The New England Execution Sermon: Texts, Rituals, and Power

Mark Winston Brewin


This paper uses the topic of the New England execution sermon to make an argument about how social classes use, and then lose, their power to control communication media. The class in question here is the Puritan clergy, once a dominant group in colonial New England. The author constructs the argument primarily through the use of three different sets of literature. First, the theoretical literature on the use of media technologies as power (Innis, Marvin, and others). Second, the secondary historical literature that already exists on the phenomenon of the execution sermon. Third, the primary sources, which are 73 different sermons listed in the early American imprints series (both First and Second series). I argue that the clergy’s loss of control over how to portray the ritualized retribution of the execution provides us with a case study of how dominant classes use media to control populations, and how they lose that control.


Keywords: media history, ritual, monopolies of knowledge, execution sermons

Full Text: