The Puritans founded Plymouth in order to practice their own brand of Protestantism without interference from England.
Describe the founding and expansion of Puritan colonies in New England
- English reformers who followed the teachings of John Calvin and other Protestants were known as Puritans because of their insistence on “purifying” the Church of England.
- Unwilling to conform to the Church of England, many Puritans sought refuge in the New World. Thousands of Puritans left their English homes not to establish a land of religious freedom, but to practice their own religion without persecution.
- In 1620, the Pilgrims founded the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts under the leadership of governor and separatist William Bradford.
- Upon landing at Plymouth, Bradford and 40 other adult men signed the Mayflower Compact, which expressed a community ideal of working together and was notable for its bold assertion of the right to self-govern.
- English Civil War: A series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers) in Great Britain.
- Puritans: A significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, including, but not limited to, English Calvinists.
Background: Puritan Settlements in New England
The colonies known as New England included New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. By 1700, there were 130,000 people in this geographical area, with 7,000 in Boston and 2,600 in Newport. These settler-invaders’ experiences greatly influenced the government and commerce of America for generations.
Settled largely by waves of Puritan families in the 1630s, New England had a religious orientation from the start. In England, reform -minded men and women had been calling for greater changes to the English national church since the 1580s. These reformers, who followed the teachings of John Calvin and other Protestant reformers, were called Puritans because of their insistence on “purifying” the Church of England of what they believed to be un-scriptural, especially Catholic elements that lingered in its institutions and practices.
The conflict generated by Puritanism had divided English society, because the Puritans demanded reforms that undermined the traditional festive culture. During the 1620s and 1630s, the conflict escalated to the point where the state church prohibited Puritan ministers from preaching. In the church’s view, Puritans represented a national security threat because their demands for cultural, social, and religious reforms undermined the king’s authority.
Unwilling to conform to the Church of England, many Puritans sought refuge in the New World. Thousands of Puritans left their English homes not to establish a land of religious freedom, but to practice their own religion without persecution. Puritan New England offered them the opportunity to live as they believed the Bible demanded. In their “New” England, they set out to create a model of reformed Protestantism—a new English Israel. Yet those who emigrated to the Americas were not united; some called for a complete break with the Church of England, while others remained committed to reforming the national church.
Plymouth: The First Puritan Colony
The first group of Puritans to make their way across the Atlantic was a small contingent known as the Pilgrims. Unlike other Puritans, they insisted on a complete separation from the Church of England and had first migrated to the Dutch Republic seeking religious freedom. Although they found they could worship without hindrance in the Netherlands, they grew concerned that they were losing their English culture as they saw their children begin to learn the Dutch language and adopt Dutch ways. In addition, the English Pilgrims (and others in Europe) feared another attack on the Dutch Republic by Catholic Spain.
Therefore, in 1620, the Pilgrims moved on to found the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. The governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, was a separatist, a proponent of complete separation from the English state church. Bradford and the other Pilgrim separatists represented a major challenge to the prevailing vision of a unified English national church and empire. On board the Mayflower, which was bound for Virginia but landed on the tip of Cape Cod, Bradford and 40 other adult men signed the Mayflower Compact, which presented a religious (rather than an economic) rationale for colonization. The compact expressed a community ideal of working together and was notable for its bold assertion of the right to self-govern. When a larger exodus of Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, the Pilgrims at Plymouth welcomed them and the two colonies cooperated with each other.
Different labor systems in Plymouth and other Puritan New England colonies distinguished them from the Chesapeake colonies to the south. Puritans expected young people to work diligently at their calling, and all members of their large families, including children, did the bulk of the work necessary to run homes, farms, and businesses. Very few migrants came to New England as laborers; in fact, New England towns protected their disciplined homegrown workforce by refusing to allow outsiders in, assuring their sons and daughters steady employment. New England’s labor system produced remarkable results, notably a powerful maritime-based economy with scores of oceangoing ships and the crews necessary to sail them. New England mariners sailing New England-made ships transported Virginian tobacco and West Indian sugar throughout the Atlantic World.
In their first winter in the new land, over half of the population of Plymouth died of scurvy and harsh conditions. However, the settlement survived, and the successful voyage of the Mayflower led to the great Puritan migration of the 1630s.
Early Relations with American Indians
Local American Indian tribes such as the Wampanoag were apprehensive about the Pilgrims. There had been previous unprovoked attacks by English sailors, as well as theft, abduction, and enforced slavery. In early interactions, however, the Puritans and American Indians were able to establish treaties of peace that ensured each people would not bring harm to the other. Several American Indians were crucial in helping the Pilgrims survive in the new land—teaching them how to farm and fertilize the soil. For the first few years of colonial life, the fur trade (buying furs from American Indians and selling to Europeans) was the dominant source of income beyond subsistence farming. While these early years saw relative peace between the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the people who had inhabited the land for centuries, this peace would not last.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony
The Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in the 17th century, included parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
Analyze the founding and growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
- The Massachusetts Bay Company founded and successfully settled the colony in 1628. The colonial Puritan leadership exhibited intolerance to other religious views, including Anglican, Quaker, and Baptist theologies.
- The initial economy depended on the shipbuilding, fishing, fur, and lumber trades.
- In 1692, the Massachusetts Bay territories merged with the Plymouth Colony and proprietary holdings on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
- Two small proprietary colonies were set up in addition to Massachusetts Bay—one in New Hampshire and one in Maine. Connecticut was formed as a migration from the Massachusetts colony.
- Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area was the territory of several Algonquian tribes, including the Massachusett, Nauset, Wampanoag, Pennacooks, Nipmuc, Pocumtuc, Mohawk, and Mahican.
- The Pequot War in 1637 was the first war between American Indians and English settlers in northeastern America and foreshadowed European domination.
- Pequot War: An armed conflict spanning the years 1634–1638 between an Algonquin tribe and an alliance of the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Saybrook colonies who were aided by the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes.
- Great Migration: The movement between 1620 to 1640 of English settlers, primarily Puritans, to Massachusetts and the warm islands of the West Indies, motivated chiefly by a quest for freedom to practice their Puritan religion.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was an English settlement on the east coast of North America in the 17th century, situated around the present-day cities of Salem and Boston. The territory administered by the colony included parts of what later became the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
Early in the 17th century, several European explorers charted the area. Plans for the first permanent British settlements on the east coast of North America began in late 1606, when King James I of England formed two joint stock companies. The owners of the Massachusetts Bay Company founded the colony. In 1624, the Plymouth Council for New England established a small fishing village at Cape Ann. About 20,000 people migrated to New England in the 1630s, and for the next 10 years, there was a steady exodus of Puritans from England to Massachusetts and the neighboring colonies, a phenomenon now called the Great Migration.
The structure of the colonial government evolved over the lifetime of the charter. The government began with a corporate organization that included a governor and deputy governor, a general court of its shareholders, known as “freemen,” and a council of assistants. The council of assistants sat as the upper house of the legislature and served as the judicial court of last appeal. Although its governors were elected, the electorate was limited to freemen, who had been examined for their religious views and formally admitted to their church. As a consequence, the colonial leadership exhibited intolerance to other religious views, including Anglican, Quaker, and Baptist theologies.
Ongoing political difficulties with England after the English Restoration led to the revocation of the colonial charter in 1684 and the brief establishment by King James II of the Dominion of New England in 1686 to bring all of the New England colonies under firmer crown control. The dominion collapsed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed James, and the colony reverted to rule under the revoked charter until 1692, when the Massachusetts Bay territories combined with those of the Plymouth Colony and proprietary holdings on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
Early Economy and Slavery
The colony’s economy began to diversify in the 1640s, as the fur trading, lumber, and fishing industries found markets in Europe and the West Indies and the colony’s shipbuilding industry developed. Combined with the growth of a generation of people who were born in the colony, the rise of a merchant class began to slowly change the political and cultural landscape of the colony, though its governance continued to be dominated by relatively conservative Puritans.
Slavery existed but was not widespread within the colony. Some American Indians captured in the Pequot War were enslaved, with those posing the greatest threat being transported to the West Indies and exchanged for goods and slaves. The slave trade, however, became a significant element of the Massachusetts economy in the 18th century as its merchants became increasingly involved in it, transporting slaves from Africa and supplies from New England to the West Indies.
The Role of Women
Some literate Puritan women in the colonies, such as Anne Hutchinson, challenged the male ministers’ authority. Hutchinson’s major offense was her claim of direct religious revelation, a type of spiritual experience that negated the role of ministers. Because of Hutchinson’s beliefs and her defiance of authority in the colony, Puritan authorities tried and convicted her of holding false beliefs. In 1638, she was excommunicated and banished from the colony.
Like many other Europeans, the Puritans believed in the supernatural. Every event appeared to be a sign of God’s mercy or judgment, and people believed that witches allied themselves with the Devil to carry out evil deeds and deliberate harm such as the sickness or death of children, the loss of cattle, and other catastrophes. Hundreds were accused of witchcraft in Puritan New England, including townspeople whose habits or appearance bothered their neighbors or who appeared threatening for any reason. Women, seen as more susceptible to the Devil because of their supposedly weaker constitutions, made up the vast majority of suspects and those who were executed. The most notorious cases occurred in Salem Village in 1692.
New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut
Two small proprietary colonies were set up in addition to Massachusetts Bay—one in New Hampshire and one in Maine. New Hampshire was not truly a separate province from Massachusetts until after 1691.
Connecticut was formed as a migration from the Massachusetts colony. The original settlements were along the Connecticut River at Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield. New Haven was settled separately, but all joined together as Connecticut in 1662. A code of laws was drawn up, beginning with penal laws, which were actually borrowed from the Bible. Like Rhode Island, this colony’s history in this century is bound to that of Massachusetts in the Confederation.
Displacement of Algonquians and the Pequot War
Prior to the arrival of Europeans on the eastern shores of New England, the area around Massachusetts Bay was the territory of several Algonquian tribes, including the Massachusett, Nauset, and Wampanoag. The total Algonquian population in 1620 has been estimated to be 7,000. This number was significantly larger as late as 1616; in later years, chroniclers interviewed Algonquians who described a major pestilence brought by Europeans that killed one- to two-thirds of the population.
Although the colonists initially had peaceful relationships with the local Algonquians, frictions arose over cultural differences, which were further exacerbated by Dutch colonial expansion. The Pequot War was the first war between American Indians and English settlers in northeastern America and foreshadowed European domination. Fought in 1637, it was the culmination of numerous conflicts between the colonists and the American Indians. There were disputes over property, livestock that was damaging American Indian crops, hunting, and dishonest traders. Besides these, the colonists believed that they had a God-given right to settle the New World in spite of the centuries-long presence of the American Indians. They saw American Indians as savages who needed to be converted to their way of God, and they continued to feel superior even to those who became Christian.
When the Puritans had initially begun to arrive in the 1620s and 1630s, some local Algonquian peoples had viewed them as potential allies in the conflicts already simmering between rival native groups. In 1621, the Wampanoag, led by Massasoit, concluded a peace treaty with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. In the 1630s, the Puritans in Massachusetts and Plymouth allied themselves with the Narragansett and Mohegan people against the Pequot, who had recently expanded their claims into southern New England.
In May of 1637, the Puritans attacked a large group of several hundred Pequot along the Mystic River in Connecticut. English troops burned the village and killed the estimated 400–700 Pequot inside, massacring all but a handful of the men, women, and children they found. This turned the war against the Pequot and broke the tribe’s resistance. The English, supported by Uncas’s Mohegan, pursued the remaining Pequot resistors until all were either killed or captured and enslaved. After the war, the colonists enslaved survivors and outlawed the name “Pequot.”
Rhode Island was formed as an English colony by Roger Williams and others fleeing prosecution from Puritans.
Discuss the founding of the Rhode Island Colony and Providence Plantations
- When dissenters of Puritan customs, including Puritan minister Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, challenged Governor Winthrop in Massachusetts Bay in the 1630s, they were banished. In 1636, Williams, fleeing religious persecution, established Providence Plantation and the later colony of Rhode Island as a refuge of religious tolerance. Rhode Island was built on land gifted by the Narragansett and Pequot tribes.
- The colony was very progressive for its time, passing laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment, and on May 18, 1652, chattel slavery of both blacks and whites.
- Although Rhode Island remained at peace with the American Indians, the relationship between the other New England colonies and the American Indians was more strained and often led to bloodshed.
- Dominion of New England: An administrative union of English colonies in the New England region of North America from 1686–89.
- Roger Williams: An English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
- Narragansett: An Algonquian tribe from Rhode Island, and historically one of the leading tribes of New England.
Williams, Hutchinson, and Puritanism
Although many people assume Puritans escaped England to establish religious freedom, they proved to be just as intolerant as the English state church. When dissenters, including Puritan minister Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, challenged Governor Winthrop in Massachusetts Bay in the 1630s, they were banished. Roger Williams questioned the Puritans’ taking of American Indian land and argued for a complete separation from the Church of England, a position other Puritans in Massachusetts rejected, as well as the idea that the state could not punish individuals for their beliefs. Puritan authorities found him guilty of spreading dangerous ideas and expelled him from the colony.
Anne Hutchinson also ran afoul of Puritan authorities for her criticism of the evolving religious practices in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In particular, she held that Puritan ministers in New England taught a shallow version of Protestantism emphasizing hierarchy and actions—a “covenant of works” rather than a “covenant of grace.” Literate Puritan women like Hutchinson presented a challenge to the male minister’s authority. Her major offense was her claim of direct religious revelation, a type of spiritual experience that negated the role of ministers. Because of Hutchinson’s beliefs and her defiance of authority in the colony, especially that of Governor Winthrop, Puritan authorities tried and convicted her of holding false beliefs. In 1638, she was excommunicated and banished from the colony.
Fleeing from religious persecution, Williams went on to found Providence Plantation in 1636 on land gifted by the Narragansett and Pequot tribes. Williams agreed with his fellow settlers on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule in civil issues and liberty of conscience. Williams named the other islands in the Narragansett Bay after virtues: Patience Island, Prudence Island, and Hope Island. Williams wrote favorably about the American Indian peoples, contrasting their virtues with Puritan New England’s intolerance.
In 1637, Hutchinson also purchased land on Aquidneck Island from the American Indians, settling in Pocasset, now known as Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Later, in 1642, she sought safety among the Dutch in New Netherland. The following year, Algonquian warriors killed Hutchinson and her family. In Massachusetts, Governor Winthrop noted her death as the righteous judgment of God against a heretic.
The Founding of Rhode Island
Other neighboring settlements of Puritan refugees followed, all of which formed a loose alliance. They sought recognition together as an English colony in 1643 in response to threats to their independence. In 1644, Roger Williams secured a land patent establishing the Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay. The patent covered much of the territory that would eventually make up the state of Rhode Island. Rhode Island became a colony that sheltered dissenting Puritans from their brethren in Massachusetts.
The bedrock of the economy was agriculture, especially dairy farming and fishing. Lumber and shipbuilding also became major industries. The separate plantation colonies in the Narragansett Bay region were very progressive for their time, passing laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment, and on May 18, 1652, chattel slavery of both blacks and whites. The colonists refused to have a governor, instead setting up an elected “president” and council. Most religious groups were welcomed.
Following the 1660 restoration of royal rule in England, Rhode Island sought a Royal Charter from the new king, Charles II. Charles was then a Catholic sympathizer in staunchly Protestant England and approved the colony’s promise of religious freedom. He granted the request with the Royal Charter of 1663, giving the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations an elected governor and legislature. In the following years, many persecuted groups settled in the colony.
The colony was folded into the Dominion of New England in 1686, as King James II attempted to enforce royal authority over the autonomous colonies in British North America. The dominion was extremely unpopular, and after the 1688 Glorious Revolution deposed James and brought William and Mary to the English throne, the dominion collapsed, and Rhode Island resumed its previous government.
Rhode Island was the first of the 13 colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown on May 4, 1776. It was also the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the United States Constitution on May 29, 1790, once a Bill of Rights had been included.
Relations with American Indians
Although Rhode Island remained at peace with the American Indians, the relationship between the other New England colonies and the American Indians was more strained and often led to bloodshed. During King Philip ‘s War (1675–1676), both sides regularly violated Rhode Island’s neutrality. The war’s largest battle occurred in Rhode Island, when a force of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth militia invaded and destroyed the fortified Narragansett Indian village in the Great Swamp in southern Rhode Island in 1675. The Narragansett also invaded and burned down several cities in Rhode Island, including Providence, although they allowed the population to leave first.
Early New England Society
Early New England Puritan society was characterized by yeoman farming communities and a growing merchant class.
Describe the rise of early New England society
- In New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities of religious congregations of farmers, or yeomen, and their families.
- Within a century, New England colonies had become a key part of an Atlantic trade network.
- New England imported molasses, sugar, gold coins, and bills of exchange from the West Indies. From England, colonists imported such goods as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass.
- The New England colonies primarily exported fish, furs, and lumber, and shipbuilding became a key industry in the mid-18th century.
- Several factors contributed to the growth of the New England economy during the 18th century, including subsidized infrastructure projects, the establishment of legal systems to support business, and the Puritan ethic of hard work.
- yeoman: A former class of small freeholders who farm their own land; a commoner of good standing.
- Church of England: The established Christian Church and the mother church of the Anglican community.
New England Farming Society
In New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities of religious congregations of farmers, or yeomen, and their families. A majority of residents of the region were small farmers. High-level politicians gave out plots of land to male settlers, or proprietors, who then divided the land among themselves. Large portions were usually given to men of higher social standing, but every white man who wasn’t indentured or criminally bonded had enough land to support a family. The town meeting levied taxes, built roads, and elected officials who managed town affairs, and every male citizen had a voice in the town meeting. The towns did not have courts; courts were instead a function of a larger unit, the county, and court officials were appointed by the colony government.
Some farmers obtained land grants to create farms in undeveloped areas. Other farmers became agricultural innovators. They planted nutritious English grass such as red clover and timothy-grass, which provided more feed for livestock. Some grew potatoes, which provided a high production rate that was an advantage for small farms. Families increased their productivity by exchanging goods and labor with each other. They loaned livestock and grazing land to one another and worked together to spin yarn, sew quilts, and shuck corn. Migration, agricultural innovation, and economic cooperation were creative measures that helped preserve New England’s yeoman society.
Commerce in the New England Colonies
By the end of the 17th century, New England colonists had tapped into a sprawling Atlantic trade network that connected them to the English homeland as well as the West African slave coast, the Caribbean’s plantation islands, and the Iberian Peninsula. Colonists relied upon British and European imports for glass, linens, hardware, machinery, and other items required for a colonist’s household. In contrast to the southern colonies which could produce tobacco, rice, and indigo in exchange for imports, New England’s colonies initially could not offer much to England beyond fish, furs, and lumber.
Furs, Fish, and Timber
The hunting of wildlife provided furs for trading and food for the colonists’ tables. The New England colonies were located near the ocean’s abundance of whales, fish, and other marketable sea life. Excellent harbors and some inland waterways offered protection for ships and valuable freshwater fishing. While the rocky soil in the New England colonies was not as fertile as that of the middle or southern colonies, the land provided rich resources, including timber, which was valued for building homes and ships. Timber could also be exported back to England, where there was a shortage. Some merchants exploited the vast amounts of timber along the coasts and rivers of northern New England. They funded sawmills that supplied cheap wood for houses and shipbuilding. Hundreds of New England shipwrights built oceangoing ships, which they sold to British and American merchants. By the mid-18th century in New England, shipbuilding became a staple industry as the British crown often turned to the cheap, yet strongly built American ships. There was a shipyard at the mouth of almost every river in New England.
The Rise of the Merchant Class
At the same time, the rural way of life began to face a crisis as the region’s population nearly doubled each generation. As colonists in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island continued to subdivide their land between farmers, the farms became too small to support single families. A growing class of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided services to the growing farming population. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and furniture makers set up shops in rural villages where they built and repaired goods needed by farm families. Traders set up stores selling English manufactures such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass, as well as West Indian products like sugar and molasses. The storekeepers of these shops sold their imported goods in exchange for crops and other local products, including roof shingles, potash, and barrel staves. These local goods were shipped to towns and cities all along the Atlantic Coast, and enterprising men set up stables and taverns along wagon roads to service these trade routes.
The Triangular Trade
After these products had been delivered to port towns such as Boston, Salem, New Haven, Newport, and Providence, merchants then exported them to the West Indies, where they were traded for molasses, sugar, gold coins, and bills of exchange ( credit slips). They carried the West Indian products to New England factories where the raw sugar was turned into granulated sugar and the molasses distilled into rum. The gold coins and credit slips were sent to England where they were exchanged for manufactures, which were then shipped back to the colonies and sold, along with the sugar and rum, to farmers. This system of exchange became known as the “Triangular Trade.” Other New England merchants took advantage of the rich fishing areas along the Atlantic Coast and financed a large fishing fleet, transporting its catch of mackerel and cod to the West Indies and Europe. Many merchants became very wealthy and came to dominate the society of seaport cities.
The Growth of Infrastructure
New England’s economy grew steadily over the entire colonial era despite the lack of a staple crop that could be exported. All of the provinces and many towns tried to foster economic growth by subsidizing projects that improved the infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, inns, and ferries. They gave bounties and subsidies or monopolies to sawmills, grist mills, iron mills, pulling mills (which treated cloth), saltworks, and glassworks. Most importantly, colonial legislatures set up a legal system that proved conducive to business enterprise by resolving disputes, enforcing contracts, and protecting property rights. Hard work and entrepreneurship characterized the region as the Puritans and Yankees endorsed the “Protestant Ethic,” which enjoined men to work hard as part of their divine calling.
The benefits of growth were widely distributed in New England, reaching from merchants to farmers to hired laborers. The rapidly growing population led to shortages of good farm land on which young families could establish themselves; one result was delaying of marriages and another was moving to new lands farther west. In the towns and cities, there was strong entrepreneurship and a steady increase in the specialization of labor. Wages for men went up steadily before 1775, and new occupations were opening for women including weaving, teaching, and tailoring. The region bordered New France, and in the numerous wars going on at the time, the British poured money into purchasing supplies, building roads, and paying colonial soldiers. The coastal ports began to specialize in fishing, international trade, and shipbuilding and, after 1780, whaling. Combined with a growing urban market for farm products, these factors allowed the economy to flourish despite the lack of technological innovation.
Religion in Early New England
Unlike most of the Chesapeake or southern colonies which were established to make a profit, New England colonies were largely established for religious reasons.
Describe how religion influenced the development of the North American colonies
- Puritans were the earliest settlers in Colonial New England; they emphasized predestination, a lack of free will, and the belief that humans were depraved and needed a strong religious government to control their animal instincts. In Massachusetts Bay, the Puritan church members controlled the civil government, and church membership was limited to those who were predestined to go to Heaven.
- During the mid- to late 17th century, a widespread hysteria spread throughout Puritan New England in which hundreds of people—largely women practicing traditional or pagan beliefs—were accused of witchcraft.
- Though Puritans dominated New England society, other religious groups existed as well, including the Mennonites, Methodists, Moravians, Jews, and Catholics.
- Halfway Covenant: A form of partial church membership in the Puritan church created by New England in 1662.
- Maryland Toleration Act: A law mandating religious tolerance for trinitarian Christians passed on April 21, 1649, by the colonial assembly.
Unlike most of the Chesapeake or southern colonies which were established to make a profit, New England colonies tended to be established, at least in part, for religious reasons. One group of English people believed that the Anglican Church did not go far enough in breaking with all Roman traditions and had little hope that the Church of England would change. These people, called separatists, wanted to create their own church separate from the Church of England. In 1620, a group of Puritan separatists known as the Pilgrims set sail for British America to escape religious persecution in England to establish religious colonies in the Americas; these people established the first colonies in what would later become New England.
Those who wanted to purify the Church of England were known as Puritans. Puritans were followers of a Protestant minister named John Calvin. He emphasized predestination, a lack of free will, and the belief that humans were depraved and needed a strong religious government to control their animal instincts. Puritans also believed in predestination and election by God of who is saved. Puritans supported intolerance and believed that error must be opposed and driven out.
The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit, and politically innovative culture that is still present in the modern United States. In America, they attempted to create an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community designed to be an example for all of Europe. Puritans in colonial America were among the most radical Puritans and their social experiment took the form of a theocracy. The first Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas celebrations, as did some other Protestant churches of the time. Celebrations of all kinds were outlawed in Boston in 1659. Likewise, the colonies banned many secular entertainments, such as games of chance, maypoles, and drama, on moral grounds.
Puritans were to create a politically, socially, economically, and religiously perfect community. They followed John Calvin’s idea that the covenant was between one person and God; everyone in the Puritan community was supposed to live a Christian life, and in exchange, God would bless everyone with health and wealth. If one person in the community broke one of God’s laws, then God could condemn everyone in the community. The Puritans were not opposed to drinking alcohol in moderation; however, laws banned the practice of individuals toasting each other, with the explanation that it was carnal and led to wasting God’s gift of beer and wine. Spouses were disciplined if they did not perform their marital sexual duties, and Puritans punished drunkenness and sexual relations outside of marriage.
In Massachusetts Bay, the church members controlled the civil government, and church membership was limited to those who were predestined to go to Heaven. The church members were typically the wealthy members of the Puritan society, which meant the economic elites controlled the civil government. As church membership dropped in the late 17th century, the Puritan leaders created the Halfway Covenant—any adult person who had at least one parent as a church member could join the Puritan church without having to “prove” that they were predestined to enter Heaven.
The Persecution of Witchcraft
In 17th-century colonial North America, the supernatural was part of everyday life, and there was a strong belief that Satan was present and active on Earth. This concept had emerged in Europe around the 15th century and spread to North America when it was colonized. Some theorize that accusations of witchcraft were a way of addressing pagan practices that were used for agriculture and domestic success, which Christianity had long associated with demons and evil spirits. People believed that witches allied themselves with the Devil to carry out evil deeds and deliberate harm such as the sickness or death of children, the loss of cattle, and other catastrophes. Townspeople whose habits or appearance bothered their neighbors or who appeared threatening for any reason were especially at risk of being seen as witches. Women, who were considered more susceptible to the Devil because of their supposedly weaker constitutions, made up the vast majority of suspects and those who were executed.
The first accusations of witchcraft came in 1645, in Springfield, Massachusetts. From 1645 to 1663, about 80 people throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony were accused of practicing witchcraft, and 13 women and two men were executed. The most famous witch trials in American history, however, took place from February 1692 to May 1693, in and around coastal settlements near Salem, Massachusetts. The first accusations came from young girls who believed they were being tormented physically and mentally by the supernatural machinations of several older women in the community. Those women were brought before the magistrate and interrogated; those who refused to confess to witchcraft were sentenced to death. Accusations and arrests quickly spiraled out of control.
Before the hysteria ended, over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused who were not formally pursued by the authorities. The two courts convicted 29 people of the capital felony of witchcraft; 19 of the accused, 14 women and five men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison.
Many theories have been advanced to explain the trials, including greed, revenge, social conflict, and possibly hallucinogenic-tainted food. The episode is one of the most famous cases of mass hysteria and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.
The Mennonites were a religious group that immigrated to America from Germany because of persecution for refusing to perform military service on the basis of religious grounds. Later groups of Mennonites came to the Americas from Switzerland, Prussia, the Ukraine, and Russia. A large group came in 1683 to settle in Pennsylvania. The Mennonites had their own hymns and Psalters and tended to be very conservative.
John and Charles Wesley created Methodism in the 18th century. John Wesley was a cleric for the Church of England, and he and his brother led groups of Christians throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. These groups were part of what is called the Wesleyan Movement and came to form what is known as Methodism, named such because of the methodical approach to religious study. Methodists primarily focused on bible study and living a life free of amusement and luxury. Methodism started out as a society and follower of the Church of England but was not a church itself.
Methodism spread to America in the late 1760s when preachers appointed by John Wesley traveled to the new world in 1769 to start American Methodist societies. They worked primarily in Philadelphia and New York, and Methodism spread along the East Coast leading up to the American Revolution.
The Moravians arrived with John and Charles Wesley in America in 1735. The group left Moravia and Bohemia due to harsh persecution for their religious beliefs and practices. The Moravians wished to serve as Christian missionaries for the different ethnic groups in America. They first settled in Georgia, then moved to Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The Moravians were deeply involved with music; they practiced hymn singing daily, and some even wrote instrumental music.
The first Jewish people came to America in 1654; these were Sephardic Jews who came from Recife, Brazil, and landed in New Amsterdam (now New York City). Jewish people in the Americas experienced anti-Semitism from early on; in some colonies, they could not vote, hold public office, or own property. However, during the colonial period, they settled along the East Coast and in several southern colonies.
The early British American colonies were largely Protestant, and there was widespread anti-Catholic sentiment. Catholicism first came to the colonies in the form of the “Maryland Experiment,” when King Charles I issued a generous charter to Lord Cecil Calvert, a prominent Catholic convert from Anglicanism, for the colony of Maryland. In the new colony, religious tolerance (for Christians only) was preserved by Calvert until 1654, when Puritans from Virginia overthrew Calvert’s rule. Calvert regained control of the colony four years later, however. In 1689, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary ignited a new anti-Catholic revolt in Maryland. In 1692, the famous Religious Toleration Act officially ended, and the assembly of Maryland established the Church of England as the official state religion supported by tax levies. Neither the Dutch nor English were pleased when, in 1672, the Duke of York converted to Catholicism. The Duke’s appointment of an Irish-born Catholic as governor of the colony of New York was followed by the passage of a charter of liberties and privileges for Catholics.