Agents of wrath, sowers of discord: Authority and dissent in Puritan Massachusetts, 1630--1655

Timothy L Wood, Marquette University


The first quarter century of the history of the Massachusetts Bay colony was marked by a series of intense political and religious controversies in which John Winthrop, Roger Williams, John Cotton, George Philips, Henry Vane, Anne Hutchinson, and Henry Dunster played pivotal roles. This project focuses upon six particular incidents of conflict and controversy involving those seven principle figures that occurred between 1630 through 1655. Those six political and religious disputes will serve as the prism through which the symbiotic relationship between authority and dissent in Massachusetts is viewed. By examining those controversies, this study contributes four important points to the historical literature regarding New England's first generation. First of all, while the founders of Massachusetts never unanimously embraced one monolithic code of orthodoxy, a Puritan identity did exist in early New England. That identity derived its legitimacy from the pervasive sense of community that most colonists shared, and the colonial authorities set the limits of that identity in direct response to the religious, political, and social crises they encountered. Secondly, this project proposes that two impulses must be taken into account when examining the use of authority: the horizontal and the vertical. While the horizontal cooperation that often existed between leaders in Massachusetts is well documented, little has been said about the vertical allegiance that allowed leaders and those under them to find common cause, even in dissent. This dissertation also contends that several key dissidents have been omitted from the histories that treat this period. By highlighting the careers of Williams and Hutchinson at the expense of dissenters such as Philips, Cotton, and Dunster, one style of dissent is elevated while others are ignored. By recognizing the full cast of dissenters present in that period, the complete spectrum of dissent in early New England can be appreciated. Massachusetts' first quarter-century was not only characterized by external, internal forms. Only by taking into account the character of a given episode of dissent can one completely understand the strategies employed by the colonial authorities in responding to it.

Recommended Citation

Wood, Timothy L, "Agents of wrath, sowers of discord: Authority and dissent in Puritan Massachusetts, 1630--1655" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059391.