The Puritans: From Establishment to Downfall
The Puritans were a religious group that in the 16th and 17th centuries emigrated from England to North America, mainly to Massachusetts. They had strong beliefs in their religious and political society that were supposed to be followed by everyone. In this essay, I will be discussing the establishment of the Puritans, their beliefs and the reasons for their downfall.
2. The Puritans’ establishment and beliefs
– The Establishment of the Puritans
The Puritans’ journey to North America started in 1620 when a group of around 100 people left England on the Mayflower ship and arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The majority were from East Anglia in England and were farmers who owned their own land. They left England because they were not allowed to practice their religion freely. They wanted to establish a society where they could worship God in their own way without any interference from the government or the Church of England.
The Puritans’ journey was led by John Winthrop who was elected as the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. He believed that the Puritans had a divine mission to create a perfect society which would be an example to the rest of the world. He gave a famous speech called ‘A Model of Christian Charity’ in which he said:
“We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.”
This speech inspired other Puritans to migrate to Massachusetts and by 1640 there were around 20,000 settlers in the colony.
– The Puritans’ beliefs
The Puritans believed that God had predestined them for salvation or damnation and that good works could not change this. They thought that it was their duty to live morally correct lives and to help others do so too. They believed that church members should not only have been converted but should also have given testimony of their experiences to prove their sincerity.
The Puritans believed in simplicity, hard work, orderliness and self-control. They thought that fancy clothes, entertainment and Idle chatter were sinful distractions from worshiping God. In their homes, they had bare walls and few furniture so that they would not be tempted to spend too much time on worldly pursuits. Instead, they would use their time wisely for prayer, reading religious texts or practicing self-denial.
The Puritans believed in democracy and equality but only for male church members who had been converted. Women and children were not allowed to vote or hold office. This was because the Bible says that husbands should be the head of the household and children should obey their parents. The Puritans thought that democracy would only work if everyone agreed on religious matters and submitted themselves to God’s will.
3. The downfall of the Puritans
– The social and economic transformations
The first signs of decline for the Puritans came from within their own society as it began to change socially and economically. As more people migrated to Massachusetts, Boston became a bustling port town with taverns, gambling houses and brothels. This was a far cry from the simple, God-fearing society that the Puritans had originally envisaged.
Some Puritans started to become wealthy through trade and business and began to live in luxury. They started to wear expensive clothes and to decorate their homes with furniture and paintings. This change in lifestyle was a cause of concern for the Puritan leaders who feared that their society was becoming too materialistic.
– The Anne Hutchinson incident
Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan woman who arrived in Massachusetts in 1634. She was a midwife and also held religious meetings in her home where she shared her own spiritual experiences with other women. Hutchinson’s views on religion differed from the Puritan leaders and she soon became a controversial figure.
In 1638, Hutchinson was put on trial for heresy and blasphemy. She was found guilty and banished from the colony. This incident caused a split in the Puritan community between those who were more liberal in their religious beliefs and those who were more orthodox.
– The Half-Way Covenant
The Half-Way Covenant was introduced in 1662 as a way of encouraging more people to join the Puritan church. It allowed people who had not been converted but who had led morally correct lives to become church members. This was a departure from the Puritans’ original beliefs and caused some members to leave the church.
– The Salem witch trials
The Salem witch trials of 1692 were another blow to the Puritan community. Nineteen people were executed after being accused of witchcraft, most of them women. These events divided the community even further and damaged the reputation of the Puritans both in America and in England.
The Puritans had a very specific idea of how their society should be run and what everyone’s role within it should be. However, as time went on, social and economic changes started to take place which led to a decline in the Puritans’ power and influence. The Salem witch trials were the final nail in the coffin for the Puritans and their society soon began to disintegrate.