Skip to main content
Contours of the Premodern World

America’s first banned book?

By October 9, 2023February 9th, 2024No Comments

I was very interested to read Colleen Connolly’s essay in the Smithsonian Magazine online about the book that is widely considered the first banned book in North America: “How America’s First Banned Book Survived and Became and Anti-Authoritarian Icon.”

The book in question is Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan or New Canaan, published in Amsterdam in 1637, and I was pleased to discover that the Bell Library has a copy – one of about 25 copies that have survived.

Image of title page of New English Canaan or New Canaan.

The full, lengthy title of Thomas Morton’s book doesn’t even hint that it may contain material that would have been controversial in the 17th century. Bell Call # 1637 Mo

Morton’s negative critique of the Puritan colony ended with his book being indicted by the authorities there and burned. However, as Connelly notes: “Sarah Rivett, a literary scholar at Princeton University who has occasionally taught the book in her classes, says it’s hard to draw a direct line from the banning of New English Canaan to modern book bans due to differing cultural contexts.” I definitely agree, and that’s why I’m posting this after the official “banned books” week.

Nevertheless, quite apart from the status of New English Canaan in the banned books canon, Morton was a colorful character whose story gives depth to common perceptions of early Colonial American history, and Connelly’s essay is well worth the read.

Image of a page on which a sonnet is printed.

A sonnet that Morton attributes to a fellow Englishman who was also fed up with Puritan society. (I’ve left my hand in the image to give a sense of the small size of the book.) Bell Call # 1637 Mo

Anne Good

Author Anne Good

More posts by Anne Good

© 2024 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Privacy Statement | Acceptable Use of IT Resources