Prospero's America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676 / Edition 1

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Overview

Prospero's America examines the transfer of alchemical culture to America by one of English colonization's early giants, John Winthrop, Jr. Winthrop participated in a pan-European network of natural philosophers who believed alchemy could improve the human condition and hasten Christ's Second Coming. Walter Woodward demonstrates how Winthrop and his philosophy influenced New England's cultural formation: its settlement, economy, religious toleration, Indian relations, medical practice, witchcraft prosecution, and imperial diplomacy.

Winthrop's commitment to pansophic reform led him to found a "new" London in 1645 as an alchemical research center. That commitment underpinned both his broad religious tolerance and his steadfast advocacy for the Pequot Indians; he overcame harsh censure largely through his expansive administration of alchemical medicine. Winthrop's occult knowledge provided him great authority in witchcraft cases, which as governor he used to permanently put an end to Connecticut witchcraft executions. In England, alchemical networks linked Winthrop to court patronage, which helped him obtain—and later defend—Connecticut's remarkable royal charter.

Prospero's America reconceptualizes the significance of early modern science in shaping New England hand in hand with Puritanism and politics.
Prospero's America examines the transfer of alchemical culture to America by one of English colonization's early giants, John Winthrop, Jr. Winthrop participated in a pan-European network of natural philosophers who believed alchemy could improve the human condition and hasten Christ's Second Coming. Walter Woodward demonstrates how Winthrop and his philosophy influenced New England's cultural formation: its settlement, economy, religious toleration, Indian relations, medical practice, witchcraft prosecution, and imperial diplomacy.

Winthrop's commitment to pansophic reform led him to found a "new" London in 1645 as an alchemical research center. That commitment underpinned both his broad religious tolerance and his steadfast advocacy for the Pequot Indians; he overcame harsh censure largely through his expansive administration of alchemical medicine. Winthrop's occult knowledge provided him great authority in witchcraft cases, which as governor he used to permanently put an end to Connecticut witchcraft executions. In England, alchemical networks linked Winthrop to court patronage, which helped him obtain—and later defend—Connecticut's remarkable royal charter.

Prospero's America reconceptualizes the significance of early modern science in shaping New England hand in hand with Puritanism and politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A milestone in the study of John Winthrop Jr. . . . A first-rate study that radically changes our understanding of the younger Winthrop."
-Journal of American History

"Woodward has written two books in one—a new biography of John Winthrop Jr. and a groundbreaking examination of the importance of alchemy in the first decades of New England's settlement. . . . An important contribution."
-New England Quarterly

"[A] wide ranging study. . . . An excellent, adventurous introduction to the place of alchemy in early New England culture and by far the best scholarly integration of Winthrop's alchemical interests with his other pursuits."
-American Historical Review

From the Publisher
"In his fine biography . . . Woodward's portrait of the younger Winthrop illuminates a particularly rich seventeenth-century life; one that clearly strides in the direction of the Enlightenment, if it does not have one foot there already."—Times Literary Supplement

"[A] wide ranging study. . . . An excellent, adventurous introduction to the place of alchemy in early New England culture and by far the best scholarly integration of Winthrop's alchemical interests with his other pursuits."—American Historical Review

"A milestone in the study of John Winthrop Jr. . . . A first-rate study that radically changes our understanding of the younger Winthrop."—Journal of American History

"The story is good, revealing how the scientific method emerged from empirical alchemy and giving a brilliant new interpretation of Winthrop's supposed change in attitude toward colonial potentials in his later years."—Early American Life

"Woodward has written two books in one—a new biography of John Winthrop Jr. and a groundbreaking examination of the importance of alchemy in the first decades of New England's settlement. . . . An important contribution."—New England Quarterly

"In a strikingly alchemical mixture, this book combines politics, economics, science, industry, warfare, and religion, and manages to create that most treasured of prizes—a fascinating portrait of a man who, while not unknown, is not as well known as perhaps is appropriate. . . . Readers will find many of their assumptions about Puritan New England challenged and ultimately revised. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"[A] magnificently rich, wide-ranging, and suggestive book. . . . Holds important implications for the study not only of early American history but also the history of science. . . . A 'must read' for all historians of early New England and for historians of early modern science."—Common-Place

"A fascinating interpretation of New England history that challenges the traditional narrative."—C&RL News

"A fine study by Woodward. Not strictly a biography, but it nonetheless places Winthrop at the center of the account."—Huntington Library Quarterly

"[A] competent and interesting study that places alchemy at the heart of John Winthrop, Jr.'s effort to shape colonial America."—Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
"Prospero's America masterfully places the life, thoughts, and actions of the Connecticut governor in elaborate cultural, political, and historical contexts. Its author leaves few stones unturned as he immerses his reader in Renaissance occultism, seventeenth-century medicine, early New England religious culture, and the politics of empire."—ZAA

"Fresh, inventive, and mostly persuasive. . . . A far more interesting and important Winthrop than prior accounts have constructed."—Church History

"Woodward's provocative and gracefully written monograph should be read widely by historians of early America and of early modern science….The pleasures of this book rest on the coherence of Woodward's use of alchemy, and Neoplatonism more broadly, to illuminate John Winthrop, Jr., and his world."—Reviews in American History

"Marks a great leap forward in the integration of science studies with the grand tradition of colonial New England historiography, as well as in the integration of New England into studies of the early modern Atlantic world. . . . [Woodward] displays a sure hand in providing the best available account of the predisciplinary career of New England's most multidimensional founder."—American Historical Review

"Intriguing. . . . Thoroughly researched, highly readable, and insightful."—Early American Literature

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Walter W. Woodward is Connecticut state historian and assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut.

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