By Jim Miller
It’s Banned Books Week and what better way to kick it off than with a salute to America’s first banned book: Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan published in 1637? New English Canaan is a three-volume affair containing Morton’s sympathetic observations about Native Americans along with a celebration of the beauty of the natural world and a fierce satire of the Puritans.
While some scholars point to other books such as John Eliot’s The Christian Commonwealth (written in the late 1640s) or William Pynchon’s The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption (1650) as the first books to be banned by the Puritans for theological or historical reasons, Morton’s New English Canaan precedes both of these texts and the conflict surrounding it is far more important and illustrative with regard to the political and cultural history of the United States.
Indeed, Morton’s book was banned because it told his side in one of the pivotal battles for the cultural soul of the New World. Morton, a perpetual thorn in the side of the great Puritan patriarch William Bradford, represented the untamable “other” of colonial America. When Morton set up his rival colony of Merry Mount in close proximity to Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation and invited the Indians and escaped indentured servants to join him, all hell broke loose.