A world of contradiction: Race and redemption in Puritan New England

Richard Allan Bailey
Dept. of History, University of Kentucky
July, 2006


Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans lived together in the northern British mainland colonies. Thus, white, black, and red New Englanders shared nearly every aspect of their lives; Though they often ate, fought, farmed, slept, and worshiped with blacks and Indians, whites rarely thought of people of color as their social equals. Africans and Native Americans were participants in colonial life, but whites generally did not consider them members of puritan New England's uniquely religious society. This in-but-not-of status forced men, women, and children of color to experience life in the colonies as a world of contradiction.

This dissertation analyzes both the history of the development of the concept of "race" and the history of New England puritanism, tracing the ways that religious beliefs influenced the ideas that white New Englanders had about race and racial identities. While historians have devoted many studies to the significance of religion in colonial New England, relatively few scholars have focused specifically on the ways in which the religious convictions of white colonists affected their beliefs about their neighbors of color. I correct this oversight by examining the importance of New England's peculiar brand of puritanism to the construction of racial identities in the "city on a hill." Viewing people of color through a series of social, cultural, intellectual, legal, and theological lenses, New England's white ministers created and reinforced a variety of contradictory relationships through their attempts to order, control, and redeem Native Americans and Africans.