Samuel Gorton’s Leveller Aesthetics and the Economics of Colonial Dissent

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Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture


Samuel Gorton arrived in New England in 1637, not long after the exile of Roger Williams, on the heels of the banishment of John Wheelwright, and just before the banishment of Anne Hutchinson. Though he would quickly follow in this tradition of exiled New England dissenters, Gorton has historically had the status of a relatively minor character in the drama of seventeenth-century New England dissent. The few accounts of him that have circulated through the historical record follow one of two competing narratives. The most dominant version of Gorton’s story has centered on theology and has belonged since its seventeenth-century beginnings to colonial Massachusetts and its orthodox ministers and magistrates. In this account Gorton is a heretic with dangerous ideas and a troublemaker who is impossible to get along with. The origins of this well-circulated narrative go back to Edward Winslow’s 1646 Hypocrisie Unmasked, which describes Gorton and his supporters as “blasphemous Adversaries” who threatened to “poyson other persons and places with his corrupt opinions” and which depicts Gorton’s behavior as “turbulent and offensive,” “insolent and injurious,” and “obstinate.”1