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Joseph Kaminski

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October 20, 2019

The History of America: New England Puritans

In the last post, we discussed the southern colonies and how they were intended to be used as political and counter-cultural experiments against the Royal Crown of Britain. Previously, we discussed how the southern colonies were established mostly for politics or profit, but we’ve also stayed below the future Confederate-Union line,. While Virginia, Carolina and Georgia were set up as political experiments bound to profit, other colonies to the far north were established because of ideas and religion. To be specific, New England’s Puritan colonies.

Puritan is a complex term, and was not meant as a compliment in this time period. Puritan refers to England’s most radical protestants, people who were upset with Queen Elizabeth for being too lenient towards Catholics. Although Queen Elizabeth had no love or respect for Catholics, as she saw them as a threat to her realm,  she did embrace Catholic ways of thinking. This can be noted by the Church of England’s adoption of the 39 Articles of Religion. She allowed the church to regain catholic governmental structure, including bishops and aristocrats. And in 1559, The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of England’s book, used enough catholic language to make radical protestants, who loved their kingdom of England but loved their religion just a bit more, very uncomfortable.

Not only were the Catholics upset with Queen Elizabeth, ironically protestants were as well. She handed orders out for these radical protestants to conform, but they refused. These precisians — these critics of Elizabeth’s actions, were radical protestants who believed the Crown was using way too much catholic material in their church. This nickname eventually evolved into Puritan.

John Calvin

John Calvin

The Puritans wanted to see themselves as loyal English Citizens, but a wave of Calvinism struck them, much like in every other country at the time. John Calvin (1509 – 1564) gave teachings that had influence on every protestant nation in Europe. These teachings claimed that “God is in control of all human affairs,” stating that God had absolute control. “Humans are morally helpless due to the sins of Adam and Eve.”

This was not a new idea, as it had been preached in certain communities since the end of the Roman Empire. However, during this era of political reform, it struck the average protestant. If god was sovereign, then kings had no power. 

Calvinism created defiance against kings, queens, bishops and just about every other form of authority — whether it be religious or not. Puritan theology caused their supporters to multiply…maybe the only sovereign ruler in the world was God after all. The most radical of these Puritans, the most radical of the radical, created their own churches, which was illegal in England. To the Royal Crown, they were attempting cultural treason!

During the 1620s, they hired themselves out to a joint stock company, and went to New England for religious freedom. Today, textbooks call them (very misleadingly) The Pilgrims. They were the smallest, least popular, and most radical of the Puritan religious groups, and did not come to America to create a new government, but to rid themselves of “a corrupt one.” King Charles I perused Puritans, and eventually even the ones who stayed in Britain were losing hope fast, wishing to flee to America.

John Winthrop

John Winthrop

This is when they formed the Massachusetts Bay Company, and received a charter (full of radical puritans wishing to migrate). They were led by John Winthrop (1588 – 1648). They left stating they were not separatists, and just wanted to conduct business in New England. It was just a coincidence that they all happened to be Puritans, they claimed. A total of eleven ships left in the spring of 1630, and once they made an establishment, they titled it “Boston”, becoming the government of a now Puritan Massachusetts Bay.

In America, Puritans could breathe freely! And, as anticipated by Winthrop, they began to realize that not disbanding from the English Church was nothing but an excuse, and now that they were in this New World they could do whatever the Hell they wanted to.

They became extremely hard against religion, and pushed puritanism to the limits…if there were any. Eventually, in another Puritan controlled town known as Salem, people would be prosecuted and executed for being involved in “witchcraft.” To read more on them, you can click here.

John Winthrop wanted complete control of the Massachusetts Bay, but he was never really able to control his territory — eventually the settlement would split, and that will be discussed very shortly. In 1631, a radical named Roger Williams (1604 – 1684) landed in Massachusetts. He began turning the churches of the area into separatist communities, something that Winthrop had dedicated his time to prevent from happening. Winthrop would have none of this, and intervened very quickly. In 1635 he banished Williams to Narragansett Bay, where he would organize his own Separatist colony known as Rhode Island.

Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson

In 1636, a radical named Anne Hutchinson (1591 – 1643) bitterly divided the churches of Boston by teaching that God’s grace and sovereignty was so unchangeable that not even the bible itself could stand in the way. She would become recognized as a spiritualist and woman minister. Winthrop would eventually banish her as well, to Long Island.

However, Winthrop could not prevent this forever. Eventually, churches in Boston became to slowly change from puritan to separatist. This drift from one to the next was easy for the people of Massachusetts, as England wasn’t really paying attention. From 1690 – 1720, the number of slaves in the area would increase by six times.

With less and less land available, people began to head west. And much to Winthrop’s dismay, the colony did not stay one massive “Boston”, but six entirely different New England colonies with their own government and religion styles.

Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Plymouth, New Haven, New Hampshire and Connecticut were born out of this split. In 1675, the growth of these colonies caused Indian tribes (who were unable to fight back before due to previous encounters with smallpox) to be pushed farther and farther back from their land. An alliance of threatened tribes led by a man named “King Phillip” attacked the New England colonies, and nearly half the towns were burned. An estimated 500 – 600 people died, and this further added religion to the cultures.

“Why is this happening?” Was asked, and the answer seemed simple to the religious men. “Because God wants us to remember why we are here.” This cultural revival, no, this cultural explosion would be the largest ever to happen in American History, and basic American ideas and lifestyles would eventually be born because of it.

The “civilized” religions of Europe have made their way to the New World.


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