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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Brainiac

Puritans vs. pirates

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

The moral force of Puritan theology was legendary, an impulse so powerful that it helped drive the settlement of an entire continent. But sometimes it met its match—and at least once, that match was a pirate.

In 1726, Cotton Mather, New England’s most influential preacher, engaged in a two-week argument with William Fly, a sailor awaiting execution on charges of high piracy. As described in a 1987 article in Early American Literature by Daniel Williams, and recounted in a recent undergraduate history thesis by Kimberly Lorton posted online by Eastern Illinois University, Mather repeatedly visited Fly in prison hoping to convince him to repent before he swung from the gallows at Boston Harbor.

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