LITR 4326 Early American Literature

lecture notes

Puritan utopias


John Smith of Virginia and Pilgrims / Puritans of New England as models or "origins" of North American / USA / Anglo dominant culture

John Smith as heroic individual, Rambo / Trump figure, swaggering ego-hero who's always right and conquers all [America as individuals striving, competing, every man for himself]

Puritans as community in covenant with God; gathered together, middle-class, supportive [America as community of individuals? Can rebels and immigrants stick together when their origins are in rebellion and moving?]


Long texts last week and this week a struggle, not much standard literary pleasure, so reinforce or rationalize why readings like Cabeza de Vaca and the Puritans can count as Literature


Course Objective 1. To learn about early North American and U.S.texts and cultures and make them matter now. (Historicism)

Literature as shifting balance between entertainment and instruction.

[first reading of such materials is confusing, a lot of work for limited rewards, but practice and familiarity reduce distance, give reader mastery over texts that would previously have seemed strange or alien or undesirable]


Obj. 2 & 4:

How does “Literature” as we know it today evolve from earlier genres like letters, nonfiction narratives or reports, pamphlets, public documents; spoken and written literatures and cultures

Ways to describe genre of Cabeza de Vaca or Bradford: records, accounts, relations, histories

How studied today? "cultural narratives" or "cultural history"


Obj. 3: Which America (or American culture) to teach?


Multiculturalism and dominant culture


Can we identify and , including "plain style"


Puritans / Pilgrims in American Immigrant Literature: rather than assimilating to a pre-existing American culture, the Pilgrims and other early North American-European immigrants or settlers import their own culture to displace the existing American culture (i.e. the Indians).



Relations to minority culture

last class: Hispanic / Latino or mestizo culture of Central and South America: Virgin of Guadalupe, Cabeza de Vaca, La Relacion (1542) meeting and fusion of Indian and European identities. (, )

today's class + John Smith: North American dominant culture: races are theoretically distinct (though considerable crossing at margins, e.g. Indian women in white family gene-pools)

Pocahontas & John Smith were not lovers. Pocahontas did convert to Christianity and marry an Englishman (John Rolfe) and had a son, Thomas Rolfe, but especially in the Virginia society that developed



Questions / problems for students, teachers of early American literature (and later)

People studying literature or completing college generally want to join the dominant culture in prestige, security, affluence. Why don't such people want to read the dominant culture?

A purpose of public education is to lift people of various cultures into our common culture, but what if nearly everyone responds to and prefers to read minority or multicultural literature and dreads reading about the Pilgrims or the Consitution?


Problem for this class

Have to do your reading before class, but hard to understand why until you get to class



As semester proceeds and we get nearer our own time (and Romanticism), reading becomes more familiar

including next week







Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity

1 knit together, bonds of brotherly affection

2 two rules: justice and mercy

2a Double law: nature and gospel

Moral law

2b cites Matthew

2b Put a difference between Christians and others

[2c]  Law of Nature would give no rules for dealing with enemies, . . . but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. Proof: If thine enemy hunger, feed him; "Love your enemies... Do good to them that hate you" (Matt. 5:44).

law of nature no help with enemies; Gospel: love enemies [revelation]

Hence it was that in the primitive church they sold all, had all things in common, neither did any man say that which he possessed was his own. . . . [See Acts 2: 42-45, copied at bottom]


5 affection

Clock, rational mind: cannot work such a habit in soul

5a Love is the bond of perfection. First it is a bond or ligament. Secondly, it makes the work perfect. There is no body but consists of parts and that which knits these parts together, gives the body its perfection

7 Members of this body

If one member suffers, all suffer with it, if one be in honor, all rejoice with it. [unity of church = unity of community]

[8] . . . this sensitivity and sympathy of each other's conditions will necessarily infuse into each part a native desire and endeavor, to strengthen, defend, preserve and comfort the other.

8a loves Elect because like Himself

[9]  . . . So a mother loves her child, because she thoroughly conceives a resemblance of herself in it.

10  to love and live beloved is the soul’s paradise

11 Entered into covenant

12 knit together as one man, brother affection

12 Delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own

13 A city upon a hill



a plain style, with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things

1.1 light of gospel x darkness of popery  [Protestantism]

churches of God revert to their ancient purity, and recover their primitive order, liberty, and beauty [Protestantism]

1.2 his ancient stratagems, used of old against the first Christians


4.1 30 Years War

4.5 propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world [the Americas]

4.7 vast and unpeopled countries of America, which are fruitful and fit for habitation, being devoid of all civil inhabitants, where there are only savage and brutish men which range up and down, little otherwise than the wild beasts


9.5 God in heaven + Seneca

9.6 amazed at this poor people's condition

9.7 cf. St. Paul at Malta, + savage barbarians

9.8 what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men

9.9 If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed and was now as a main bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.

9.11 What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and his grace?

Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord

no city to dwell in


10.2 espied five or six persons with a dog coming towards them, who were savages; but they [the “savages”] fled from them [the English] and ran up into the woods, and the English followed them

10.3 a good quantity of clear ground where the Indians had formerly set corn, and some of their graves.

[The first evidence of the 1612-1617 epidemic of European disease that killed up to 90% of the Massachusett Indians] cf. John Smith, invisible bullets

10.4 found where lately a house had been, . . . found in them divers fair Indian baskets filled with corn

10.7 a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that here they got seed to plant them corn the next year, or else they might have starved

[Instructor’s note: The Pilgrims’ interpretation of the New World of America as a Promised Land overflowing with blessings thanks to their special relation with God is automatically agreeable to the USA’s evangelical dominant culture. However, with no disrespect to the scripture or faith of the Pilgrims, keep in mind how much this interpretation of events blocks reception of the catastrophic story of the Indians as a result of European contact.]

10.8 The weather [the precipitation or rain]  was very cold and it froze so hard as the spray of the sea lighting on their coats, they were as if they had been glazed. [a rare poetic figure] . . .  

10.13 a great and strange cry, which they knew to be the same voices they heard in the night, . . . one of their company being abroad came running in and cried, "Men, Indians! Indians!" And withal, their arrows came flying amongst them.

10.15 a lusty [strong] man, and no less valiant, stood behind a tree within half a musket shot, and let his arrows fly at them . . . an extraordinary shriek


11.1 discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers [non-Pilgrims] amongst them had let fall from them in the ship—That when they came ashore they would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them, the patent they had being for Virginia, and not for New England

11.2 in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick

enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, . .  for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience

11.3 common store

begun some small cottages for their habitation, as time would admitte, they met and consulted of laws and orders, both for their civil and military Government

11.4 starving time

11.5 did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren. A rare example and worthy to be remembered

11.7 But now amongst his company [the ships' sailors] there was far another kind of carriage [behavior] in this misery than amongst the passengers [the Pilgrims]

11.8 about the sixteenth of March a certain Indian came boldly amongst them, and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand, but marveled at it.

11.9 Samoset, Squanto, Massasoit

11.11 He was a native of this place, and scarce any left alive beside himself.

11.12 He was carried away with diverse others by one Hunt, a master of a ship, who thought to sell them for slaves in Spain


12.2 Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it. Also he told them except they got fish and set with it (in these old grounds) it would come to nothing

12.12 now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).

great store of wild Turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc

[Mourt's] amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation

12.15-16 Christmas Day


14.1 set corn every man for his own particular [each person or family with their own plot of land], and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number

14.2 made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than other ways would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble

14.2 The women now went willingly into the field, and took their litle-ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

14.3 The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry [several] years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients, applauded by some of after [modern] times;—that the taking away of property, and bringing in communities into a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser then God.

14.4 young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine [whine, complain] that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, with out any recompense

14.5 And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook [stand] it.


23.1 people of the plantation began to grow in their outward estates [economic wealth], by reason of the flowing of many people into the country,

corn and cattle rose to a great price, by which many were much enriched, and commodities grew plentiful; and yet in other regards this benefit turned to their hurt, and this accession of strength to their weakness.

23.2 no longer any holding them together,

23.3 the town [Plymouth], in which they lived compactly [close together] till now, was left very thin, and in a short time almost desolate.

23.4 the church must also be divided, and those that had lived so long together in Christian and comfortable fellowship must now part and suffer many divisions

23.6 this, I fear, will be the ruin of New England, at least of the churches of God there, and will provoke the Lord’s displeasure against them.


28.1 great terror

28.2 the Pequots, especially in the winter before, sought to make peace with the Narragansetts, and used very pernicious arguments to move them thereunto: as that the English were strangers and began to overspread their country, and would deprive them thereof in time, if they were suffered to grow and increase; and if the Narragansetts did assist the English to subdue them [the Pequots], they [the Narragansetts] did but make way for their own overthrow

28.3 But again when they [the Narragansetts] considered, how much wrong they had received from the Pequot, and what an opportunity they now had by the help of the English to right themselves, revenge was so sweet unto them, as it prevailed above all the rest; so as they resolved to join with the English against them, and did.

28.5 the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God


33.1 that so many of them should live to very old age! [sounds biblical]

33.6 Many having left this place (as is before noted) by reason of the straitness [narrowness] and barrenness of the same, and their finding of better accommodations elsewhere, more suitable to their ends and minds; and sundry others still upon every occasion desiring their dismissions, the church began seriously to think whether it were not better jointly to remove to some other place, than to be thus weakened, and as it were insensibly dissolved.

[¶33.9] And thus was this poor church left, like an ancient mother, grown old, and forsaken of her children, (though not in their affections,) yet in regard of their bodily presence and personal helpfulness. Her ancient members being most of them worn away by death; and these of later time being like children translated into other families, and she like a widow left only to trust in God [1 Timothy 5.5]. Thus she that had made many rich became herself poor [2 Corinthians 6.10].



American Experience: The Pilgrims