties to their neighbors and most had once been law-abiding members of Puritan congregations. Few engaged in the sort of disorderly behavior that invited prosecution. Even ifformal charges could be made, judges discovered that punishments meted out to itinerant Quakers were ill-suited to the problem of resident dissenters. Heavy fines threatened to impoverish Quaker families and make them a burden on their communities. Sentences of banishment, derived from English precedents concerning vagabonds, were ofquestionable applicability to residents. Although the General Court remained interested in suppressing Quakerism, the task of enforcement ultimately fell to the county courts, where local officials resorted to discretionaryjustice, prosecuting only those Quakers who clearly threatened public order. Offenders were frequently charged with non-attendance at worship , a relatively mild offense that kept the case within county jurisdiction. Thus, Chu concludes, Massachusetts officials reluctantly adopted a policy of de facto toleration of Quakers. English pressure for religious toleration after 1660 and the development ofa more quiescent form ofQuakerism in the 1670s merely reinforced an existing pattern of limited confrontation. The problem with this book lies less with Chu's findings than with his interpretation of them. Chu ignores the central facts of New England life when he characterizes the Puritan adjustment to Quakerism as a matter of convenience (p. 3). His narrowly juridical approach leads him to see informal religious toleration not as the triumph of local autonomy that it was, but rather as a defeat for the Massachusetts legal system. Despite all efforts by the General Court to exercise control over the multiplying settlements ofthe Bay Colony, the principal focus of authority throughout most of the seventeenth century remained in the individual towns. Colonists tolerated Quakers in their midst because, in most cases, they thought them to be 127 128Quaker History valuable (though eccentric) neighbors, not threats to the local community. Without local support for prosecution court officials could not sustain an anti-Quaker campaign . The Quakers' experience thus demonstrates, yet again, the remarkable flexibility and cohesion that grew from early Massachusetts' intense localism. Because ofthe information it provides Chu's book will be of interest to specialists in Quaker history, but he has missed the opportunity to endow his story with broader significance. University of Colorado, BoulderVirginia DeJohn Anderson Quakers and Slavery: A Divided Spirit. By Jean R. Soderlund. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1985. xiii + 220 pp. $27.50. Once again the stereotype of the good Quaker—in this case the Quaker abolitionist —confronts the complex human realities of the historical past. Jean Soderlund's book examines the process which led Friends to become pioneers in the antislavery movement and how...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 127-128
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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