subclass of English Reformed Protestants

Puritanism originated as a Protestant response to Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. The word now generally denotes strict religious discipline and opposition to social pleasures.


The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views. Their “city upon a hill” was a theocracy that brooked no dissent, religious or political. ~ Kenneth C. Davis
It is the night-black w:Massachusetts legendry which packs the really macabre 'kick', Here is the material for a really profound study in group neuroticism; for certainly, no one can deny the existence of a profoundly morbid streak in the Puritan imagination....~ H.P. Lovecraft
  • A puritan is such a monstrous thing
    that loves Democracy and hates the king...
    A Puritan is he whose heart is bent
    to cross the king's designs in Parliament.
    Where whilst the place of Burgess he doth bear
    He thinks he owes but small allegiance there...
    So that with his wit and valour he doth trye,
    How the prerogative he may deny.
    • Anonymous rhymester (c. 1630s), quoted in Charles Carlton, Archbishop William Laud (1987), p. 121
  • An even greater contribution to the American population, in sheer numbers, began with the Puritans, who believed in purifying the established church, a decade after the voyage of the Mayflower. In 1630, seventeen ships left England for America. The most famous of these was the Arabella, on which the Puritan leader John Winthrop sailed. Mainly stemming from the area of East Anglia in England, the Puritans left during a time when Archbishop William Laud was attempting to eliminate Puritan influences from the Church of England and King Charles I was attempting to rule without calling Parliament into session. The decade of the 1630’s, leading up to the English Civil War (1642-1651), was a time of economic depression, as well as a period in which the Puritans were out of favor in the English church and state.
  • The years 1630 to 1640 are known as the Great Migration. The largely Puritan immigrants from England settled in New England, north of the settlement at Plymouth Bay, in a stretch of land known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The major centers of the new colony were the eastern coastal Massachusetts towns of Boston and Salem. During the Great Migration, an estimated two hundred ships reportedly carrying approximately 20,000 people arrived in Massachusetts. Although migration to New England dropped dramatically after the Great Migration, the descendants of the people who entered Massachusetts in those years settled much of the northeastern region of the United States and later spread westward throughout the country.
  • In the South, the tiny Virginia colony that had barely maintained its existence during the years that Massachusetts became a center of European settlement began to expand rapidly just as the Great Migration ended in the North. In 1642, only 8,000 colonists lived in Virginia. At the beginning of that year, Sir William Berkeley became governor of Virginia, a post he would hold until 1676. Berkeley began a campaign to draw some of England’s elite to Virginia. This campaign was assisted by the rise of the Puritans to power and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Many of the future leaders that Virginia provided to the United States and to the Confederacy were descendants of these aristocratic immigrants.
  • The fact is, there were all kinds of Puritans. There were dismal precisians, like William Prynne, illiberal and vulgar fanatics, the Tribulation Wholesomes, Hope-on-high Bombys, and Zeal-of-the-land Busys, whose absurdities were the stock in trade of contemporary satirists from Johnson to Butler. But there were also gentlemen and scholars, like Fairfax, Marvell, Colonel Hutchinson, Vane, whose Puritanism was consistent with all elegant tastes and accomplishments. Was Milton’s Puritanism hurtful to his art? No and yes. It was in many ways an inspiration; it gave him zeal, a Puritan word much ridiculed by the Royalists; it gave refinement, distinction, selectness, elevation to his picture of the world. But it would be uncritical to deny that it also gave a certain narrowness and rigidity to his view of human life.
    • Henry A. Beers, "Milton’s Tercentenary", in The Connecticut Wits and Other Essays (1920), p. 230
  • Their Doctrines of Predestination is the root of Puritanism, and Puritanism is the root of all Rebellions, and disobedient untractableness in Parliaments, &c. and of all Schism and sawciness in the Countrey, nay in the Church it self; making many thousands of our People, and too great a part of the Gentlemen of the Land very Leightons in their hearts; which Leighton had published not long before, a most pestilent and seditious Book against the Bishops, called Sions Plea, in which he excited the People to strike the Bishops under the fifth rib, reviling the Queen by the name of a Daughter of Heth; and for the same was after censured in the Star-Chamber to Pillory, loss of Ears, &c.
  • The Puritans in New England were not immediately presented with an Indian problem, for diseases introduced earlier by trading ships along the coast had badly decimated the Indian population. Yet when the Pequots resisted the migration of settlers into the Connecticut Valley in 1637, a party of Puritans surrounded the Pequot village and set fire to it. About five hundred Indians were burned to death or shot while trying to escape; the Whites devoutly offered up thanks to God that they had lost only two men. The woods were then combed for any Pequots who had managed to survive, and these were sold into slavery. Cotton Mather was grateful to the Lord that "on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell."
  • A barn with them is as good as a church; and no church holy with them, but that which is slovenly even to nastiness; but then 'tis void of all superstition.
    • William Laud, The Answer of the Most Reverend Father in God, William, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Speech of the Lord Say and Seal, Touching the Liturgy (c. 1641), quoted in The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. Volume VI—Part I. Miscellaneous Papers.—Letters (1857), p. 107
  • It is the night-black Massachusetts legendry which packs the really macabre 'kick', Here is the material for a really profound study in group neuroticism; for certainly, no one can deny the existence of a profoundly morbid streak in the Puritan imagination....The very pre-ponderance of passionately pious men in the colony was virtually an assurance of unnatural crime; insomuch as psychology now proves the religious instinct to be a form of transmuted eroticism precisely parallel to the transmutations in other directions which respectively produce such things as sadism, hallucination, melancholia, and other mental morbidities. Bunch together a group of people deliberately chosen for strong religious feelings, and you have a practical guarantee of dark morbidities expressed in crime, perversion, and insanity. This was aggravated, of course, by the Puritan policy of rigorously suppressing all the natural outlets of excuberant feeling--music, laughter, colour, pageantry, and so on. To observe Christmas Day was once a prison offence....
  • The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
  • The Puritan conception that we have no natural duties and loyalties produces a cruel way of life. The Bible is taken all of a level, and then the more primitive aspects of the Old Testament become the standards for bloodthirsty cruelty. Cartwright would have executed all priests of the Church of Rome because of the model of Samuel hewing down Agag before the altar. The communicants of the Church of Rome are the Philistines of our day, says Cartwright. They are the anti-christ, and the Scripture tells us to destroy them. The denial of all goodness in human nature, and the contention that we have no obligations except those enunciated in Holy Scripture, is a view which Hooker holds would be one of which Nero might well approve.
    • John Sedberry Marshall, Hooker and the Anglican Tradition: Historical and Theological Study of Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity (1963), p. 119
  • The public upsurge of piety that became known as the Evangelical Revival in Britain and the Great Awakening in America did not arise out of thin air. Besides the direct influence on continental Pietism, it also benefitted from two movements closer to home. First was a powerful international network of dedicated Calvinists who read each other’s devotional works and eagerly followed news about Calvinist reforms elsewhere in Europe. This network enjoyed two strongholds in the English-speaking world. The Puritans in England, who had mobilized during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) in order to push the Protestant Reformation further, were joined by the Calvinists of Scotland, who were led by the indomitable John Knox, in their pursuit of personal godliness combined with national reform. When monarchs James I (1603-1625) and Charles (1625-1649) frustrated these efforts in England, several thousands Puritans migrated to the wilderness of New England in order to set up a “godly Commonwealth” of the sort that English circumstances prevented. Scottish Puritans and the Puritans of Old and New England retained a great deal of medievalism, especially an understanding of Christianity as always corporate or even national, as well as personal. But they also promoted innovations (like the personal conversion) and underscored specific teachings of the general Protestant inheritance (like the need for saving grace) that fed directly into later evangelical movements.
  • Because their acts of racism often have been so violent and blatant, discussions of racism over the years have centered on conservatives and hardcore racists. But as these few paragraphs have attempted to show, although they have not been publicly associated with acts of physical violence acts, Christian liberals are little different than their conservative counterparts when it comes to embracing the twisted Protestant theological ideas first planted by the Puritans.
    The one glaring difference between the two groups is that liberals throughout American history have learned to be more sophisticated with their antiblackess. From the Puritan era to the present, their sophistication often has been in the form of an eerie silence regarding the matter of race and racism. For example, the writings of heralded American theologians stretching from Jonathan Edwards through H. Richard Niebuhr, and Paul Tilich are conspicuously empty of any critical analysis of the interplay between Christian ideas of racism. While all of these “giants” wrote volumes analyzing the finer points of theology and showing how theology relates to human enterprises, none raised a question about how Protestants repeatedly have corrupted theology in order to justify antiblackness as God-ordained.
  • The Puritan’s utter lack of aesthetic sense, his distrust of all romantic emotion, his unmatchable intolerance of opposition, his unbreakable belief in his own bleak and narrow views, his savage cruelty of attack, his lust for relentless and barbarous persecution—theses things have put an almost unbearable burden upon the exchange of ideas in the United States.


Dolan: They were no different than any of their fellow colonists in trying to survive any way they could. Plymouth was in dire straits in 1646, and the pirates who visited may have been a bunch of unruly, lusty men who raised hell for a couple of days, but they came with money in their pockets and shared it liberally. When those same pirates came to Boston, they gave Winthrop a stolen sedan chair that had been intended for the ruler of Mexico, so Winthrop got his palms greased a little bit. When pirates came to Boston, the people threw out the red carpet for them because they knew that they would be spending a lot of their plunder at the local grog shops and stores and provide a major jolt to the economy.

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