Dorchester was a typical English country town, of middling size and unremarkable achievements. But on August 6, 1613, much of it was destroyed in a great conflagration, which its inhabitants regarded as a 'fire from heaven,' and which was the catalyst for the events described in this book. Over the next twenty years, a time of increasing political and religious turmoil all over Europe, Dorchester became the most religiously radical town in the kingdom.... David Underdown traces the way in which the tolerant, paternalist Elizabethan town oligarchy was quickly replaced by a group of men who had a vision of a godly community in which power was to be exercised according to religious commitment rather than wealth or rank. They succeeded, briefly, in making Dorchester a place that could boast systems of education and of assisting the sick and needy nearly three hundred years in advance of their time. The town achieved the highest rate of charitable giving in the country. It had ties of blood as well as faith with many of those who sailed to establish similarly godly communities in New England. Underdown skillfully sets the story of Dorchester in the context both of national events and of what was going on overseas. This parallel vision of the crisis that led to the English Civil War and of the incidence of the war itself opens fresh perspectives.
A fire laid waste to Dorchester in 1613 and changed this backwater town into the most Puritan community in 17th-century England. Underdown (history, Yale), a specialist in that period, reconstructs the life of ``godly'' Dorchester for a general audience. The first three chapters describe political and social structures, and Chapters 4 and 5 go on to relate how Pastor John White and his supporters struggled to reorder their town through institutional reform and moral discipline. The last three chapters trace Dorchester's involvement in English politics from the rumblings of civil dissent through civil war, revolution, and eventual loss of Puritan zeal. Knowledgeable readers in public or college libraries will find suitable parallels with modern U.S. and other societies.-- Richard C. Hoffmann, York Univ., North York, Ontario