Logo   Puritanism in New England
One wag defined a Puritan as someone "who feared that somebody, somewhere, might be having fun."



Puritanism began in the Church of England during the 16th century as a movement to "purify" and simplify the church and bring its practices closer to those described in the Bible.

Adherents believed that the Church of England was too "Catholic," with its rigid hierarchy of bishops and archbishops, its elaborate vestments and rituals and its complicated theology.

The Puritans believed in more simple, "pure" creeds and practices. They held that worship was to follow Biblical rules, and no practice not specifically commended in the Bible should be observed.

Their theology was Calvinist. They believed in predestination (that is, each soul's eternal fate—whether it ends up in heaven or hell—was determined by God at the creation of the world), and no person could change their fate.

It was assumed that those predestined to be "saved" (ie, to go to heaven) would naturally behave in the best possible way, and those predestined to hell would invariably get into mischief.

For church governance, they favored either Presbyterianism (governance by a council of elders), or Congregationalism (democratic governance of each parish by its members).

Unable to reform the Church of England and unwilling to adhere to it, members of a Puritan congregation in Scrooby, near York, emigrated to the Netherlands in 1607, becoming Pilgrims for their faith.

Eventually they came to Plymouth, on Massachusetts Bay, and by 1640 there were 35 Puritan churches in New England.

Forcefully led by their ministers, the minority of fervent believers became ever stricter and demanding in their religious and social practices, excluding the majority of the population.

By 1692, however, the population of the New England colonies had grown so large, with so many non-religious immigrants, that Puritan influence waned, and what had been founded as a theocratic society based on religious law became a secular polity based on secular law.

The Puritan heritage survives in New England in the number of its independent Congregationalist churches. Their religious beliefs and practices are now mainstream Protestant, but their democratic governance, whereby the congregation chooses the minister and s/he serves at the congregation's pleasure, harks back to the revolutionary ideas of the 16th-century Puritans.


Mayflower II

Plymouth Rock

Plimoth Plantation

Plymouth MA

New England History






Mayflower II, a replica of the original Pilgrim ship, in Plymouth MA

Mayflower II, a replica of the ship on which 102 Pilgrims sailed for two months to reach Plymouth MA.


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