Date of this Version
Denton’s work was the first English account intended to promote settlement of the region recently seized from the Dutch. It is of particular interest for 1) its description of the geographic and topographic features of the region from Albany in the north to the mouth of the Delaware Bay in the south, and from the eastern tip of Long Island to the interior of modern-day New Jersey; 2) its enumeration of the plants, animals, and commodities of the area; 3) its impressive and extended account of the customs and livelihood of the Indians of the region; 4) its early suggestion of “manifest destiny,” whereby the Indians are providentially removed by a “Divine hand”; 5) its depiction of the region as a “terrestrial paradise” for English settlement and agriculture—“a land flowing with milk and honey”; and 6) its invocation of an early form of the “rags-to-riches” potential of American life.
Rather than depict the rigors of colonial life, Denton focuses on the richness and opportunities of the New World, describing an almost carefree and sensually suggestive existence in a land rich in all sorts of fruits, including “Strawberries, of which last is such abundance in June, that the Fields and Woods are died red : Which the Countrey-people perceiving, instantly arm themselves with bottles of Wine, Cream, and Sugar, and instead of a Coat of Male, every one takes a Female upon his Horse behind him, and so rushing violently into the fields, never leave till they have disrob’d them of their red colours, and turned them into the old habit.”
Denton (c.1626–1703) was born in Yorkshire, England, and emigrated to Massachusetts in the 1640s. He was the son of the Reverend Richard Denton, considered the first Presbyterian minister in America. He became a town official and land developer in Long Island, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. His tract was published during his only return trip to England in 1670–72, and is a lively and unabashedly promotional picture of an Anglo-American agrarian paradise, including such examples as the following: “How many poor people in the world would think themselves happy, had they an Acre or two of Land, whilst here is hundreds, nay thousands of Acres, that would invite inhabitants. … I may say, and say truly, that if there be any terrestrial happiness to be had by people of all ranks, especially of an inferior rank, it must certainly be here : here any one may furnish himself with land, and live rent-free, yea, with such a quantity of land, that he may weary himself with walking over his fields of Corn, and all sorts of Grain. … Here those which Fortune hath frown’d upon in England, to deny them an inheritance amongst their Brethren, or such as by their utmost labors can scarcely procure a living, I say such may procure here inheritances of land, and possessions, stock themselves with all sorts of Cattel, enjoy the benefit of them whilst they live, and leave them to the benefit of their children when they die. … I must needs say, that if there be any terrestrial Canaan, ‘tis surely here, where the Land floweth with milk and honey.”