Looking At The Puritans: Who Were They?

Many students in the United States hear about Puritans early on in history or social studies class, but how much do you really know about this fascinating and very important group of early settlers. Originally the Puritans were not intended to be colonists for England in a new land, but their reasons for leaving were religious in nature and go into their disagreement with the Church of England.

Demanded Further Reformation
While The Reformation is often seen as the beginning of Lutheranism in particular, and Protestantism in general, it is only the beginning of the story. England was still a Catholic nation for the most part when the King wanted to be allowed to divorce. Since that wasn’t okay with the Catholic Church the Church of England formed, allowing him the right to divorce and also making some nominal changes compared to the Catholic Church.

The Puritans were a group of Protestants in the 1500’s and 1600’s who believed the Church of England had not gone far enough and to be righteous still needed to “purify” themselves further of practices and traditions that came from the Catholic church. This is where the name “Puritans” came from.

Freedom Of Religion
While Puritanism existed in several different factions in England, the splintering and infighting between various sects caused problems and prevented them from being more influential. In addition, they often found themselves being disapproved of by both the monarchy as well as by the Church of England. Those twin forces were seen by many as too much to deal with and this lead to the well-known off-shoot that decided to migrate to the New World to form new colonies where they could practice their faith freely.

The Great Migration
The heavy movement happened in the 1630’s and 1640’s. These groups of Puritans founded several colonies including the Massachusetts Bay Colony and would found the backbone for English settlement of the colonies in the future. Because of their strong early communities, the colonies would be strongly affected by the beliefs, culture, and intellectual practices of the early Puritans who had already settled in.

These were the same colonies that would meet Squanto and be part of the early feasts that would become the basis for celebrating Thanksgiving.

While the Puritan faith wouldn’t remain, its influence would still be a presence in thought, philosophy, and the history of the colonies that would follow. Their contribution to the early history of the colonies is undeniable.