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Contents

 

ARGUMENT PURITAN RIVER 5

 

PROLOGUE THE PROMISED LAND 29

 

THE FIRST BILLION AND A HALF YEARS 3 I

 

HEATHEN IN THE LAND 36

 

THE LORD'S SCOUTS 48

 

I THE LAND AND THE LORD ( 1 63 9-1 671 ) 57

 

THE FIRST TWO TRIBES (1639-1657) 59

 

THE NEXT SEVEN TRIBES (1655-1743) 73

 

THE END OF THE HEATHEN 99

 

THE TENTH TRIBE STOCKBRIDGE (1734-

 

1758) III

 

THE LAND FILLED (1737-1761) 1 44

 

II LIBERTY (1760-1820) 163

 

INDEPENDENCE 165

 

BORN FREE AND EQUAL l8l

 

LIBERTY AND THE LAND 192

 

LIBERTIES WITH THE LORD 214

 

MISCELLANEA AND PORTENTS 232

 

ix

 

X CONTENTS

 

III STRANGE GODS (1820-1870) 245

 

OF STONE ANTD IRON 2-47

 

THEIR BROTHERS KEEPERS 2 8 I

 

THE LORD'S PROPHETS 311

 

THE FALLING OF THE IDOLS 3 62.

 

IV THE DEVIL'S REAR-GUARD ACTION (1869-

 

383

 

TALLY-HO CRESCENDO 385

 

FIFTH -COLUMN CULTURE 403

 

PURITAN RETREAT

 

TALLY-HO - DIMINUENDO 440

 

V THE LAND REPROMISED (1920-1946) 453

 

THE LATTER-DAY PROPHETS 455

 

SETTLEMENT WITH THE DEVIL 464

 

 

�� TIMES of war or other turbulence men frequently look out at the cosmos or into their own hearts, searching for some fixed reality they can call God, some rock to anchor to beneath the shifting surfaces of life. For this purpose, no symbol is better than that of a great river, whose surface of easy or tumultuous flow is forever changing and unstable, never for two successive -instants comprising the same atoms and electrons, yet to the eye and the ear it is always the same.

�� The value of a river as a symbol of eternal truth is increased if the valley through which it flows likewise sug- gests permanence behind change, if the hills are wide and gracious under the sky, especially if man's cupidity has violated them but little, so that the forest retains its seeming timelessness, while within it the trees turn their cycle of seed and growth and decay.

�� The symbolic value of a river is further strengthened if the population of its valley consists of men who exhibit some elements of stability, some moral affinity with eternal truth behind the shifting business of their lives. The populations of cities rarely suggest this permanence, for their very essence is of change, the fun of the sheep-stampede after material fashion. But a population of farmers, working the same ground and often occupying the same houses their ancestors have worked and occupied for many generations, such a population contributes its part to the sense of timelessness of the stage it occupies. The farms, scattered at easy intervals over the hills and little valleys, are part of a truce which man has long reached with nature, by which each

 

6 THE HOITSATONIC

 

serves the other and both survive. The forest and its deer and man and his cattle subsist together from the same soil, and the same rule of birth and death within the continuity of life controls them all.

Finally, this symbolic value of a river and its valley is further humanized for the observer if he happens to knew, as a matter of record, that many thousands of men have sought truth in this valley down the centuries, that some of them have approached, as nearly as men may, to the central Light that is God, and that others have come into some earthly reflection of that light in philosophical, political, moral, scientific or aesthetic understanding.

�� Signally among the rivers of America today, the Housatonic and its valley combine these qualifications as Symbols of the truth that men seek and sometimes find. Grooved twenty miles wide for a hundred and fifteen crow-flight miles southward through the uplands of southwestern New England, the main valley is carved by tributaries into labyrinthine lesser valleys among steep-sided ranges known as the

Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Litchfield Hills in Connecticut.

Down this n 5 -mile valley, the river itself, because of its windings, pours about a hundred and sixty miles from its triple headwaters in the horseshoe of mountains around Pittsfield to its harbor in Long Island Sound between Bridgeport and New Haven. In volume it is of the second order, smaller than the Connecticut, forty miles to the east, or the Hudson forty miles to the west. Yet it is large enough to suggest the power and majesty of the cosmos, and the first colonists of its banks, men who had seen bigger streams, called it the Great River.

Geologically it is an old river, the irregularities of its bed mostly smoothed back by aeons of flow, so that it is relatively uniform in moderately rapid current, only four natural "great, falls" and one unnavigable rapids remaining.

The quality of the surrounding hills also is that of geologic antiquity, in distinction from the jagged and rainbow garish grandeur of younger, unmellowed peaks. Here nature

 

PURITAN RIVER 7

 

with the weathering tools of a hundred million years has modeled a graceful ocean of mountains undulating back in any direction under forests haze-purple in summer and red and gold in autumn, autumn which is more colorful here than elsew;here, because the steep tilt of the slopes shows off all the trees to advantage, like millions of clustered, titanic bouquets. Here from any point, high or low, there is a spacious and satisfying view, a view over hills and valleys wide enough to stir the imagination, yet small enough and with horizon curves graceful enough to contain it within the limits of a place and a meaning. Here the spirit not only flies out toward infinity but it goes full circle and returns to finite repose.

As there is composure in the river and the hills, so there is composure in the people, mostly Yankee farmers, who inhabit the valley. Here the equation has long been reached between population and the capacity of the soil. It has become a region apart from the common restlessness of America.

It has become a country w,here people stay. The basic stratum of farmers and villagers stays, while on the surface strangers come in for the summers or for a few complete years, strangers from the cities, most of whom are seeking the peace of the scene as a background for intellectual effort, creative, academic or interpretive. Not only in the natural beauties of the river and the mountains, not only in the composed culture of the native farmers, but in the long record of its contributions to the total of human achievement, this ancient valley is an inspiration to the exercise of the best faculties of man.

The region as delimited for the purpose of this book contains all the tributaries of the river except two, the Naugatuck, which is the largest, and the Tenmile, which is one of the largest. I have excluded these, partly because they both break in from outside through the roughly

parallel ranges that otherwise neatly contain the valley; and I have excluded them especially because the histories of these two collateral valleys are so different from that of the rest of the Housatonic watershed that to include

8 THE HOUSATONIC

them would be to sacrifice continuity. It would be to recount the annals of three separate regions instead of a single, fairly

homogeneous one. I have included as properly in "The Valley" the towns on all the other tributaries, but I have given most attention to the doings of those towns which actually border on the main stream.

The river and valley divide naturally into four parts from north to south, namely the Headwaters, the Upper, or Massachusetts, part, the Lower, or Connecticut, part, and Tidewater.

The Headwaters consists of three branches fanning out symmetrically to the west, the north, and the east of the city of Pittsfield in the southern part of which they join and the river properly begins. The West Branch is the smallest and curves in for some eight miles from the sizable lake called Richmond Pond. The East Branch is the longest, the largest in volume, and appropriately carries the name of the river all the way to its source. This is in a lost lake called Mud

Pond in the bleak, scrub-covered uplands of Washington

 

PURITAN RIVER 9

Township in Massachusetts, precisely on the height of land where the booster locomotives leave the trains they have helped up the long grades from either east or west. This lake and its shore line of scrubby woods are the more desolate for being kept perpetually in flood by a big beaver dam across the outlet that starts off the river with its first fall. From there down to Pittsfield, It drops from nearly sixteen hundred to a thousand feet elevation in about eighteen river miles. It is a fast mountain stream which used to turn the

once considerable mills of Hinsdale, and still does contribute a good part of the power to the big paper and other mills of Dalton.

The Middle, or North, Branch of the Headwaters is immediately the outlet of big Pontoosuc Lake, just north of Pittsfield City, and back of that is its inlet, called Town Brook, coming down from New Ashford through Lanesboro. It assembles from three big springs on a hill called Brodie Mountain, and by the time it dives under near-by Route 7 it is a gay, racing stream. But in its gravelly bed under the concrete bridge it performs the remarkable feat of disappearing from the face of the earth into subterranean courses.

About a hundred yards to the east a series of springs boiling up in a cow pasture suggests the return to the light of the lost river. From there on it heads southward in a leisurely way.

The interest of the North Branch is less in the stream than in Pratt Hill, a spur of Greylock two miles southeast of the stream's rising, that is the true head and beginning of the long chute of the Housatonic Valley. From Pratt Hill the great groove down through the highlands, scarcely ten miles wide in these upper reaches, is spectacularly visible southward over Pittsfield for about a third of its entire length, the Massachusetts third which I call the Upper Valley. On the left another spur of Greylock runs south to merge, after it

is penetrated by the East Branch, into the eastern rampart of the valley, at first long October Mountain, one of the biggest

of the Hoosacs, and afterwards the Beartown Mountains, the

 

10 THE HOUSATONIC

 

Green Mountains, and other names that change in almost every new township. On the right are the taller Taconics, visible even under

normal haze for thirty miles down to 2,3Oo-foot Mt. Everett, or "The Dome/' just north of the Connecticut line. "With Monument Mountain, jutting out from the Beartowns to overlap it, it forms a sort of titanic gateway through which the river spills southward into the Lower Valley, the crest of whose eastern wall, Canaan Mountain, is visible over Monument on clear days.

Besides the eastern and western walls, there are visible from Pratt Hill the remnants of a medial range that once ran down the center of the valley and still puts up respectably large hills down through Lenox. The one in the foreground is called Constitution Hill in commemoration of a famous bonfire and celebration which Lanesboro staged there in honor of its illiterate delegate whose speech before the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1787 is said to have carried the day for the Union. Ten miles farther southward, South Mountain pre-empts the middle of the panorama, then Yokun Seat and Baldhead running down into Lenox. There can be seen the first transverse horizon, the first abrupt drop in the central level of the valley, the first of the huge, geologic steps by which it descends to the sea. Above this horizon extrude the heads of Monument and Everett, sloping down to each other to form the gateway to the South.

For the most part the thirty-three air-line miles of the Upper Valley, especially the part south of Monument Mountain, are wide and flat, the mountains set far back on both sides, rising on the average about fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor. The river drops from a thousand-foot elevation in Pittsfield to about six hundred in Canaan, Connecticut, but since most of this drop is taken in a few, brief

reaches, especially those which turn the paper mills in Lee, Housatonic, and Rising, the stream for most of this phase is sluggish and meandering. Indeed, it winds almost double the amount of its actual progress southward, frequently turning all the way back and biting into itself to make little islands.

 

PURITAN RIVER

Here in the flatlands is one of the best agricultural sections of the valley, which means one of the best in New England. The third part of the river and the valley, which I shall call the Lower River and the Lower Valley, begins at the Great Falls at Falls Village, in Canaan, Connecticut, about six miles south of the state line, and runs with only one major bend for, some fifty-five crow flight miles down to Derby and Shelton, picking up many tributaries and increasing in width from about fifty to a hundred yards. Throughout this stretch the mountains stand in close to the river that here runs by their picturesque precipices and through their gorges with a uniformly rapid current flecked with white water, though with only four falls and one rapids that require carries by canoers and fold-boaters in normal times.

In rainy seasons, especially spring and fall, when the leaf covering is gone, the cliffs along the river, and along the distant mountains where they are visible, are draped with white bridal -veil falls of little streams and freshets, the nearer ones rustling high up the precipices like a forest wind. The drop at river level is from about six hundred feet at Falls Village to the tide at Derby, and in the last reach the flow is wide and deep and majestic. In the whole Lower Valley there are on the river only three industries large enough to be called factories, with a dozen or more hidden back in the hills.

The fourth, or Tidewater, part of the river begins at industrial Derby and Shelton, where the gorgeous bluffs at

 

12 THE HOUSATONIC

the confluence of the Housatonic, the Naugatuck, and the ocean tides are ubiquitously disfigured and vilified by chimneys, smoke and slums. From here down, the river widens between sycamore trees, salt marshes and fertile peneplanes for thirteen tidal miles to Its good harbor at Stratford, and so between Milford and Stratford Points to Long Island Sound

and the sea.

Of the four parts of the valley, the central two, namely, the Upper Valley and the Lower Valley, constitute together about ninety of the valley's hundred and fifteen miles of over-all length. It is in this main central stretch, neglecting both the Headwaters and the Tidewater, that the qualities of the region are most apparent, the combination of graceful, wooded mountains and cultivated, wholly agrarian low- lands, of quiet wilderness surrounding long-settled farms and the villages that serve them.

In the past, these conditions have been approximated in other river valleys in the East; but there is no other river valley in the populous parts of the country where they are preserved today to the degree that the Housatonic Valley preserves them. The region is unique in having been occupied and farmed for three hundred years, In being closely flanked, east and west, by two of the earth's most highly industrialized districts, in itself possessing the resources that at least equally .invited exploitation, yet in having resisted it in a

contest of forces that make up the drama of its history. Twenty miles to the east the Naugatuck Valley clanks and reeks with "progress." Forty miles to the west the beauty of the Mohawk Valley and much of that of the Hudson Valley have disappeared under cities, smoke, chimneys, garish highways, dumps, billboards, and summer slums. Between and above them, the Housatonic, with water power greater than

one and equal to the other, pours down its marble bed between iron hills, bordered by one of the two oldest real railroads in New England, one that was built to reach its superior resources. And still the Housatonic remains almost as undeveloped by industry and commerce, its minerals almost as hidden under forests, and its valley as green, agricul-

 

PURITAN RIVER 13

 

tural, and thinly populated as in the eighteenth century. Not a municipality of six thousand occurs in the main, central valley, and there are only twelve factories on the hundred and twenty river miles with hundreds of unused power sites between Pittsfield and Derby. Only the hills and the farms and the little villages remain, sequestered, scarcely changed from what they were when the white men first settled here to worship Truth in their fashion*

 

 

 

PURITAN RIVER 15

 

Looking back over the record of three hundred years, It seems impossible to seize upon any single cause as the reason why the forces of growth have here so effectively resisted the forces of destruction, why, in spite of inviting natural resources, the example of neighboring regions, and the tendencies ^of the industrial age, the beauty of the landscape, the strong intellectual tradition, and the stable agrarian economy without either squalor or great wealth have remained. The contest has often been close, though in the past the opposing forces were rarely aware of each other and their rivalry. Today they are very much aware of the issue, and, strengthened by the most recent immigration, the forces that desire to preserve the valley are probably the stronger. For another century or more the valley may well remain what the Indians first called it, "Hous-aton~uck," the Place-bey ond-tbe-mountains, the place where you climb up over the Litchfield Hills or the Berkshires and come down into a wide land where the symbols of eternal truth lie quietly around you yet, and the Great River still flows untroubled by the values of the outer world.

In view of these qualities, I might have given this story

of the Housatonic the subtitle et River of Truth." But, be-

cause the Puritans were the first truth seekers here and

started the tradition of the valley flowing, and because their

affirmative qualities have been in large part preserved both

in the native Yankees and in the successive invasions of in-

tellectuals, I have called it Puritan River. The word "Puri-

tan" has for so long been used negatively, and ignorantly, to

denote blue-nosed intolerance that it is time to recall its

real and affirmative significance. The essential quality of the

Puritan was that he lived in, or hoped he lived in, what he

called the State of Grace. In Calvinist theology this meant

that he had been assigned a part, however tiny, in the magni-

ficent cosmic drama of the creation, the fall of man, his

redemption and salvation. In immediate fact it meant that

he was a Platonist, finding reality in an idea in his mind or

imagination, and directing his life in accordance with the

idea.

 

 

 

j6 THE HOUSATONIC

 

Besides its Platonic quality, there were at least three important features of this "inner light," this "heart religion, this domination of life by an idea, which continue to distinguish it today in those who follow it in their fashion. First, it was attainable only through disciplined thought every Puritan was, in his degree, an intellectual. Second, it was an individual matter, having nothing to do with any

priest, bishop or other authority. Third, the satisfactions accompanying the grasp and application of the inner idea were likewise in the mind, and were in contrast to the gratifications of sense and vanity in the material world. All three of these qualities have distinguished the residents of the valley in the past and continue to distinguish them, whether they are ministers, farmers, villagers, merchants, writers, educators, scientists, painters, sculptors or musicians.

In passing I would like to record a few specific protests against the strange reputation latterly given the Puritans by blackwashing historians who make a profession of detracting New England. To begin with, the real Puritan was not, as now universally believed, primarily interested in anybody else's conduct. Conduct was a secondary matter with him.

It was important only as an indication of the presence or absence of the State of Grace, for it was the latter upon which the qualification for church membership was based. Once you had achieved that state, it was presumed that your conduct would take care of itself. It was only in the two main periods of Puritan decay one between about 1675 and 1725, and especially the final one called "Victorianism" that the descendants of the Puritans concerned themselves with conduct for its own sake and so became touched with

smugness, propriety, snobbery, and the ensuing hypocrisies.

The warrant for the accusation of intolerance which has been fondly pinned on the Puritans by America's Europe flattering apologists is largely derived from a work of irritated fancy touching the fictitious "Blue Laws of Connecticut," composed by one Reverend Samuel Peters, an Episcopal minister, a Tory, and a faintly picturesque liar. He was used a little roughly by the Sons of Liberty in 1774 he claimed

PURITAN RIVER IJ

 

that his robe was torn fled to England, and composed his authoritative work. 1 He makes much of capital crimes and "bloodie" cruelty generally. A few facts in rebuttal will suffice. 9

In 1602 England had 31 capital crimes; and the number gradually increased to 223 in 1819. In 1656 Massachusetts and New Haven colonies had 16 each, and Connecticut Colony 14; and the number decreased thereafter in all three colonies. Of the other American plantations, New York and Virginia, while more moderate in this respect than England, were less so than the Puritan establishments.

As for witchcraft, the delusion of it possessed the whole Occidental world in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and part of the eighteenth centuries, during which time it is estimated that there were a hundred thousand executions in Europe, perhaps one in five hundred of the average population during the period. Until 1 697, when the mania ended in America though not abroad, there were either nine or eleven executions in Connecticut, one of the doubtful ones being of Goody Bassett of Stratford, the only case in the valley. During the same period there were thirty-two executions in Massachusetts, making a maximum total of forty-three, or one in about seven thousand of the average population of the two colonies.

In the matter of "cruel and unusual punishments� the Puritans were also much farther advanced out of medievalism than the mother country, and somewhat more liberal than New York and Virginia. The same was true of the use of torture to extract evidence. Nowhere in America were

the Nazi horrors of the British Star Chamber even remotely rivaled, least of all in the New England colonies.

Of all the accomplishments of the Puritan-baiters, none is more groundless than the reputation they have given them for religious intolerance. Here, as in all things, they can be truly pictured only against the background of their times, not ours. Religious toleration as we know it today was upheld

 

l8 THE HOUSATONIC

 

by no state in the early seventeenth century. The Puritans did not flee from ghastly legalized persecution in England in order to establish that yet unknown principle which one of their number, Roger Williams, was going to be the first to promulgate and practice. Nor did they claim that their settlements were havens for any sects but their own. They undertook certain privation and possible violent and

����� early death in order to worship God In their own way, and once they had hewn out their settlements, they asked only to be let alone. There was plenty more wilderness available. Let the Quakers and Ranters and Baptists found their own settlements, instead of meddling with those who had already established theirs with great hardship.

The British law the Puritans fled from was far more cruel to heretics than the laws they adopted. It imprisoned all nonconformists, banished them after three months if they did not make public confession and submission, and killed them "without benefit of clergy" if they failed to obey the sentence of banishment or returned after their initial

departure.

The laws of Virginia and New York against heresy were milder than those of Great Britain, but more stringent than those of New England. Massachusetts, like Virginia, killed Quakers who, having been twiced banished, returned the third time. Connecticut which incidentally included all of the settled part of the Housatonic Valley until after religious tolerance had become universal never had any law

against heresy at all. The extent of intolerance, as actually practiced by all the Puritans against peoole of different faiths,

was stated in the law of New Haven Colony. It recognized freedom of private conscience, but forbade "broaching, publishing or maintaining any dangerous errour or heresie, or shall endeavour to draw, or seduce others thereto the punishment being normally fine or banishment. That is, every man's private belief was his- own affair, but when he began to preach any unorthodox "errour'* and so threatened what the Puritans at great pains and danger had built, then they invited him either to desist or to leave.

 

PURITAN RIVER 19

 

111 passing, it may be worth noting why the Puritans, like the rest of the Anglo-American world, were particularly severe against Quakers. The reason was that in the seventeenth century the Quakers were something quite different from the promoters of peace and brotherly love who are now universally admired. Their quietism did not appear till a century after, and in the period of Puritan settlement they

were, for the most part, an ignorant and militant sect whose members made a practice of attending other meetings especially Puritan meetings for the avowed purpose of disrupting them. To this end they habitually violated ordinary decorum, keeping their hats on, heckling the minister, and sometimes breaking into his sermon to harangue the congregation. It is understandable that this made them unpopular.

In our modern intolerance of the founders of our country, we would do well to inform ourselves concerning the times in which they lived. We would also do well to recall that they actually believed in and tried to live by a great religious faith. They were as tolerant as they could be and maintain their integrity. "We, having no faith, can be tolerant of anything except faith, with a tolerance that is empty.

But the importance of the record of the Puritans is not to rebut their detractors; it is to remind us of their positive

contributions to America and the world. By the ? when

they began coming to America, their principle of religious

individualism was already expanded to include political in-

dividualism. In the earliest expressions of the first American

Puritans ancl in the governments they founded, the doctrine

is established that no man is to be governed but by his con-

sent, that government comprises a contract or ''covenant"

between the rulers and the governed, and that when the

former break the contract the latter have the right to take

up arms in defense of their freedom. By the middle 1630'$,

Massachusetts and Connecticut had embodied these principles

in instruments which, after that of their neighbor Plymouth

Colony, were the first of America's series of written constitu-

tions. Between these instruments and the correspondence

of the men who drew them we find all the basic doctrines

 

 

 

20 THE HOUSATONIC

 

and much of the language of the great documents of a

century and a half later.

 

At the same early period the theory of individualism

was being applied as local democracy, first, in the religious

Congregationalism and, second, in the expansion of the prin-

ciple to the town meeting where likewise majority vote pre-

vailed. The now popular assumption that until some quite

recent date all of New England except Rhode Island was

theocratic that is, limited the vote to church members

is contrary to fact. Massachusetts, the largest colony, had

universal male suffrange, with a small property qualification,

in town matters, but in colony elections limited the vote to

church members until 1690. Connecticut, the second largest

colony, allowed universal male suffrage in all respects from

the beginning, was in fact founded in protest against the

theocracy of Massachusetts. New Haven had thoroughgoing

theocracy until 1665, when it united with Connecticut and

accepted the latter's liberal constitution. Actually, there was

no organized settlement in the Upper, or Massachusetts, part

of the Housatonic Valley until more than thirty years after

that colony's abandonment of theocracy. Wherefore, with

the exception of Milford which, between 1643 and 1665,

unwillingly and with reservations followed the New Haven

theocracy, the suffrage in the valley was never limited except

by the very small property qualification which was universal

in America till the early nineteenth century. It is true that

the popularly elected magistrates, the chief civil officials, were

often drawn from the congregationally elected Seven Pillars

of the Church, the chief ecclesiastical officials. But this was

by free choice, and if the people wanted a magistrate or

member of the Assembly or any other official who was a

Quaker or an Episcopalian or an atheist, as they often did,

they got him.

 

Of only slightly less importance than the spiritual and

political legacies of the Puritans was their intellectual legacy.

For them religious experience was not only an emotional but

also an intellectual affair, and was possible only after a

thorough understanding of the nice complexities of Calvinist

 

 

 

PURITAN RIVER 21

 

theology. The bulk of the colonists came from the educated

classes four-fifths of the families of Connecticut were en-

titled to coats of arms. What is almost incredible today is that

these people many of whom we would call "intellectuals,"

coming from comfortable homes and not at all accustomed

to physical hardship lived in perpetual, mortal danger on

their tiny frontiers, spent all their secular, waking hours in

the crudest labor, and then, assembling twice on Sunday and

once on lecture-day usually Thursday in an unheated,

usually windowless, log meetinghouse with slabs for seats,

not only endured but insisted upon one- to two-hour ser-

mons of the utmost scholastic refinement. Out of this eager-

ness and vitality came most of the American educational

tradition, which fact the detractors of the Puritans have not

been able wholly to conceal.

 

The Puritan plantations generally had schools going as

soon as churches and before anybody was well under cover.

The earliest colonial enactments of Massachusetts, Connecti-

cut and New Haven contain maximum requirements for

the education of children and apprentices at home. By 1640,

each of the three colonies required every plantation to main-

tain a school, and before long the governments were pre-

scribing all details regarding them. "Grammar" or "Latin"

what we might call high schools were required in towns

of a hundred families in Massachusetts and in the county

towns of Connecticut, and many smaller towns maintained

them without compulsion of law. Although the local school

law enforcement was often inadequate, nevertheless, by 1700

the two colonies that governed the valley did have systems

of universal, compulsory, free, elementary education, with

secondary education available for a tiny fee.

 

Meanwhile, Harvard had been flourishing since 1644, all

the towns of New England sending voluntary contributions

"for the maintenance of poor scholars" recognizing that

higher education was not a luxury for the rich but should be

available "to such young plants worthy for His [Christ's]

service" as should be thought "meet and worthy." In 1701

the "collegiate school," shortly to be called Yale, was founded

 

 

 

22 THE HOUSATONIC

 

and became the college for the youth of most of the valley.

The Reverend Israel Chauncey of Stratford at the river's

mouth declined the first presidency, but the Reverend Samuel

Andrew" of Milford across the river was the second president,

and the Reverend Timothy Cutler of Stratford the third.

The fourth president, the Reverend Elisha Williams, was not

from the valley, but he did have a part in the valley's first

major struggle between Puritan idealism and Puritan greed.

 

In the matter of Puritan, and subsequently Yankee,

greed, we come to the negative quality of the founders in

the celebration of which the detractors of Puritanism find

themselves on partly solid ground. Puritanism was an aspect

of the Renaissance, and so was identified with economic as

well as religious and political individualism, with the rise of

the middle class and the enshrining of the profitable virtues

of industriousness, parsimony and shrewdness in trade and

finance. Almost without exception, the early Puritan divines

preached to their congregations that the earth was the

Lord's garden and that He desired them, His Chosen People,

to develop its fullness to the glory of Himself and their own

prosperity. The application of this injunction was indeed

necessary to bare survival in the beginning, and it remains

harmless enough today among rural Yankees whose farthest

economic dream is to accumulate enough to pay the mort-

gage and leave something to bury them. There is nothing

reprehensible in a shrewd swap when the exchange of an

animal or a crop may mean the difference between plenty

and too little on the family board next winter. There is some-

thing endearing in the Yankee inconsistency that will trim

you when challenged to a deal, but will devote hours and

days to "helping" you as a neighbor and refuse pay for it,

and will fill your kitchen with rich food when your wife is

ailing.

 

But under the spectacular temptations of the Industrial

revolution and the opening of the West, it was the original,

simple shrewdness that saw the long chance and became the

worst of Yankee and American traits, the competitive desire

for wealth and power, not as a means of survival but for

 

 

 

PURITAN RIVER 23

 

their own sakes, the pursuit of them as the objects of life,

and, in the extremity of urban degeneracy, the admiration of

those who possessed them, whether or not they also possessed

intelligence and virtue. Encouraged by science, and adapting

the old Puritan idealism to its uses, this lust for power has

accomplished America's material conquest of the earth, and

her current efforts at spiritual suicide, which may or may

not prove successful.

 

But while the Puritan vices of greed and shrewdness have

been having their innings, the Puritan virtues of individual-

ism, intellectuality and life In service of some idea or other

have also survived in numerous forms and groups. Most evi-

dently they have survived in the rural Yankee. In his in-

dividualism in politics, in his unwillingness to organize even

for his own obvious interest, in his entire independence of

anybody's opinion of him, in his courtesy such as is possible

only in one who is inwardly self -sufficient, in his incapability

of being bribed or bought in all these respects his individual-

ism is evident and has been sufficiently celebrated. His essen-

tial intellectuality and his devoted idealism are less evident,

for typically he is not educated beyond high school, and,

while he probably goes to church and behaves himself toler-

ably well, he is not usually religious in any orthodox sense.

 

He is, in fact, a pretty close replica, not of the real

Puritans who were in the State of Grace, and belonged to the

Church, but of what might be called the Quasi Puritans,

those who in fact comprised a majority of most of the Puri-

tan communities. These were people of Puritan leanings

who went to church regularly and professed the doctrine,

but who for one reason or other stayed outside the formal

fold during the early, strict period when the conditions of

admission were severe. Under the perpetual challenge of the

pulpit and their neighbors, they were driven to study and

puzzle their way into their own private and miscellaneous

convictions about God, grace, truth and all ultimate values,

and to order their lives accordingly.

 

By the Revolutionary period, when orthodox Puritanism

tad shriveled beyond recognition, it had created a civilization

 

 

 

24 THEHOUSATONIC

 

every member of which, beginning in youth, thought his

way into some private conviction about life and the world,

one which he might or might not choose to share with his

neighbors. According to his lights, he went through an in-

tellectual process by which he arrived at the psychological

equivalent of the State of Grace. This secret light, this relic

of Jonathan Edwards's "heart religion," varied as widely as

individual capacity and training. It might be as pretentious

as a religious, philosophical or moral system. It might be the

battle hymn of a crusade. Or it might be no more than a

private conviction about conduct or politics, or maybe the

love or the hatred of a lifetime. But, whatever it might

be, it made its possessor permanently sufficient against the

world, indifferent to its opinion of him, and brought down

on him the chronic scorn of extroverts who move by external,

action from transient satisfaction to transient satisfaction.

 

But while the rustic Yankee recalls his Puritan ancestor

in his greed of the harmless, swapping variety, in his in-

dividualism, in his essential intellectuality and idealism, he

has acquired through the centuries an important quality, the

legacy of sophistication, which his forebears did not possess.

The proper Puritans were seldom if ever troubled by what

they called levity and we would call humor. They believed

their Bible in every literal detail. Solemnly they believed that

they were themselves the Chosen People of God, that rocky

and icy New England was the new Promised Land whither

He was leading them, and that the New Jerusalem would

descend in glory as soon as they were well established on the

new and golden shore. It was the material of major tragedy

when, after they had indeed established themselves by dint

of great courage, not only did the New Jerusalem fail to

descend but the second and third and fourth generations

turned from the complete and literal faith of their fathers

and grandfathers.

 

But with this ^sliding off" during the second half of the

seventeenth century, the basic seriousness, the zeal for truth,

was in fact neither weakened nor lost. Instead, there grew

over its pith an earthy crust, a crackly shell, a realization of

 

 

 

PURITAN RIVER 2J

 

tlie incongruity between literally unknowable truth and the

all too literal faith and professions of the fathers. In this

sense of incongruity there began to appear somewhere along

in the eighteenth century that humor whose possession a

century later was to distinguish the Yankee from his an-

cestors. The Yankee is a Puritan soul and a Puritan mind, but

tinctured for three gradual centuries by the poison of worldly

understanding, a poison whose only antidote is laughter, a

laughter as profound as the basic illusion that must be pre-

served in spite of the superficial understanding. In the tre-

mendous intellectual honesty of the Puritans lay the founda-

tion of that Yankee humor which is so bitterly profound

because grounded in a faith that is never quite lost, so uni-

versally wise because it contains the living tragedy of human

aspiration, so skeptical at once of the rewards of virtue and

of vice, of poverty and riches, of the world and heaven,

skeptical of everything except its own integrity and a quiet,

unutterable and smiling faith that somewhere there is a

Reason. In passionate individualism, intellectual aspiration,

spiritual conviction, industriousness and shrewdness we find

the complete Puritan. And if, without destroying these

qualities, we sadden them all with great humor, we get the

complete Yankee.

 

Actually, the modern Yankee and his secret god is but

a sorry relic of his gigantic ancestors with their heroic ex-

pectation of a perfect and divinely ruled world. A closer

suggestion of the passionately held and openly declared ideal-

ism of the original Puritans, and the equally consecrated

Quasi Puritans, is to be found in other passionate and open

idealisms political, philosophical, aesthetic or scientific

whether they are of a religious color or not. Thus it is that,

while the Yankee farmers of the Housatonic Valley maintain

an essential Puritan integrity as against their industrial and

commercial neighbors over the hill, yet it is those, whether

natives or outsiders, who down the ages have openly pursued

some form of truth in the valley, who are the proper heirs

of the strength and the 4 idealism of the first settlers. It is

they who have fought the long war of Puritan idealism

 

 

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