«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
Morton quickly pounces upon this claim, accusing Wood of overreaching the bounds of his learning since “time hath not furnished him with the interpretation” of the different languages he claims to recognize in that of the natives (21). Morton then produces his own countertheory, that the natives are in fact part of the Trojan diaspora, in support of which he cites “the approbation of Sir Christopher Gardiner, Knight, an able gentl. that lived amongst them and of David Tompson a Scottish gentl. that likewise conversant with those people both Scollers and Travellers that were diligent in taking notice of these things” (22).
To our sensibilities, of course, Morton’s theory seems as specious as Lescarbot’s claim that the French invented the alphabet, while Wood’s has the benefit of at least being supported by something we can recognize as an attempt at empirical evidence. But to judge the credibility of these texts according to empirical standards is to misunderstand their rhetorical underpinnings. As Andrea Frisch argues, the “common view of the relationship between experience and the authority to give testimony about the New World” which developed in the sixteenth century is not the same thing as a “profound change … in the epistemic status of experience” (Invention 51-52); in other words, as Lestringant puts it, “experience … ne se rattache pas à proprement parler à un empirisme” (André Thevet 14).74 Beyond recognizing the distinction between empiricism and experience, we must also take into account that reputation, although decreasing in importance as a confirmation of juridical credibility in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was of necessity more important in the court circles in which Morton moved while in England than it was to the Puritans he encountered in the New World (though one might well argue that they had their own distinct form of “reputation”). For his primary audience Morton’s “evidence” would have been the more compelling because it establishes “Experience, properly speaking, is not really connected with an empiricism” (translation mine).
Morton as a reliable man whose character—and thus whose information—is vouched for by a pair of gentlemen who are as much “scholars” as “travelers.” This last juxtaposition is particularly telling, since it shows Morton simultaneously co-opting Wood’s rhetoric of experience and deploying social rank as a means of undercutting Wood’s authority and bolstering his own.
What is still more interesting about Morton’s theory, however, is that it establishes a genealogical link between the New England natives and the English, who traced themselves back to Aeneas through Brutus, his putative grandson. This linking of the Native Americans with the English—as bizarre as it may seem—partakes of a potent rhetorical logic: it allows him to grant the New England natives with one hand what he will take away from Wood and the Puritans with the other. On its own, such a theory would, of course, leave the Native Americans as cousins of the English, while Wood and the Puritans remained firmly entrenched in English society. But, by nesting this in a larger behavioral critique of Puritan social practices as unenglish, Morton manages to parlay his own successful relations with the Native Americans into evidence of his authority to colonize the New World. Thus, the natives are portrayed throughout Morton’s work as noble, trusting, knowledgeable, and respectful of authority in a fashion that contrasts harshly with his portrait of the Puritans.
One facet of Morton’s writing that brings to the fore the stark distinction between the Native Americans and the Puritans is his use of gendered tropes such as “masculine virtue”—which he finds everywhere in the Native Americans and himself—and “effeminacy”—which he locates in Wood and the Puritans. The significance of these terms may seem self-evident, but as Edith Murphy has recently demonstrated, Morton’s use of gender metaphors served a nuanced rhetorical purpose, enabling him to make three arguments that are key to his colonial claims: “that the land could only be content when fulfilled by men; that the Indians were no longer able to fulfill the land…; and that the Pilgrims and Puritans did not have the ‘masculine virtue’ to fulfill the land” (756).
Murphy’s essay draws our attention to the widely varied significations and associations that gendered terms take on in Morton’s work, allowing us to see how these terms are in fact key to his construction of an idealized English identity rooted in the possession of certain behavioral traits.
Throughout the course of Morton’s book, the figure of “masculine virtue” is radically overdetermined, referring not only to a man’s sexual potency and his effectiveness in battle, but also, by symbolic association, to his success in agricultural production, to his intellectual faculties, and even to his legitimate possession of social status and rank. This last association can be seen in passages where Morton discusses the dietary practices of the natives, noting that the beaver’s “tayle … is of a masculine vertue for the advancement of Priapus: and is preserved for a dish for the Sachems” (77), a logic which Morton portrays himself adhering to, as well, when he explains that he “would hardly let any of [the natives] have a dram [of liquor] unles hee were a Sachem, or a Winnaytue [that is, a nobleman]. I alwayes tould them it was amongst us the Sachems drinke” (54).
Having firmly established this symbolic association in the first two books of the New English Canaan, Morton then enlarges upon it in the third book, developing an ironic juxtaposition of the Native American respect for social hierarchy and the Puritan eagerness to usurp unmerited rank that provides much of the rhetorical force of the later passages of his work. Indeed, many of Morton’s parodic character sketches could serve as exemplars of the genre.
Perhaps the best of these is his portrait of Dr. Samuel Fuller, who came over to New England in the late 1620s. At the very outset of this sketch, Morton gives a brief account of Fuller’s parents and education, noting that he was not in fact trained as a doctor, but rather “bred a butcher” (152). This double entendre sets the tone for what follows, which is essentially a series of examples of how Dr. Fuller puts his peculiar “gifts” to work.
First he cures Captain Littleworth—that is, John Endecott, then-Governor of the Massachusetts Bay colonies—”of a disease called a wife” (152), an action for which he is rewarded with the position of “Phisition generall of Salem: where hee exercised his gifts so well, that of full 42. that there hee tooke to cure, there is not one has more cause to complaine, or can say black’s his eie” (153)—the implication being, of course, that they can no longer say anything at all. In this section Morton succeeds not only in showing how ridiculously unqualified the Puritans are for the positions and titles that they grant themselves, but also how detrimental this social climbing can be to the success of colonization itself.
In fact, if we read Morton’s chapter in light of Murphy’s insights, then we can begin to see the symbolic resonance that Morton’s gender metaphors can have even in a passage where they are not directly called upon. After all, a large part of the Puritan claim to properly possess the land that had been (and in many cases still was) inhabited by the Native Americans was grounded in a reading of the Bible that emphasized man’s ability to maximize the productivity of the land and the people as the true test of ownership. As John Cotton wrote in his “God’s Promise to His Plantation,” the Puritans’ right to the land is guaranteed by the “Grand Charter given to Adam and his posterity in Paradise, Gen 1:28. Multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (161). But Morton turns the rhetoric of the Puritans against themselves, suggesting, through his account of the death of Endecott’s wife, that their peculiar gift is to transform what is fertile into something sterile and dead, and mocking their religious idioms in a line that echoes throughout the Fuller chapter: “and then I hope this man may be forgiven if they [the people who died in his care] were all made fitting plants for Heaven” (153).
In still other incidents that Morton describes, satire takes a back seat to righteous indignation, though the unenglish behavior of the Puritans remains front and center.
Their treatment of John Layford, who came to Plymouth to serve as pastor, gives Morton ample ammunition to make the case that the Puritans are not only uncivil and untrustworthy, but also that they do not respect the authority of traditional English institutions. When Layford arrives in Plymouth, the Puritans tell him that “before they would allow” him to act as their pastor, they “would have him first renounce his calling, to the office of the Ministery, received in England, as hereticall and Papisticall, … and then to receive a new callinge from them, after their fantasticall invention, which hee refused, alledging and maintaining, that his calling as it stood was lawful, and that hee would not renounce it” (118-119). Because of his refusal to renounce his calling, Layford comes under the suspicion of the colonists and so “they … found out some scandal; to be laid on his former corse of life, to blemish that, and … conclude[d] hee was a spotted beast, and not to be allowed, where they ordained to have the Passover kept so zealously” (119), an act which further demonstrates the double-dealing quality of the Puritans, as Morton portrays them, and, again, implicitly casts them as Jewish.75 Morton makes his most damning accusations against the Puritans, however, when he suggests that their double-dealing and overweening pride bring them to the point of violating King Charles’ sovereignty. These accusations are based on the events that follow the arrival of Captain Littleworth—that is, John Endecott—in Salem. As Morton presents it, Littleworth at first pretended himselfe to be sent over as chiefe Justice … and to ad a Majesty (as hee thought) to his new assumed dignity, hee caused the Patent of the Massachusets (new brought into the Land) to be carried where hee went in his progresse to and froe, as an embleme of his authority: which the vulgar people, not acquainted with, thought it to be some instrument of Musick locked up in that covered case, and thought (for so some said) this man of littleworth had bin a fidler. (157-158) While Morton’s use of the public ignorance about the contents of Littleworth’s case allows him to deflate the effectiveness of the charter as an emblem of authority, his characterization of it as an “instrument of Musick” also subtly implies that Littleworth abuses the authority granted him by the document—that he “fiddles” with it. And fiddle with it he does, according to Morton, who says that Littleworth, “thinking none so worthy as himselfe, tooke upon him infinitely: and made warrants in his owne name (without The phrase “spotted beast” alludes to Genesis 30—in the King James Bible “beast” is translated as “cattle”—and refers to the practice of culling spotted animals from the herd for their supposed impurity.
relation to his Majesties authority in that place)” (158). For Morton’s primary audience—Gorges, Laud, and King Charles—this passage must have come as a shocking final confirmation that the Puritans in New England were actively engaged in subverting the King’s authority, and that their authority to colonize New England should therefore be revoked. This treachery adds the crowning touch to Morton’s representation of the Puritans as unenglish: how can they even be English, if they do not recognize the ultimate seat of English authority?
The harm caused by the Puritans unenglish religious practices and lack of respect for social authority is hardly limited to themselves and to other Englishmen, however. In one of the most emotionally-charged passages of the third book of the New English Canaan, Morton returns to an incident he had already touched upon in the first book: the desecration of a native grave by the Puritans, who viewed its decoration as a pagan abomination. As seen through Morton’s eyes, however, it is the Puritans who are abominations, while the Native American burial practices are favorably compared to traditional English ones, and their response to this sacrilegious act is cast in heroic terms.
The grave that the Puritans disturbed belonged to the mother of one of the local sachems, Cheecatawback (or Chuatawback), who, according to Morton, was visited by her in a vivid dream vision the night after the incident occurred. Morton provides a translation of
the sachem’s account of her appeal as follows:
behold my sonne, whom I have cherisht, see the papps that gave thee suck, the hands that lappd thee warme and fed thee oft, canst thou forget to take revenge of those uild people, that hath my monument defaced in despitefull manner, disdaining our ancient antiquities, and honourable Customes: See now the Sachems grave lies like unto the common people, of ignoble race defaced: thy mother doth complaine, implores thy aide against this theevish people, new come hether if this be suffered, I shall not rest in quiet within my everlasting habitation. (107) This passage is one of the few instances in the New English Canaan where Native American speech is rendered directly, rather than as free indirect discourse, which would seem to suggest that Morton possessed an ability to understand and empathize with native resistance to colonization. If we read this passage in light of Morton’s genealogical alignment of the Native Americans with the English, however, then the use of archaic forms and the deployment of degraded nobility as a motive for revenge in this passage make ready sense: Morton’s real purpose is to voice the doubts of traditionally-minded Englishmen about the radical religious and political agenda of the Puritans.