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Anglicans Puritains And Q Essay, Research Paper

There has been a persistent historiographical tradition from

the beginning of the nineteenth century that the earliest

settlers of Newfoundland were Puritans who were guided

religiously by dissenting ministers. Anspach, the Anglican

missionary and schoolmaster in St. John’s and Harbour Grace,

wrote in his History of the Island of Newfoundland (1819): “A

considerable colony, composed chiefly of Puritans,

accompanied to Newfoundland Captain Edward Wynne, whom

Sir George [Calvert] had sent with the commission of Governor,

to prepare every thing necessary for his reception …”(1) Judge

Prowse, reproducing information from a now entirely lost

pamphlet by Mrs. Siddall, the wife of the Congregational

minister G. Ward Siddall at St. John’s, on The Origin of

Nonconformity in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in his History of

the Churches in Newfoundland (1895), a supplement to the

influential History of Newfoundland (1895), popularized from

fact and fiction the most comprehensive picture of Puritanism

on the island. Its beginnings can according to Prowse be

traced to the time of Queen Elizabeth when “some of the English

separatists (Independents) were banished to Newfoundland …,

and in the small scattered settlements then existing about St.

John’s and Conception [Bay], these victims of Elizabeth’s

ecclesiastical tyranny could easily hide themselves away.” We

are told that the “separatists were the extreme branch of the

Puritans, who had broken away from the Church and the

Hierarchy.”(2) The story did not end here, but “Guy’s colonists

and their zealous Puritan pastor, Erasmus Stourton, would

join with these exiles, and in this manner a small independent

body may have been formed, and their numbers would be

increased during the reign of Charles I.” Prowse went on to

suggest that George Downing, the Harvard graduate, received

an invitation from “the Newfoundland Independent Church” to

preach in 1645 when he visited Newfoundland. He also alluded

to a similar offer made in 1660 to the Rev. Richard Blinman,

“an English Divine.” Finally, he speculated about the demise of

Puritanism in Newfoundland, that “probably owing to the

want of organisation, this body as a separate denomination

died out …”(3) It appears that the Prowse-Siddall assertions

about Puritan Separatists in Newfoundland are largely based

upon comments in John Wood’s Memoir of Henry Wilkes (1887),

because the information provided in Prowse duplicates almost

verbatim Wood’s presentation, which also maintained that

organized Congregationalism “flourished in this oldest British

colony,” and that on several occasions Congregationalist

clergymen were invited “to settle as their pastor.” (4) The

association of Rev.Erasmus Stourton with Puritanism was

further affirmed by M. F. Howley in his sketch on “The Roman

Catholic Church in Newfoundland” in Prowse’s History of the

Churches in Newfoundland, where the Anglican priest in

Calvert’s plantation is simply referred to as “the Puritan

divine”.(5) W. Pilot in the Church of England chapter in the

same tome had Stourton come to the island as first clergyman

in 1611, when he was alleged to have accompanied John Guy

on his second visit to Newfoundland and remained there until

1628, when he became chaplain to the Earl of Albemarle

[sic].(6) Prowse, in his voluminous documentary companion

History had Stourton also come out with Guy on his second

voyage, but in 1612, and return after his “collision” with Lord

Baltimore in 1628. Here Stourton was depicted in a moralistic

vein as a “narrow minded sectary, and a troublesome,

meddlesome busybody,” who upon his return to England

“hastened to pour into the ears of his Puritan allies the

frightful fact that Baltimore actually had mass celebrated.”(7)

And in the reputable, though now seriously dated academic

treatment of Ralph Greenlee Lounsbury, The British Fishery at

Newfoundland: 1634-1763 (1934, reprinted 1969), the story of

Erasmus Stourton, the alleged “Puritan minister” and “member

of Guy’s original settlement,” was taken over from the

Anspach-Wood-Prowse tradition without hesitation.(8) Even as

professional a historian as A. L. Rowse, in his 1958 Trevelyan

Lectures at Cambridge on The Elizabethans and America, still

made Stourton “an aggressively Protestant preacher” under

Guy, who was later banished by Lord Baltimore for his

“troublesomeness.”(9) It was Raymond J. Lahey, who in his

study on “The Role of Religion in Lord Baltimore’s Colonial

Enterprise” seriously questioned the Puritan origins of early

Newfoundland settlement since “the assertion is not adequately

supported.” While for him “the possibility cannot be excluded,

especially in light of the Puritan migrations current in that

period, contemporary reports afford it no real


Lahey’s article on religion in Lord Baltimore’s Avalon did not

permit a detailed exploration of the alleged dissenting

presence in seventeenth-century Newfoundland. I wish to do so

in the present paper by addressing the following question: what

was the nature of seventeenth-century institutional

Protestantism in Newfoundland, and is there any reason to

assume an organized dissenting presence on the island? I shall

confine myself strictly to the evidence regarding the Anglican

and Protestant dissenters, since the role of Roman Catholicism

has been explored already in detail by Lahey(11) and

Codignola.(12) My task is limited in so far that I do not

attempt to scrutinize the religious background of all

individual settlers but rather focus on the practice and

theology of the clergy that officiated in Newfoundland’s

proprietary settlements as well as on the religious stance of

their patrons. In addition I shall explore the scope of the

Separatist and Congregational presence in Newfoundland

during the period that proprietary settlements flourished on

the Avalon peninsula.

A brief definitional comment is in order. Most of the authors

alleging Puritans in Newfoundland have in mind

Independents or Congregationalists, those groups of dissenters

who insisted that no compromise with the Church of England

was possible and who espoused a radical break with what they

perceived to be an apostate church. Separatist conventicles in

England and Holland as well as the Pilgrims of New England

adopted this radical piety and polity. Scholarship is divided on

the question of whether to treat Elizabethan “Puritans” and

“Separatists” as branches of one tree, some leading

contemporary researchers on early English dissent, especially P.

Collinson and P. Lake, emphasize the distinctiveness of both

movements. While many Puritans during Elizabethan times

were able to exist within the English Church, Separatists were

incapable of such compromise and defined themselves

sociologically in local and congregationally autonomous

groups. Their exile in Holland and North America was a

consequence of their sectarian non-compromise in religion.

Even when distinguishing Puritans and Separatists, the former

are no longer viewed in exclusively doctrinal terms, e.g., such

as being radical Calvinists. Modern scholarship views

Elizabethan Puritanism rather as a religious subculture whose

Protestantism is crucially determined by their intensity in piety

and commitment to reform rather than as an alternative to

“Anglicanism.” It is the lack of experiential and ecclesiastical

data on seventeenth-century Newfoundland Anglicanism

which makes it difficult to determine the quality of religious

commitment in the proprietary settlements.(13) Nevertheless, as

far as Newfoundland historiography is concerned, most of the

individuals and groups envisaged by Prowse and Wilkes can be

associated with London Separatism or New England

Congregationalism. It is the presence and scope of that

tradition in Newfoundland which this paper seeks to explore.

The Early Anglican Presence in Newfoundland

While Anspach was still unaware of Erasmus Stourton’s presence

in Newfoundland, since the publication of Howley’s

Ecclesiastical History, but especially since the appearance of

Prowse’s Histories, he is credited with being the first minister in

Newfoundland and also associated with John Guy’s plantation

in Conception Bay. Lahey,(14) Hunt(15) and Cell(16) have

dispelled the notion that Stourton accompanied Guy on his

second voyage, because the “Puritan divine” would have done

so at the age of 9. Since Lahey’s study and with the editing and

publication of the relevant colonial records by Cell, the

presence of Stourton can be clearly confined to Calvert’s Avalon

in 1627-28. Lahey nominates instead Richard James as having

“the distinction … of being the first Anglican cleric known to

have ministered in Newfoundland.”(17) Before discussing

James and Stourton, let me suggest as candidate for being the

first Anglican clergyman on the island yet another priest who

until now has been overlooked entirely, the Reverend William


>From the records of the Virginia Company it appears that as

early as 28 January 1622, Rev. William Leat, an Anglican

clergyman then in London, with previous experience in

Newfoundland, was recommended for a position in Virginia by

John Slany,(18) the treasurer of the Newfoundland Company.

The archival document reads as follows:

Mr Deputy acquainted the Court that one mr Leat a

Minister beinge heretofore in Newfoundland and

preacher there whom mr Slany the marchant

commended for his civill and good carriage the said

mr Leat havinge upon conference with some of Virginia

heard a good report of that Countrye was nowe

desirous to goe over …(19)

Leat, after preaching a trial sermon at the ancient St. Scyths

Church (Sithe’s Church) on the border of Cordwainer Street

Ward in London and finding “approbation,” was told to wait

in London until a ministerial position would become available

in Virginia.(20) On 10 June he was sent to Virginia,(21) but

already on 20 Jan. 1622/3 the governor and the Council of

Virginia wrote to the Company: “The little experience we hadd

of mr Leake (Leat) made good your Commendations of him,

and his death to us very greveous.”(22)

While hardly anything is known about Leat’s theological and

ecclesiastical stance, the trial sermon in one of London’s oldest

churches and the recommendation of Leat by Slany as a

preacher “commended for his civill and good carriage” hardly

makes him a candidate for Separatism, even if he may

personally have held Puritan convictions. Slany’s association

with the Newfoundland Company and Leat’s presence in

London in January of 1622 further suggest that he served as a

minister in the Cupids Cove settlement, originally begun by

John Guy, although a preaching presence at Bristol’s Hope

settlement or in Vaughan’s settlements at Trepassy and Renews

cannot be ruled out. The exact dates and duration of his

service can also no longer be determined. All that can be said

about this possible Anglican clergyman in the Cupids Cove

settlement, where a “godlie minister” had been requested for the

“greate comforte to vs all and a credit to the plantation” by

John Guy as early as 1610,(23) is that nothing specific about

the religious orientation of the minister or the colonists is

known. This conclusion is supported by the remaining

documents regarding that colony, which do not suggest an

organized dissenting presence in the plantation, not even in

the neighbouring Bristol’s Hope settlement, where, since 1618,

the anti-Catholic yet equally anti-Puritan poet Richard

Hayman served as governor.

Sir William Vaughan’s Welsh utopia on the southern Avalon

peninsula was hardly a refuge for Puritans and Separatists

either.(24) Like his contemporary Hayman, Vaughan despised

Papists and Puritans alike, as is obvious from his works The

Golden Fleece (1626) and The Church Militant (1640). In the

Golden Fleece Vaughan devotes a separate chapter to the

condemnation of Thomas Cartwright, Robert Browne and

other Puritans through Archbishop Whitgift and indicts their

allegedly overweening spiritual pride.(25) And in The Church

Militant, Puritans with their “Idoll-passions blinde” are placed

side by side with Roman Catholics, who are accused of

indulging in sensual pleasures.(26) Thus, even if Leat could be

assigned to Vaughan’s plantation instead of Guy’s, what we

have said so far about the anti-Puritan stance of his proprietor

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