Cities Upon a Hill

The interactions between Mary Rowlandson and her native Algonquian captors she depicts in Captivity and Restoration doesn’t much contradict the history of European intolerance towards indigenous North Americans. Instead, I think these cross-cultural exchanges, of which Rowlandson was mostly on the receiving end, complicate the English’s relationship with the society and ethics their Puritan ideals hoped to achieve in the new world.

Rowlandson didn’t directly do anything to the native people she and the rest of the Puritans encountered on the eastern coast of North America, like engage in the killings of the genocides. However, she was still complicit in the fall of another people as she came to live in lands her company colonized and removed native people from. One could understands the pain Rowlandson would feel at that moment seeing her colony torn apart limb by limb and to other native towns as captives by a raid of natives. That by itself is flatly painful. However, we cannot neglect the historical context of her sufferings, that come after her people’s own brutalization and interruption of the Native American communities for the establishment of a civilization based around their religious ideals. The bits of Algonquian language she begins to incorporate into her English and the interactions with her native captives does not change the intolerance expressed by the Puritans in attempting to achieve their religious goal and the consequences they caused in the process. However, I would say this complicates the relationship between Rowlandson and other Puritans to their contradictory religion.

In his sermon titled “A Model of Christian Charity” John Winthrop uses the phrase “city upon a hill” (47) to describe his ideal Massachusetts Bay colony. He hoped by instilling Puritan values, including “[j]ustice and [m]ercy” (34), the colony would become the model city for other Christians to follow after. However, Winthrop and the Puritan people did not consider the existence of the society they came across in their arrival to eastern North America and how their non-Puritan beliefs could be just as valuable to follow. In order to establish the city they believe is proper, many Puritan’s ironically do the opposite of what their doctrine preached by displacing and killing natives. The latter group becomes a roadblock between the Puritans and their city upon a hill away from the scrutiny they faced in England. It is through Rowlandson’s narrative that she sees a better impression of Algonquian society than she had expected.

If course the Algonquian slaughtered her people, but they let her live and eventually release her back to her remaining family. While in captivity, Rowlandson does face distress but is still fed from the little food her captors have, since they are eating bear as a desperate measure, and eventually develops a decent relationship with the Algonquian tribe. Of which she chronicles in her narrative but perhaps a bit ambiguous on because she, a respected Puritan woman, would not want to be perceived by her Puritan people as being assimilated into a “savage” non-Puritan society and believe in their tenets, if that really were the case. It’s obvious that Rowlandson has complete faith in the Christian God, since she mentions bible quotes in practically every other paragraph and later reveals how she believes every obstacle she endures during captivity is a trial from God. However, cross-cultural experience Rowlandson was a part of surely should have seen that Algonquian civilization was not completely polar to the Puritan one John Winthrop envisioned and realized the latter didn’t have to be the singular, governing belief system of that region. Although she does not state any fault in her Puritan religion, Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of captivity illustrates how her interactions with native peoples calls into question the wholesomeness of the Puritan religion in comparison to the “savage” ways of the Algonquians.

-Wendy Gutierrez


Evolution of The concept of American Exceptionalism

John Whiston and other puritans sailed over on the Anella to the new world to escape religious persecution of the Church of England. On the Ship, Winthrop proclaimed to his people that there colony will be viewed as a “city upon a hill.” in essence, that there failure to survive and thrive will result punishment from God. this sermon form Winthrop is the dawn of American Exceptionalism. Winthrop uses this concept to motivate his people. Over time the concept of American Exceptionalism has changed.  As America developed culturally and socially how Americans perceive of their nation changes. The reason for using this concept has changed drastically from Winthrop’s time to the modern era. In the modern era, American exceptionalism has been used reinforce that the purpose of government is to safeguard life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and American strength abroad. Even though they differ, Both Winthrop and Ronald reagan refereed God when talking about American Exceptionalism. For example Winthrop used American exceptionalism as a From a motivation for his people to in survive the new world, but now politans use the same concept to justification American military strength.

-Conor Morgan

A City Upon The Hill: Where The Stakes Are As High As The City

Initially I viewed Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill” as Puritan pride-fullness, but after I reread it over a few more times, I saw it more as a set of guidelines for the Puritans. Throughout the sermon, Winthrop tells the passengers they have a unique opportunity of being a society that others would want to emulate. That they have the chance to make a loving, accepting, and Godly society. They cannot let themselves become corrupt like England or else face the wrath of God. To add upon the wrath of God,they would also face the scrutiny of the world as all eyes would be on them to see what mistakes and successes they achieve.

The Puritans also believe they will achieve this Godly society not by ridding their society of evil, but by loving one another. They talk about not forcing religion, but letting it occur naturally through the love and the coming together of everyone no matter what class. I believe that it still holds the same meaning for Winthrop as it does today because the Puritans came looking for freedom, a home, and success in the unlikeliest of places. This is an idea that is still prevalent today as numerous past presidents and politicians have incorporated this phrase to stand for freedom and the American Dream.

I believe Winthrop was expressing a faith in American exceptionalism that predates the official founding of the United State, because he calls for justice and idealism. Two things that later works would soon call for as well, such as the Declaration of Independence. I do not believe Winthrop and Milton had the same religious and political ideas when referring to their “city upon the hill”, because Milton was saying that the elders were the English people whose power was reduced through Parliament censorship.


  • Andres Quezada

“City Upon a Hill” -Winthrop’s perception of how things can be great.

Maricela Martinez, Dr. Garcia, English 102

      In Winthrop’s “A Model of Christianity” is a familiar ideal of how America would like to be seen as today.  Even more so with the recent political controversies that are running rampant like ”making America great again” -which seems to resonate with Winthrop’s reference, “City upon a Hill”-according to most conservatives, can happen if we just erase any progress we have made as a country.  Thus, eradicating anything, in their eyes, that they view to be too far detached from Christian based morals.  Winthrop describes the duties people had with regard to upholding a high moral and ethical standard, and bringing those morals and ethics to what he viewed as a corrupt occupied land.  As with most pre-colonized undertakings, colonizers referenced God as their authority and reasoning for dominating a piece of land, essentially a divine right to occupy and colonize.

     On the other hand, Milton, in “Areopagiticus,” is not delivering that message in the same as Winthrop is.  Milton does reference Greek mythology as well as Bible verses, but the objectives of each author differs; Milton, as opposed to Winthrop, believes that the ability to speak and think should not be a secular opportunity.  He says,  for example, “some grain of charity might win all these diligences to join, and unite in one general and brotherly search after truth”( para 3). Again, while they may not be delivering the message in the same way, the objective to have a better society still rings loud.  

    Some may believe that these hopes that both authors speak of are metaphorical, and while I agree that their descriptive warnings and hopeful visions are metaphorical, there is still a literal objective -to take a pre-existing system, and change it in its entirety.  There seems to be a marginalization, and an ill description of a people -whom have already occupied the land- and a system, that they deemed to be barbaric.  And while, there was probably a common epidemic of deviant and illegal behaviors, there was also a set of people whom were similar to the people of now -impoverished, uneducated, marginalized, outcast and treated as “other” for not being what Milton and Winthrop viewed as Godly or intelligent enough.



How Winthrop’s Views Have Meaning Today

As mentioned Winthrop clearly spent health and wealth for the good of others and it is said that he was later only supported by the good of his friends which can truly serve to explain how much of a role model he was for those who followed him or witnessed his actions from “the hill” (6). He relied heavily on God in order to explain why individuals must help one another. One of the reasons he uses to explain why men differ from one another is to hold “conformity with the rest of his world, being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures” this statement does not at all represent politics and society today. There is an ongoing crisis of who is right and who isn’t, who has a right to make decisions and why. A reason he gives as to why there must be a difference in wealth between people is that “Differences and preservations for the good of the good of the whole”(34). It is influential that everyone has different characteristics and views because one can be aware of how differently people think and why but there are many who are not able to accept those different views which ultimately causes a clash of ideas that often created negative effects. Not everyone believes they should help other who are in need. Winthrop’s claim that “every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection” (35), is evident in present time because the voices of many are not being represented as we have seen in the protests that are attempt to change that. That is the perfect example of people joining forces to echo their voices.  These ideas and the use of the “all knit” appeal to many of the ongoing protests today. Politicians such as Obama and Reagan are aware of the silences voices of many and allude to such Winthrop’s phrases to remind today’s audience that we should take the advice of figures such as Winthrop, when they speak of unity in order to come to agreements and help one another.

The statement “It appears plainly that noe man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy &c., out of any particular and singular respect to himselfe,” (35) is one of the main reasons why there is such division in groups of people. The gap between the poor and the rich continues to grow. In God’s eyes all people are equal, unfortunately in today’s society individuals are not treated as such. Those words are relevant today because as stated in the phrase “god still reserves the property of these gifts to himself”(35), there is desperate need for equally. Referring to that phrase there is equality in the eyes of religion, God gave that to certain individual and has the power to take it away. It should not be seen as if one man has greater value than another individual. This is often a controversal topic because people with money often have more power and decide for those who are not as wealthy, whether we realize it or not our lives are often affected by those with greater wealth or power. Winthrop believed that god many some men more fortunate so they could help those who needed it.

Winthrop states “There is a time when a christian must sell all and give to the poor, as they did in the Apostles times. There is a time allsoe when christians (though they give not all yet) must give beyond their ability” (36) this phrase explains why he felt that he needed to serve God and help those who need it even if it the consequences led him to live humbly. It is an extraordinary example how many should contribute to society, helping other and giving back. The phrase “Whether thou didst lend by way of commerce or in mercy, if he hath nothing to pay thee, must forgive” (39) accurately describes the reason why many today are reluctant to lend a hand, those who aid others often always expect to receive something in return. This however does not apply to every individual there are those who truly do not expect anything in return but if that was the case for every individual there would not be such hesitation in terms of helping one another. I believe that “City Upon a Hill” can still hold the same meaning today than it did for Winthrop in a sense that America is sometimes seen as the land of opportunities in which one can possibly succeed with the help of others. I do not think he was expressing a faith in American exceptionalism. I believed he was setting an example of how religion can help humanity prosper because he relied heavily on God to explain how man is capable of helping one another. Today we can see many example of what occurs when many are not willing to help one another and just as he emphasized individuals will unit as a knit bond in order to move forward when some refuse to help.

-Luz Zepeda

City Upon the Hill and the Ideals of Optimism

The phrase that “the city upon a hill” referenced from John Winthrope’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” is interpreted as a form of optimism when the world seems to be filled with a looming threat that is trying to wreck the peace. As evidenced with the speech that Ronald Reagan delivered, it is meant to represent a perfect ideal that after enduring the hardest of hardships, there can only be the perfect life where freedom and the American Dream can be promised. It is very optimistic in the terms that the politicians try to use the reference of “the city upon a hill” to signify a better world for people. Winthrope was devote to his religion and saw that people should see each other as superior over the other because that is how the world works there are no equals. Although there is no clear reference to the ideal of “American exceptionalism” in the “Model of Christian Charity” the two share the common optimism within human nature and their perseverance against the obstacles that obstruct them. To Winthrope, the term “American” means being a community of exceptional beings who will devote their selves to their God for the greater good. However most of the sermon contains references to the white men with privilege being those exceptional individuals. There are pieces in which Winthrope reveals that there are forms which humans must allow themselves to rid themselves of the dangerous to come and instead solely focus on bettering the self. These actions would contribute into making sure that in the long run the world starts to change because change starts in a smaller scale until it starts to expand within the global scale. Certain ideas were adopted and configured into what it means to be part of the “American exceptionalism” from the reading which create a sense of similarities. I see parallels between being an exceptional human being to that of an American but the concepts are a little dissimilar. The terms of freedom are of major importance as Regan is talking about the world accepting diversity from different races and cultures. He thinks that people should be able to break free from the chains of oppression and therefore changing slightly what Winthrope actually meant.

-Alexis Blanco

The City Under a Microscope: Christian Charity in Modernity

In John Winthrop’s sermon, A Model of Christian Charity, Winthrop creates a working model for Christian love (i.e. charity), which will serve as a functional model for the moral moderation of colony life in Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony, a colony of which he lived to be a leading member.

In his sermon, Winthrop expresses a need for communitarian solidarity, saying that “every man might have need of others, and from hence they might all be knitt more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection” (34). This sense of warm togetherness is devoutly Christian, as Winthrop asserts the pertinence of the command which asks one to “love his neighbor as himself,” notably because the neighbor is “the same flesh and image of God,” being “a brother in Christ allsoe” (35).

In Winthrop’s view, the Massachusetts Bay Colony is ordained by God, protected with spiritual essence endowed by a holy covenant, enshrined in Christian love and charity. If a failure is to occur, it is a spiritual one: “but if wee shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends wee have propounded, [we] shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnall intentions” (46). If blight and suffering is to come, it is because “the Lord will surely breake out in wrathe against [them]” (46). For Winthrop, the safety and security of this colony is dependent on the adherence to the Christian ideology of self-less love. In this way, the failure of this ‘Christian experiment,’ properly denoted as the “city upon a hill,” will echo throughout the world, given that the “eies of all people are uppon [them” (47). For Winthrop and his guild, their failure would not only be a failure for themselves, but for Christ and all of Christendom.

In this way, I do not believe that Winthrop was “expressing a faith in American exceptionalism;” rather, I think he was cautiously wary about what might happen in the case of failure. For the colony, Christian ideology works as a binding gel, drawing together the people as one collective force for their mutual survival. Winthrop’s portrayal of a city upon a hill is a collectivist one, united within a Christian moral framework and the sacking of the city on the hill, created and structured by Christian love, would resound throughout the world, Christian or otherwise.

In modern American society, we would like to be united—in the same extent—under our nationality, our statehood, or our Bill of Rights, yet representation, respect, and collectivism is an uphill battle, especially in modern American politics. The use of this phrase within politics, such as Obama’s and Reagan’s application, is an interesting rhetorical choice, given that the political arena has been reduced to a binary: red/blue, conservative/liberal, terms which for some mean right/wrong, good/evil. We are not collectivist, united in Christian charity for our fellow American. In reality, modern politics would have us think the opposite is true.

One comparison to Winthrop, however, has a clarity that is almost crystalline. We are a city upon a hill in that we are still a nation on the world stage: a brave attempt at creating some form of populist democracy—the extents of which are of course debatable. We have made a path towards unity when our nation is defined by difference: geographical, religious, ideological, and cultural. Although we are not a nation binded by the romanticism of Christian charity, we are a nation glued by the shakiest, uncertain form of nationalism ever imagined, and for that, we are a nation on the tallest hill imaginable.

—Nathaniel Schwass

A Puritan and a Patriot Walk into the Same Bar

“City on a hill” does not hold the same meaning for Winthrop as it does for today. As Winthrop was crossing the Atlantic he preached to his fellow passengers. In this speech Winthrop uses the key phrase to describe what their new home could be. He tells his clergy they must “be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities” and “uphold familiar commerce” in order to achieve this. Winthrop uses “city on a hill” to instill hope and challenge the pilgrims. “A city on a hill” is something they should strive to be and something that they can achieve with the help of God. This man was on a dangerous journey, left his whole life in another country, and felt the responsibility of his clergy on his shoulders. In order to give them hope Winthrop gave them a goal and a prize. He tells them with the help of God they can achieve an amazing dream.  

John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama all used “city on a hill” to describe America’s current state. Barack Obama declares in his speech “America is already great. America is already strong.” Ronald Reagan uses the phrase to prove that at the end of his presidency “the city” is “more prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago”.  The politicians are using the phrase to instill patriotic love in their country, with the hopes that the citizens will continue to try a better the country they love so. Winthrop implores his people to love and gather their strength from God. Then with the strength build a new country which holds up to holy standards. In the modern use of the phrase there is no use of God or religion to try and convey any message. Also, the modern politicians use the phrase to communicate to the people America has achieved, and maybe even surpassed, the goal Winthrop set so long ago.