Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Paul Royster

Date of this Version



This article first appeared in AMERICAN WRITERS BEFORE 1800: A BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL DICTIONARY, edited by James A. Levernier and Douglas Wilmes (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1984). Copyright © 1984 by Greenwood Press; reproduced by permission.


Joshua Scottow was a colonial American merchant and the author of two histories of early New England: OLD MEN’S TEARS FOR THEIR OWN DECLENSIONS (1691) and A NARRATIVE OF THE PLANTING OF THE MASSACHUSETTS COLONY ANNO 1628 (1694). This article contains a brief biography, a critical appraisal, and bibliography of references. Scottow settled in Boston where he was a member of the Old (South) Church. He traded with Acadia (Quebec), developed frontier settlements near Scarborough (Maine), and served as a captain in King Philip’s War. Scottow was a devout supporter of the orthodox New England theocracy. His two histories are unparalleled examples (by a layman) of the jeremiad form that figured largely in the development of New England mythology and American public language. The histories celebrate the unanimity of the founding generation and offer a vision of providential design as the basis for a reconstituted communal enterprise in New England. Scottow’s prose uses biblical typology and exegesis that, when applied to New England, provide a system of future assurances of its spiritual destiny. The works are important examples of the evolution of the New England Puritan jeremiad, as discussed by Perry Miller and Sacvan Bercovitch; Scottow’s title even provides the term for Miller’s famous “declension thesis.” Scottows works both quote the English metaphysical poet George Herbert, although in a manner and context that reverses Herbert’s original meaning. Scottow is also credited with translating a 1565 work by Guy de Brès against the Anabaptists or Quakers, known variously as JOHANNES BECOLDUS REDIVIVUS (1659) and THE RISE, SPRING AND FOUNDATION OF THE ANABAPTISTS, OR RE-BAPTIZED OF OUR TIME (1668). Length = 1200 words.