Who Were the Puritans? Essay

IN 1572, “a group of reformers in the House of Commons” brought forward a bill calling for the legalization of nonconformity of the kind called “Puritan.” Queen Elizabeth, however, suppressed the bills concerning religion. They could no longer be introduced “without her approval.” These reformers did, however, bring their concerns into the open (Vaughn 3).

Puritans were a people who did not believer in the laws of men. Rather, they followed strictly the laws of God. It was believed, by many Kings and Queens, that they were chosen by God to rule over their people. This included making laws. The Church of England was also the church that everyone had to attend by law. James I made good strides when he used some Puritan ideas in his King James Version of the Bible (1611), however, it was not a Puritan document. Puritanism remained underground (Vaughn 13).

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“As Puritanism and the ideas that went along with Puritanism spread, the determination of the Anglican establishment to stop nonconformist movement grew.” The government used different methods of trying to discourage the Puritans including, “issuing decrees against unorthodox practices, increasing supervision over local clergymen, and removing ministers from their livings” (Vaughn 20). Then, in 1629, Charles I dissolved the Parliament and with this Puritans gave up most of their hopes of reforming the church (Vaughn 25, 35).

John Winthrop, a former attorney, helped convince Puritans to come to the New World. On August 29, 1629, the Cambridge Agreement was signed. This gave the Puritans who moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony a charter freeing the people from the British government and free from interference by company officers (Vaughn 58).

The company and charter went with them, as an effective means of prevention these instruments from falling into the controls of others who might be unfriendly to the religious aims of the colony and consequently interfere with the successful establishment of the ideal Bible Commonwealth they envisioned (Waller vii).

During Puritan services, reading the Bible and clergy sermons was emphasized. Puritans were also taught:

That religion was not mortality, that righteousness in society was not righteousness before God, that salvation, not civilization, was the chief goal of man, and the salvation was unattainable by good behavior. Only faith in Christ could bring redemption from the sin of Adam, and faith was the free gift of God, not to be won by human efforts (Morgan 2).

Much of Puritan belief could also be seen in the Anglican belief system. Both saw man as being sinful. Both saw man as being “enslaved” by evil until redeemed by the “grace of Christ.” And both also believed that “the visible universe was under God’s direct and continuous guidance” (Heith 9).

Upon arriving in New England, the Puritans set forth to have their own way of living. One of these beliefs was that marriage was not seen “as a sacrament,” but they did hold to the idea that celibacy was “a condition purer and holier than marriage.” Also, vows made during a marriage ceremony were never recorded, only a public record that the marriage took place was documented. According to Puritan doctrine, no couple could get married unless they announced the marriage three town meetings consecutively or if the announcement was posted for fourteen days on the meeting house door (Morgan 30-31).

ON becoming parents, the Puritans provided for their children food, shelter, and protection. Parents were expected to provide for their children until they could earn a living on their own. Most Puritan children started going work at the age of seven. Daughters could begin working towards their “calling” at an early age because it was most likely that women became housewives and mothers. Sons usually chose a “calling” between the ages of ten and fourteen. Most “callings” required seven years of apprenticeship. Some men attended college and because these men received a higher form of education their jobs usually did not entail any manual labor or an apprenticeship (Morgan 65-8).

The Puritan parent provided for the children until they were with good husbands and wives and were “established in their callings.” Parents were also responsible for the souls of their children because children had spiritual needs as well. “In 1642, Massachusetts enacted a law requiring masters of families to teach their children and apprentices to read.” The Puritans believed that without education there could be no religion. Children had to learn catechism. “Puritans sought knowledge because salvation was impossible without it.” Men had to understand Christian doctrine to be saved and children had to be taught because they were born without understanding (Morgan 87-90).

Puritans believed a lot in education and wanted to establish more public schools and colleges in the Massachusetts area. In October 1636, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to give money in order to establish a college. John Harvard of Charlestown donated half of his estate and his entire library to the college in 1938. To this day the school, Harvard University, bears his name.

By 1730, most Puritanism was dead. “New England bore little resemblance to the Bible Commonwealth” it was one envisioned to be (Vaughn 338). New England and all of America will forever bear the impact Puritanism made:

…It was a realistic and constructive approach to life, religiously and morally, and that as such it made significant contributions to the intellectual life in the colonies and to the creative arts. Its rigorousness was a necessity in the face of external opposition, internal dissent and the conditions of the frontier which faced the colonists (Waller viii).