Broader Interests

The Great Migration’s infusion of well-prepared immigrants set the Massachusetts Bay Colony firmly on the path to economic success, and the population and economy kept growing even when the flow of immigrants dried to a trickle. According to Fischer (in Albion’s Seed), throughout the 17th century the population of Massachusetts doubled every two generations. By 1700 it was about 100,000, and by 1800 a million. This came about without substantial immigration (which didn’t approach the intensity of the Great Migration until the 19th century, when Irish Catholics began to arrive in large numbers).

As the colony prospered, however, it did attract some new settlers more immediately concerned with wealth than salvation. Some belonged to the Church of England, some to Protestant traditions other than the Puritan, but although they were by no means hostile to religion, its role in their lives took second place to the pursuit of material well-being in the world of the living.

Nor were they the only inhabitants of Massachusetts who felt that way. Many children and grandchildren of the original settlers were less ardent than their forebears in matters of the spirit. One sign of this was the establishment, in 1662, of the “half-way covenant,” an arrangement that permitted settlers who attended church, but had not chosen to relate a conversion experience in order to achieve full membership, to nevertheless have their children baptized in the church.

Puritanism was no longer a brand-new spiritual adventure, and a certain decline in intensity was probably natural—and besides, the Puritan Commonwealth was now a fact, no longer a cherished ideal to strive for.
Sinners get their just deserts in 'Day of Doom'
Historians cite sermons from the 1660s that demonstrate the intense displeasure of many Puritan clergymen with what they saw as a turning away from the founders’ godly ways. Michael Wigglesworth, Medford’s minister, wrote and published his “Day of Doom.” Preachers employed Biblical precedents to interpret every general misfortune—smallpox epidemics, earthquakes, King Philip’s War, even the encroachments of royal authority on the colony’s independence—as evidence of God’s displeasure. Most clergy were firmly opposed to anything that resembled a relaxation of the original standards, and many laypeople felt the same. Nevertheless, a Salem minister felt obliged to remind his congregation in 1663 that “New-England is originally a plantation of Religion, not a plantation of Trade.”
The port of Boston
In busy ports like Salem and Boston, most merchants were displeased with Massachusetts’ religious one-sidedness and suspicion of outsiders. Visiting merchants and traders had to register with two magistrates on arrival, and, if they wished to stay more than two months, had to swear an oath of allegiance to the colony’s government. Trading was a slower business then than it is now, and traveling merchants often needed to stay in a port for some time to get business done. Massachusetts’ unwelcoming behavior, its wealthiest businessmen felt, was an obstacle to greater prosperity.

Not only that—England, outraged by the colony’s refusal to grant religious freedom to members of its state church, had begun to take notice, and finally, during the last years of King Charles II’s reign, commenced serious legal proceedings to terminate the Massachusetts Bay charter. Failure to come to terms with the monarchy might bring on a political and economic catastrophe.

Rural people were probably, and typically, somewhat more conservative, and didn’t see why things couldn’t go on as they always had. But the greater part of their energy had to be focused on the demands of farm and family. What was left over might be sufficient to support loyalty to the old ways, but not extraordinary zeal in their defense.

In the 1660s, the majority of colonists were still siding with the ministers rather than the merchants. But as the 17th century continued, the proportions, though not yet equal, began to shift.