Date of Degree
Biography and Memoir
Nancy K. Miller
Arts and Humanities | Nonfiction
life writing, New Haven, Puritans, witchcraft, patriarchy, colonialism
What’s in a name? How are we connected to our ancestral lines? What responsibility do we bear for our lineages? How did the American character form, and how can we understand our society better by reckoning with our individual family histories? These are some of the questions at the heart of this thesis. In it, I combine memoir and history by following the Goodyear name, which has been mine since the day I was born. I weave together personal memories, historical research, and exploration of place to attempt to answer these questions for myself.
I begin with an examination of the Goodyear name and what it has meant to me personally as I have carried it through the world, introducing myself and my parents as central characters in an intergenerational drama. Then I turn to the story of Stephen Goodyear, the first Goodyear to come to the North American continent from England. A man of means and a devout Puritan, Stephen left his hometown of London in 1637 to follow a fundamentalist cleric named John Davenport across the sea. When the party arrived, they founded a town they called New Haven. There, Stephen Goodyear became a magistrate and deputy governor of the colony. It was a contentious and sometimes desperate place, where the citizens relied on a strict theology to give them a sense of purpose and moral safety in a physical world they barely understood. It was also a place where material wealth and the pursuit of riches were foundational. The penalty for failing to conform to community norms could be physical punishment, social exile, or even execution.
Stephen Goodyear was part of the power structure of New Haven since the beginning, involved in several schemes to make money and to position the new settlement as an economic player in the burgeoning transatlantic trade routes. He presided over a landmark witchcraft trial in which he and his teenage daughters were the accusers. He also lost his first wife in a shipwreck that gave rise to one of New England’s most storied supernatural legends. I examine how his involvement in these events exemplifies many of the qualities that came to define the American character: the dedication to the creation of wealth; the uneasy and often hostile relationship to the natural world; the way punitive theological constructs are used to manage social unrest or difficulty within an isolated community; and the pressure on the nuclear family as the nexus of “civilization” in the “wilderness” of the American continent.
By following the physical traces of the Goodyear legacy in a present-day walking exploration of the city of New Haven, I connect these threads of history across centuries.
Goodyear, Sarah, "Because They Think They Can: A Memoir in History" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.
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