Figure 8: English Puritans
The prioritizing of visual sources over written ones led to some incongruities between text and image, as when Spencer’s essentially negative portrait of the New England Puritans was juxtaposed with the highly heroic depictions of the same people by the artists Johnson hired. In Spencer’s estimation, the Puritans acted both “unwisely and unfairly” in their efforts “to force conformity by stringent and oppressive legislation," and he condemned their “arbitrary system” which was marred “by a spirit of puritanical severity within themselves, and a harsh and rigid exclusiveness towards those without.”  Yet this literary description was challenged by the sympathies created for the Puritans in dramatic exodus paintings like “English Puritans Escaping to America,” adapted for Spencer’s pictorial history from another Emanuel Leutze painting [Image 56].
Similar in conception to his “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” this swirling composition features another motley band overseen by a towering leader in battle against the forces of oppression. A “small painting,” the Bulletin noted in 1849, and “not so carefully finished as many of his other works,” “English Puritans Escaping to America” might well have been intended as a study of sorts for his more monumental work.  Despite its unfinished quality, it received wide circulation in engraved form when it was recycled by Henry Johnson, its use suggesting that authors were less and less consulted about the illustrations that adorned their texts. Spencer’s suggestion that the Puritans deserved to suffer “the same bitter fruits of persecution” they had exacted on their victims, was incompatible with Leutze’s more admiring and heroic depiction of the flight of these migrants.