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First Banned Book In America

November 5, 2019

Banned books get some attention here at Caffeinated Politics.  I think it important to make people aware that some books are banned and challenged.  Even in 2019. Such moves are preposterous.

But it was the item I found this morning in my email, concerning a published work from centuries ago, which makes for this post.  It deals with Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan.  It becomes the first banned book in America.

Apparently, Thomas Morton didn’t get the memo. The English businessman arrived in Massachusetts in 1624 with the Puritans, but he wasn’t exactly on board with the strict, insular, and pious society they had hoped to build for themselves. “He was very much a dandy and a playboy,” says William Heath, a retired professor from Mount Saint Mary’s University who has published extensively on the Puritans. Looking back, Morton and his neighbors were bound to butt heads sooner or later.

Heath is careful to stress that the book is not a literary masterwork, but he acknowledges that it has its moments. Knol says she was particularly struck by the nicknames Morton threw at his Puritan foes, whom he called “cruell Schismaticks.” It’s hard to know who got it worse between Standish and John Endecott, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Plymouth’s neighbor to the north): Endecott is known in the book as “Captaine Littleworth,” Standish as “Captaine Shrimp.” Even more radical than his belittling appellations were Morton’s subversive policy ideas, which went so far as to recommend “demartialising” the colonies. Unsurprisingly, the Puritans were appalled. Bradford, Plymouth’s governor, called New English Canaan “an infamous and scurrilous book against many god and chief men of the country, full of lies and slanders and fraught with profane calumnies against their names and persons and the ways of God.”

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