The Puritans originally hoped to change the Church of England by peaceful conversion from within. During the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James (and despite earning both monarchs’ displeasure), clerics with Puritan ideals—many educated at Cambridge University, which became a center of Puritan thought—had managed to be appointed to Anglican congregations, which in turn often came to share their convictions.

But not all did, and Puritanism, unsurprisingly, had little impact on the thinking of the church's leaders, for whom there was no place in the kind of church the Puritans wanted to create. Eventually the hierarchy stopped snickering and mobilized the church's enforcement mechanisms against what they came to see as an attack.

Chapters in this section...

  • Hard Times for Puritans[+]
    Even though the Stuart kings who followed Queen Elizabeth I came from Scotland, they took heartily to the Church of England and had little patience with Englishmen who wanted to change it, even though their Calvinist faith was much closer to that of Scotland. Charles I, the second of those kings, was especially hostile, and his policies caused many Puritans to fear for the church's future—and their own.
  • Emigration[+]
    The settlement of New England was just beginning, and some Puritans saw that it might be a good place to set up a colony and run it on their own principles, far from the clutches of their king and his militant Archbishop of Canterbury. They cleverly obtained a royal charter and even more cleverly took it with them to the New World, where the king would have trouble getting his hands on it after learning what they were up to.
  • Building a Bible Commonwealth[+]
    John Winthrop instituted a political system designed to keep power in the hands of good, solid, godly Puritans. He saw no reason why it should be democratic—like many educated people of his time, he considered democracy a deeply flawed and dangerous system of government.
  • Political Growing Pains
    Winthrop’s oligarchic system didn’t satisfy everyone, and he was gradually forced to let the government be a little more democratic. Even so, most people in Massachusetts Bay were willing to accept his decision that only men who were full and certified church members (a minority within the majority) to vote or hold office, and that system lasted 60 years.
  • Growing and Thriving[+]
    During the decades when England went through the convulsions of fighting a civil war, deposing (and executing) the king, and later inviting his son to come back and assume the throne, Massachusetts Bay was left to its own devices. Thanks to its large and hard-working population, it did well economically in spite of occasional ups and downs and a war with the Indians that briefly threatened its existence. Not only farming, logging, and fishing paid off, but the colony developed healthy trading and shipbuilding industry. Some of this activity violated the mother country’s trade policies, but supervision was lax to nonexistent, and fortunes were made in a variety of honorable and dishonorable ways.
  • Broader Interests[+]
    As more colonists began to make a living in a wider world than Massachusetts Bay, they began to find the colony’s exclusivity and intolerance of non-Puritans an obstacle to getting along and getting ahead. What some considered vigilance in safeguarding pure Biblical Christianity, others saw as stubborn narrow-mindedness that might get Massachusetts Bay in trouble with England.