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Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640708001790

Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home. By Susan Hardman Moore. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007. xvi + 316 pp. $35.00 cloth.

The title of Susan Hardman Moore's new book, Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home, may mislead American readers who are used to thinking of the "Pilgrims" as the small band of colonists who settled Plymouth Colony in 1620. By "pilgrims" Moore means those journeying in search of spiritual things, rather than the more narrow meaning American historians usually employ. Moore's book begins with a familiar account of religious dissension and persecution in England during the 1630s. As Nonconformists faced increasing persecution under the episcopacy of William Laud, clergy and laity alike struggled with the quandary of whether to stay in England and fight for Church reform or to escape to the wilderness of New England where they might enjoy the blessings of a purer Christianity. Moore emphasizes that such decisions were not undertaken lightly. Potential emigrants prayed and interpreted signs in their own lives--which might range from economic losses or removal from a parish living to the death of a child--before concluding that Providence was leading them to New England. Many sought advice from ministers and leaders of the Puritan movement before deciding whether to brave the terrors of either the Atlantic ocean or the Church of England's increasingly strict enforcement of religious conformity. In Moore's account, the pressures pushing Puritans out of Old England were much stronger than the lure of New England. Moore's "pilgrims" came to the "city on a hill," not as idealists hoping to create a New Jerusalem that England might imitate, but rather as a group of anxious settlers fearing that a misstep might lead their fellows back home to conclude that their decision to leave England lacked the blessings of Providence. Once in New England, settlers were faced with the Herculean task of at once establishing pure churches in what became known as the "New England Way" while at the same time challenging charges of separatism and affirming that English churches were true, if incompletely reformed, churches.

For many--indeed, a great many if Moore's estimates are accurate--New England proved to be but a temporary sojourn as the "Great Migration" reversed itself and colonists returned home to England in the 1640s. Surprisingly few became influential in either church or state. Those who might otherwise have found high positions in Cromwell's government generally found that their career paths had been interrupted by their time in New England, although many took part in subduing Ireland and Scotland. Nor did those returning to England prove particularly successful spokespersons for the "New England Way." Although a few returning ministers gathered groups of covenanted congregants within the larger churches and restricted access to the sacraments to those who could give evidence of saving grace, most settled unassumingly into the rhythms of English parish life. By the time the Anglican church was re-established by the Restoration, former "pilgrims" were too old and tired to uproot a second time, and the new generation proved largely uninterested in crossing the Atlantic in search of spiritual purity.

Moore does an excellent job of placing individual New England immigrants in a transatlantic context. Rather than simply juxtaposing periods of crisis in England with waves of migration, Moore focuses narrowly to show how specific policies enacted in certain areas pushed particular colonists-to-be to the crisis point. Two chapters later, she employs the same technique to show how individual colonists succumbed to the "call of home." Pilgrims, for the most part, is not a quantitative work, although Moore does make a few estimates. Moore estimates that as many as one in four (or as few as one in fifteen) colonists made the return trip to resettle in Old England. Her estimates for Harvard students and members of the clergy who, ironically, found limited opportunities in New England, are even higher. Unsurprisingly, information on ministers and Harvard graduates is easier to come by than data on more "ordinary" colonists, and her estimates for these groups appear solid. Her attempt, which she identifies as "tentative," to quantify repatriation among New England colonists en masse relies on extrapolations from extremely limited evidence, although her conclusions are certainly suggestive. The strength of Moore's work, however, lies in the vast anecdotal evidence she has amassed rather than in numbers. Literate clergymen dominate the more detailed stories, but Moore also offers tantalizing glimpses of the motivations of merchants, artisans, yeomen, and goodwives.

Moore's focus on religious motivation and providential thinking leaves a few questions unanswered. In Moore's telling, Puritan New England was a rather dismal place: uncivilized, economically depressed, and theologically intolerant. Immigrants came hoping to practice their particular version of Protestantism in peace and left (if they had the financial means) when it became possible to do so back home. But religious motivations cannot completely explain migration patterns to and from New England. Certainly there were plenty of Puritans in Puritan New England, but, as historians like David Hall (Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment [New York: Alfred Knopf, 1989]) and Richard Gildrie (The Profane, the Civil, and the Godly [University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004]) have shown us, there were also plenty of "horseshed Christians" as well as merely law-abiding or "civil" and outright "profane" colonists as well. The reader is left wondering what role the less zealous played in the population and depopulation of New England. The timing of New England's migrations certainly supports the idea that religious persecution and the subsequent lack thereof was crucial to the way New England was settled. However, it is difficult to believe that England's weak economy in the early years of the seventeenth century was not influential as well. Moore's argument accounts for migration in the 1630s but fails to convincingly explain the very limited migration to New England in the 1660s.

Overall, Pilgrims is a highly readable account of the religious motivations propelling both elite and non-elite colonists to and from New England. Early American historians will also find useful Moore's extensive appendices, which list migration dates and occupations for many of the colonists who returned to England. Perhaps most important, Moore reminds us that New England colonists lived in a dynamic Atlantic world in which "home" was not necessarily the rocky coast of New England.

M. Michelle Morris

University of Missouri
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Author:Morris, M. Michelle
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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