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 – Massachusetts Bay Colony


The Puritans established the colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1630. They hoped to purify the Church of England, and then return to Europe with a new and improved religion. The Puritans had left England because they didn’t agree with the Church of England and they wanted to practice their own faith. They had originally intended to come to America so they could practice their own religion, purify the Church of England, and then return to Europe with this new and improved religion.


However, they just ended up settling in America. The Massachusetts Bay Puritans were more immediately successful than other fledgling colonies. Other colonies didn’t have as much success right away. There were many things that the Massachusetts Bay Colony did right that caused them to be so successful. They brought enough supplies. Often, new colonists did not bring enough supplies. They would bring enough to get them there, but they wouldn’t bring enough supplies so that they had a good store of supplies for once they landed.


They arrived in the spring time. They timed their arrival so they could arrive in the spring time. Then, they had time to plant crops and they had food in the fall to harvest and food to help them survive throughout the winter. Other colonists were arriving in the fall and winter. It was too late to do any planting of crops, and if they didn’t have enough supplies to start with, then they were going to be starving throughout the winter. They had good leadership, including John Winthrop.


With a strong leader, they were going to be more successful. Some colonies did have strong leaders, but if they didn’t have supplies and they didn’t arrive at the right time of year, then, overall, the colonies still might not be successful. Those three characteristics really helped the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be successful right away. Puritans fished, cut timber for ships, and trapped furs. These were three things that were going to help them have new supplies.


They would fish, that would give them more food. They would cut timber for ships. They could build more ships and explore different areas. They trapped furs. That was going to give them something to make clothing out of for a while. They could also trade all of those items to the Indians nearby for different things that they didn’t have, or, if any other colonists or ships came by, they could trade with them as well from the things that they were getting from the land, from natural resources they had found.


The local government was inextricably bound with the church. The government and the church were very closely related. Since the Puritans had come with the religious reason in mind, the government they set up was very religion-based. Only church members were allowed to vote for the General Court, the General Court being similar to the House of Burgesses. That would be a place where the colonists could voice their ideas on government.


They would still have someone that was a representative from England, and they would have the General Court, which was going to be representatives from the colonists. The people who were going to be voted for and chosen for the General Court could only be church members. If you weren’t a church member, you couldn’t be on the General Court and have a voice in government, even though everyone was required to pay taxes. Whether you were a church member or not, you were paying taxes to this new government.


If you weren’t a church member, you weren’t going to be able to have your voice be heard. The Puritans established a Bible Commonwealth that would last for 50 years. During this time, Old Testament law became the law of the community. The law that everyone was following was going to be the law of the Old Testament, the rules given down in the Old Testament of the Bible were going to be the rules that the community was going to follow. The government and the church were very closely bound in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.


The Massachusetts Bay Puritans were known for religious intolerance (they wanted people to share their religion, and if they did not they were going to be persecuted for that), and a general suspicion of democracy. They did not like the idea of democracy. Even though they had left England because of religious persecution, they did not set up their colony as a safe haven for others. These Puritans left England because they were being persecuted for practicing their own religion, and in their new colony, they set it up to only be okay with their religion.


They weren’t tolerant of other religions and they would persecute others for practicing other religions. It was a little messed up that they had come over for religious freedom, but weren’t willing to give it to other people in the New World. One of the people who was kicked out of the colony for blasphemy (whatever he said), one of the people who was kicked out was Roger Williams. Something that he said, the Puritans said, “Oh, that’s blasphemy.”


If he was saying something that disagreed with Old Testament law, it was going to be blasphemous. If you were saying something that went against the Puritan’s religious views, it was going to be blasphemy. Religious intolerance happening here, Roger Williams got kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he went on to found a colony at Providence. Williams taught that the colonists should be fair to the Indians. He was saying, “We shouldn’t push the Indians out of their land.


We shouldn’t take things from the Native Americans that we want. We should be fair with them. We should trade with them. We should try to work with them. Political leaders should stay out of religion.” That is not to say that the political leaders shouldn’t be religious and shouldn’t practice of religion. It’s just saying that the political leaders shouldn’t be using religion to base their government ideas on.


They shouldn’t be following Biblical laws to base their laws here in the land, because if the church and the government were too closely intertwined, then problems might arise as they had in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There wasn’t a fair representation of the colonists in the General Court, and they followed laws from the Old Testament with anything else being blasphemous. Williams was just promoting a more free colony.


He wanted the people to have more religious freedom, and he didn’t want the way the government was run to be affected by people’s religious views. Roger Williams eventually founded the Baptist church. It wasn’t that he wasn’t religious himself, it’s just that he thought that government and religion should remain separate. They shouldn’t be so closely intertwined as they were in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Then, the Puritans also had a general suspicion of democracy.


They generally felt that the common people were incapable of governing themselves and should be looked after by their government. They didn’t think that the common people could make decisions for themselves as far as government. They thought that the government, the people who were in place in the government, should be looking out for all the common people. Also, many Puritans objected to democracy because they felt that it was inefficient.


If you don’t think the common people are capable of running the government, then you won’t want them to have a voice in government. If they have one, then you will think it’s inefficient. The Puritans didn’t like the common people to have a voice in government. They didn’t allow them to be part of the General Court. They had to be a church member to be part of the General Court. Common people they thought should be looked after, but they shouldn’t have a voice in government.


They thought that democracy, where you had to vote and the will of the majority was what was going to happen, that was inefficient. They thought the people of government should just make all the decisions without any input from the common people. The Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. They were more immediately successful, because they came prepared.


They brought plenty of supplies, came in springtime, had good leadership, and immediately started doing other things to increase their store of natural resources, both for use by themselves and as something that they could trade with. The government and church were very closely tied together in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony. Only church members could be part of the General Court. The Massachusetts Bay Puritans were known for their religious intolerance and their suspicion of democracy.


They didn’t think that democracy was very effective, and they didn’t think that the common people should have a voice in governing. They should just be taken care of by the government. They also, even though they came to America because of religious intolerance in England, they made their own colony very intolerant of other religions and wanted people to only believe what they believed.



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Last updated: 09/10/2018

 

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