College of Arts and Sciences
Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)
Puritanism, Piracy, Atlantic World, American Colonies, Cotton Mather, Ethics and Morality
Stewart, Amy, "Moral Rivals: The Intersection Between Puritanism and Piracy in the 17th and 18th Centuries" (2020). Masters Theses. 654.
This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between American colonial Puritans and Atlantic pirates in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Due to their conflicting views on morality and faith, Christianity and piracy consistently tested the other’s resilience for what they believed. Their contrasting moralities intersected in countless ways throughout the colonies, evident through an increasing pattern and shift towards piracy and seafaring in the subject matter of Christian sermons, as well as the introduction of execution sermons that presented an opportunity for preachers to minister to pirates, giving them a final chance at redemption before they were sentenced to hang on the gallows. Cotton Mather was one of the leading Puritan ministers that challenged the sins of seafarers, simultaneously preaching against the dangers of the Atlantic while also appealing to convicted pirates that eternal life awaited them if only they repented. Whether the intentions of Mather and other Puritan preachers were made in good faith or for their own benefit is additionally brought under examination. Overall, this thesis explores themes presented to history that provide interesting insight into the growing complexity of the Atlantic world at the turn of the 18th century. Religion, morality, and justice were key components to the expanding territories of North America, and pirates sought to oppose those formal structures in any way they could. Between 1680 to the late 1720’s, Puritan ideals were challenged by the ethical freedom of pirates, thus a sense of urgency was born that lived on in the minds of the infamous preachers of the First Great Awakening that began in the mid 18th century.