Early US Literature

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Blackness in Early America

This bibliography contains the primary materials used to examine the black presence in the Puritan colonies. While by no means an exhaustive list, the selections named here offer readers a variety of perspectives, from the influential clergy to the black man himself.

Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. London: Golden Bible, 1700. Print.

Calef’s “More Wonders of the Invisible World”, which was written in response to Dr. Mather’s “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” is designed to both shed light on the events surrounding the case of Margaret Rule and critique the abuses of power and influence that Cotton Mather and the church were exerting over colonists at the time. In it, Calef argues that the church has abandoned scriptural principles in its pursuit of superstition and hearsay.  He is especially keen to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the accusations of witchcraft that Dr. Mather and other leaders in the church were perpetuating.

The work is split into five parts, each designed for a particular purpose in supporting Calef’s argument against church behavior. Part one is a reprint of Cotton Mather’s account of the events surrounding the afflictions of Margaret Rule. Part two is a series of correspondence between Calef and Cotton Mather in which Calef relays his version of Margaret Rule’s afflictions and calls into question Mather’s methods of treatment. Parts three, four, and five are all related to the events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials and contain many court documents and letters from judges and administrators.

Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. Dublin: Dugdale, 1790. Print.

The captivity narrative of John Marrant is of particular importance to early American studies in blackness due to the fact Marrant was himself black. His recollections offer readers a unique perspective and shed some valuable light on the relationship between the black colonists and the Native Indians. In one especially telling passage, Marrant claims that the Indians were more likely to attack white villages, due to their poor treatment by white colonists, than they were to attack areas with more blacks. This kind of look at early American racial tension is valuable for a comprehensive discussion of how blackness was perceived.

Like most captivity narratives, Marrant’s work is on the shorter side (wrapping up after only 36 pages) and details not much other than his time spent within the Indian camps. To some readers, calling this a captivity narrative might seem strange, given Marrant’s ultimate influence over the Indians and ability to move freely among them as a leader of sorts, but it holds all the features of the traditional captivity stories –entering the wilderness, detailing removes, and ultimately escaping and assimilating back into civilized society. While not as exciting as Rowlandson’s narrative, Marrant’s is significant given his race and standing.

Mather, Cotton. The Negro Christianized. Boston: B. Green, 1706. Print.

Published in 1706, Mather’s essay “The Negroe Christianized” provides contemporary scholars with a complicated look at how both slaves and free black men were perceived in early America. Mather’s argument is rather simple. He believes that his countrymen should see black slaves as candidates for salvation, and endorses the conversion and recruitment of these people for the work of God. In the essay, Mather addresses the potential origin of the black race and the notion that they may lack souls altogether — a notion that he describes as “brutish”. Mather provides his readers with four reasons why they should be aiming to convert their black slaves to Christianity, First, because God commands it and requires it. Second, because conversion is a Christian duty. Third, the servants are crying to be Christianized. Forth, the eternal benefits of saving a soul.

While Mather’s writing makes a strong case for the equality of souls in the eyes of God, he never treads into emancipation territory. Instead, Mather extols the black slaves for their diligence in service and hard work, while reassuring his congregation that baptizing a black man will not relieve him of his earthly slavery, but will make him a free man of the Lord.

Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Boston: Raven in the Poultry,1693. Print.

Cotton Mather begins The Wonders of the Invisible World with a pre-emptive defense of his intentions. He attempts to justify the publication by noting the lack of any other works detailing the witchcraft epidemic, an issue that he saw as being widespread and dangerous to the survival of the church in the colonies. Mather’s work acts as an argument in favor of the persecution of those accused of participating in witchcraft or associating with those who did. Being published in both Boston and London, Wonders was clearly intended for wide dissemination in both the old and new countries. This indicates that Mather saw this writing as crucial to not only the survival of the colonies, but the survival of the church as a whole.

Mather’s work is divided into five sections and four curiosities. Each section of the work provides details regarding the trials of people accused of witchcraft. Mather makes an effort to provide an historical account of these trials, often simply stating the each stage of the events. For the trial of Susannah Martin, Mather provides a partial transcript of the trial proceedings. The inclusion of these trial accounts is designed to support Mather’s argument by highlighting not only the atrocities of the accused, but their unwillingness to admit their crimes.

Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Cambridge: Samuel Green, 1682. Early English Books Online. Web.  24 July 2013. Wing R2093.

In her captivity memoir, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Mary Rowlandson gives readers an account of her time spent as a prisoner of the Native Indians. She spares very little detail in recalling the events leading up to and after her capture, often painting brutal pictures of death and suffering. She frequently refers to the natives as “black creatures”, demonstrating the belief that anyone who wasn’t a white, Christianized, Englishman was considered “black”. She divides her work up into twenty removes, beginning just before her capture and leading up to her eventual reunion with her husband and surviving children.

Rowlandson also makes frequent use of Bible verses, which, for her, serve as evidence of the Lord’s presence in every step of her struggle and act as a sustaining force when she is troubled. While the abundance of these scriptural passages can be distracting, they provide key insights into how she was able to cope with such suffering. Given that this narrative was written a few years after her release from captivity and with the help of religious leaders, the reliability of the facts may be called into question. Rowlandson’s work was widely circulated at the time, buffeted by endorsements of church leaders. Contemporary readers should wonder whether or not the church had sought to gain from this publication, and whether or not it was Puritan propaganda.

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