The Search for Sincerity in Colonial America

By Ana Schwartz

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7177-2
    Published: January 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7178-9
    Published: December 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6354-6
    Published: December 2022

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit Bookshop.org

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

New England's Puritans were devoted to self-scrutiny. Consumed by the pursuit of pure hearts, they latched on to sincerity as both an ideal and a social process. It fueled examinations of inner lives, governed behavior, and provided a standard against which both could be judged. In a remote, politically volatile frontier, settlers gambled that sincerity would reinforce social cohesion and shore up communal happiness. Sincere feelings and the discursive practices that manifested them promised a safe haven in a world of grinding uncertainty.

But as Ana Schwartz demonstrates, if sincerity promised much, it often delivered more: it bred shame and resentment among the English settlers and, all too often, extraordinary violence toward their Algonquian neighbors and the captured Africans who lived among them. Populating her "city on a hill" with the stock characters of Puritan studies as well as obscure actors, Schwartz breathes new life into our understanding of colonial New England.

About the Author

Ana Schwartz is assistant professor of English at University of Texas at Austin
For more information about Ana Schwartz, visit the Author Page.


"Focusing on the misfits and resisters to Puritan self-fashioning, Schwartz uncovers a pervasive biopoetic fantasy of realness. These sharp readings offer new approaches to familiar figures like Bradstreet, Wigglesworth, and Rowlandson and introduce us to an understudied cast of unforgettable characters, including enslaved and Indigenous people, who are the collateral damage of the American project."—Ivy Schweitzer, Dartmouth College

"Unmoored is a stunner. Ana Schwartz's careful rereading of sincerity reveals settler colonialism to be a practice, embedded in social activities that nominally exist toward other ends. This book is one of the most sophisticated, interdisciplinary studies I have ever read in this considerably sophisticated, interdisciplinary field."—Jordan Alexander Stein, Fordham University

"With remarkable depth of feeling, Schwartz traces how the high stakes of sincerity fundamentally shaped relations to God, self, neighbor, and Other. Unmoored delivers a new view of inner life in early New England. Get out your highlighters. You’ll return to this book again and again."—Kathleen Donegan, University of California, Berkeley

"Unmoored offers a brilliant re-reading of settler-colonial intentions and actions that attends not only to the results of New England’s colonial enterprise but also to the messy fits, starts, and failures along the way. Unmoored tasks readers to take seriously the labor of self-making by those who chose to take part in the enterprise and also compels us to recognize the labor and courage of those who were conscripted. Schwartz gives readers the means to understand the failures of colonial American lexicons of interiority, which, for Puritan ministers and other noisy actors of the colonial stage, were evidenced by “sincere” articulations of the inmost self. Through incisive and thought-provoking close readings, the book excavates deeper dissents than we have understood the colonial archive to witness. If, as Schwartz argues, ‘sincerity triumphs by forgetting alternatives,’ this book points us to remembrance."—Kristina Bross, Purdue University