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Sarah Vowell and the Puritans

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As we prepare for Thanksgiving tomorrow, let's take a trip back into history courtesy of Sarah Vowell's new book, The Wordy Shipmates. Her title refers to the group of Puritans who sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and founded Boston, producing thousands of pages of pamphlets, letters, and diary entries along the way.

The book's jumping-off point is a sermon known as A Model of Christian Charity, given by the colony's new governor, John Winthrop. Winthrop's legacy, if not his name, was revived by Ronald Reagan, who plucked the line, “a city upon a hill,” from that sermon.

Eight Forty-Eight's Shawn Campbell recently spoke with Vowell, who says she'd always been moved by the Christian Charity sermon. But hearing it delivered at Reagan's funeral – during a particularly dark time in this country's history – finally inspired her to write about its author.

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