The Puritans played a major role in colonizing much of the United States including the New England colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
Who were the Puritans?
The Puritans were English Christians who did not agree with the practices of the Church of England. They were different from the Separatists (many of the Pilgrims were Separatists) in that they wanted to stay with the Church of England, but change the practices from within the church. The Separatists, on the other hand, wanted to leave the Church of England and start their own church.
What did the Puritans believe?
The Puritans wanted the reformed church to be very different from the Catholic church. Their church services were simple and were centered around the Bible. The church building itself was simple with few decorations. No musical instruments were allowed to be played inside the church. The Puritans were Christians who followed the philosophies of John Calvin and believed that faith, not works, was the key to salvation.
Puritans arriving in Massachusetts by Eva March Tappan
Why did they move to America?
The Puritans moved to America in order to practice their religion free from persecution. All English subjects were expected to be members of the Church of England. Being a Puritan was illegal and people who practiced Puritanism had a tough time in England. Things got especially difficult for Puritans in England around the 1620s and 1630s when the Catholic archbishop decided it was time to wipe out Puritanism in England.
Massachusetts Bay Colony
in 1630, eleven ships led by John Winthrop arrived in New England carrying more than 700 Puritan settlers. They established the Massachusetts Bay Colony and settled near the modern day city of Boston. John Winthrop served as governor of the new colony. He wanted it to be a "city on a hill" (a passage from the Bible) that would be an example to Europe of how a Protestant society could flourish.
The Great Migration
The next ten years is sometimes referred to as the Great Migration. During this time around 20,000 Puritans moved from England to New England. Many of these immigrants were families who continued to have children allowing the colony to grow quickly in population.
New Puritan Colonies
The Puritan leaders of Massachusetts Bay Colony had very strict rules and regulations regarding their church. People who disagreed with them were often forced to leave the colony. Some of these people formed new colonies to the south of Massachusetts including Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Roger Williams was a Puritan religious leader who believed that the government should be separate from the church. He also thought that people should have more religious freedom. He was banished from Massachusetts and formed his own settlement called Providence in 1636.
Another Puritan leader, Anne Hutchinson, spoke out against the Puritan leaders of Massachusetts. She said they were focusing on "works" for salvation and not "faith." She was banished as well and started the settlement of Portsmouth in 1638.
Portsmouth and Providence, along with two other settlements, merged together to form the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1644.
Another prominent Puritan leader in Massachusetts, Thomas Hooker, formed the Colony of Connecticut in 1636 after a disagreement over who should have the right to vote. Connecticut became the first colony to have its own written constitution that created a formal government.
Interesting Facts about Puritans
The Puritans believed in education and founded Harvard in 1636. It is the oldest university in the United States.
Women played an important role in Puritan life. They ran the household including the finances and education of the children. Unlike many women of the time, Puritan women were taught to read.
One of the worst events in Puritan history was the Salem witch trials where 20 people were executed for witchcraft.
Puritan worship services were very long. A sermon could easily last two hours and a prayer may go on for over an hour.
Residents of the colony who did not attend church were often fined or even put into the stocks as punishment.