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Francis J. Bremer. Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds.

Francis J. Bremer. Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. ix + 424 pp. $80.00. Review by MARC L. SCHWARZ, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE.

Professor Francis Bremer has made a significant contribution to early Stuart studies and American colonial history in his biography of John Davenport. Not only has he focused attention on a relatively neglected figure, but he has also placed Davenport at the center of the puritan movement during this critical period.

A major point for Bremer is to describe Davenport at the outset as a "moderate puritan," meaning that he accepted the validity of the Church of England but dissented from some of its practices and found fault in some of the aspects of the prayer book. In providing this description Bremer illustrates the fact than many puritans remained within the Church, which they considered the true Church. This attitude was possible given the moderate policy that James I carried out for most of his reign and also the conciliatory stance of Archbishop George Abbot.

Now, what is important about this is the way in which the author clearly demonstrates how Archbishop Laud's harsh and destructive policies drove a moderate like Davenport out of the Church. As minister of St. Stephens Church in London and a member of the Feoffees of Impropriations, Davenport found himself doggedly pursued by Laud, brought before the High Commission, and threatened with arrest. Davenport's flight to Holland and transition into true nonconformity was the direct result. Thus, in Bremer's hands, Davenport's journey becomes emblematic of the development of puritanism in the early seventeenth century.

In dealing with Davenport's decision to emigrate to New England, the author starts by asking the interesting question of whether clergymen might have considered it ethical for them to leave England, or was it desertion at a time of crisis, as may have been the case with some Marian exiles. This is an issue that calls for discussion in more detail for it had important implications for England in the late 1620s and 1630s.

Davenport was a firm Calvinist who accepted predestination with all of its implications as spelled out in the Synod of Dort. Thus it was the elect, those that had received God's grace, who comprised a church identified by baptism and a testimony of conversion. Yet despite this strict attitude, Davenport was a strong supporter of protestant unity and conciliation working with individuals like Dury, Comenius, and others. This goal remained a focal point throughout his ministry. As Bremer notes, these seemingly divergent views could exist in the same person. Thus it isn't surprising that even with such feared and condemned groups as the Quakers he could show moderation. Moreover, he sought to find common ground within New England puritanism-the so-called "New England Way." In the diverse climate of New England religion, theology, and practice Davenport found it difficult to find solutions. In Boston and New Haven, he faced the challenge of the halfway covenant, which threatened his ideas of baptism and church membership. Changing conceptions between the generation of English emigrants and those who had been born in America caused concerns over the nature of the church and the survival of congregationalism.

Davenport was opposed to the dissolution of the New Haven colony, which he had founded with the help of his friend, Theophilis Eaton, and became increasingly concerned over attempts to diminish congregational independence, such as the synod of 1662, which endorsed the halfway covenant. He and others were suspicious of this action as a move toward the more clerical Presbyterianism. Davenport was a supporter of lay involvement in the life of the church and while in England had cooperated with many lay figures including the Puritan peer, Viscount Saye and Sele.

When Davenport was called to Boston as a minister, Bremer deftly describes the clash between him and a significant minority in the church who opposed his views on baptism and opposition to the synod. The battle that ensued cast a shadow over his last years.

At the same time, Bremer also points out Davenport's growing concern about the second coming and refers to him as believing in the middle advent, the period of preparation for that event. For example, in the building of the New Haven settlement he used biblical and Hebraic sources to pattern the town after scriptural Jerusalem. New England proved a particularly appropriate place with its relatively untouched landscapes. These comments by Bremer are further evidence that such thinking as this did not exist among fringe groups only but within mainstream puritanism as well.

On the whole, Bremer's study is a monograph to which scholars would want to pay close attention. In the first place, it provides an in depth portrait of an important, but neglected, Puritan leader whose career encompassed three countries, and influence was felt in a variety of contexts. Yet, he shows that Davenport retained throughout a devotion to the congregational model and an antipathy toward clerical Presbyterianism. For this reason we can see that his roots remained English and that he found the theocratic aspects of New England inhospitable. Beginning with his work with the Feofees of Impropriations he maintained a strong desire to cooperate with his lay counterparts.

Professor Bremer has mastered the material connected with Davenport and can handle theological developments and controversies with great skill. His bibliography and footnotes are learned and helpful. The monograph is full of useful detail and information leading to other areas of investigation as well. Every student of early modern British history will be indebted to this significant work.
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Author:Schwarz, Marc L.
Publication:Seventeenth-Century News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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