What is a Puritan? | World History Review

The Puritans were a religious movement in England during the 16th and 17th centuries who believed that God had already chosen which people will get to heaven. They were obsessed with maintaining proper decorum in public. Those Puritans who wanted to fully separate from the Church of England were known as Pilgrims or Separatists. This group planned to settle in the northern part of the Virginia colony, but ended up settling in what would become Massachusetts.


The Puritans: Their Background
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The Puritans – Their Background


The Puritans were a religious movement in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritans believed in the idea of predestination, meaning that God has already chosen which people will get into heaven. People are predestined to either go to heaven or go to hell.


It isn’t up to your choices on Earth or if you choose to accept God as your savior. It is only up to what decisions God has already made. The Puritans idea of predestination means that you’re either already going to heaven or you’re already going to hell.


There’s nothing you can do to change that. In order to suggest to others and to themselves that they were among the elect, the elect being those that were already predestined to go to heaven, Puritans were obsessed with maintaining proper decorum in public.


They wanted to make sure they were always behaving as God would want them to behave in public. They were the chosen ones. They were the elect. They were going to heaven, so they should be setting an example. They really wanted to make sure people could see that they were being humble and pious and they were always doing the right things in public.


Those Puritans who wanted to fully separate from the Church of England were known as pilgrims, or separatists. The reason they would want to separate from the Church of England, and from England as a whole, is because in England people were supposed to be true to the Church of England.


If they were staying tied to Catholicism or Protestantism or Puritanism, then they were going to be persecuted a lot of the time. The Puritans who wanted to completely separate from the Church of England and move somewhere else where they could practice their religion freely were known as the pilgrims because they would be making a journey somewhere, or the separatists because they wanted to be separate from the Church of England.


The pilgrims originally went to Holland. That was where they first tried to set up a base for their religion and start a new life. They soon determined that they would be unable to make a good life there. Things weren’t as great as they’d seemed. It was still kind of similar to the Church of England where they would be persecuted.


They had to think of the next place to go. Next, they got permission from the Virginia Company to settle in the northern part of the Virginia colony in 1620.


They said, “Okay, over here in Europe it’s hard to find somewhere where we can be accepted. We’ll go to the new world. There’s plenty of open space there. We will settle a brand new place and we can practice our religion freely there.”


The Plymouth Company was commissioned to take the Puritans on this journey. The Mayflower set sail. When you hear about the Mayflower and the pilgrims, it was these Puritans that were on the Mayflower that were there for what people think was the first Thanksgiving with the Indians.


It was these pilgrims, these Puritans, traveling to a new place where they could practice their religion freely that arrived on the Mayflower. Now, because of storms and poor navigation, they ended up in the area that would become Massachusetts. They were suppose to be going to Virginia, but that didn’t quite work out.


They ended up in Massachusetts instead. At that time it, wasn’t known as Massachusetts yet. They just arrived in an area that hadn’t yet been colonized. It eventually became the colony of Massachusetts. Now, one of the early moves of the group was to agree to the Mayflower Compact, whereby all members of the group would be bound to the will of the majority.


They had a little bit of democracy starting there. Whatever the majority decided would be what happened. People would vote and say what they wanted. The majority would win and everyone would have to follow the majority.


This was somewhat new to the Puritans, but it was something that was quickly established and was used in determining some of the first steps of establishing a settlement at Plymouth. The Puritans started in England as a religious movement. They believed in predestination.


They set out to leave England to find a place where they could practice their religion freely. They tried Holland. It didn’t work out. They aimed for Virginia. They missed. They landed up somewhere in Massachusetts, and there they were able to start a colony.



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Last updated: 11/30/2018

 

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