Puritans

A color portrait of a seated man. He has dark hair, a beard, and is wearing dark clothing with a large white collar and white lace at his cuffs.
John Winthrop, twelve term governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Image courtesy of American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.

In 1630, a group of Puritans left England in search of a place to practice their religion freely. They had a charter from the Massachusetts Bay Company to settle land in New England. The Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony north of the Plymouth Colony that had been established by the Pilgrims ten years earlier.

The Puritans wanted their colony to be based on the laws of God. They believed that God would protect them if they obeyed religious laws. The Massachusetts Bay Colony established a government with John Winthrop serving his first term of Governor in 1630. Only Puritan men who were church members and owned land were able to vote for governor and for representatives to the General Court. Women were not allowed to participate in government. The General Court made strict laws for the colony.


 
A color portrait of a man wearing dark clothing and a white collar. He has dark hair, dark eyes, and a mustache.
John Winthrop the Younger, promoter for the iron works.

Image courtesy Harvard Art Museums. http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/304971

John Winthrop the Younger, a son of the governor, became a promoter to establish an iron works within the colony. Some wealthy Puritan men became part-owners in the iron works. Most Puritan men were farmers and/or merchants and tradesmen. Some Puritan farmers worked part-time for the iron works to make extra money. Puritans were also customers at the iron works. Puritan women lived in the colony with their husbands. Some women were school teachers, midwives, and "physicars" who helped to treat people who were sick. For example, a Puritan woman named Anne Burt cared for Scots who were ill after their voyage across the Atlantic. Puritan boys and girls went to school to learn to read the Bible. Boys might be trained as apprentices in a trade and girls would learn their duties from their mothers.

The Puritans hoped to establish an orderly and stable society, but soon the colony began to change. New England began to trade more, which created new jobs. There were farmers who grew food to sell to others; not just to feed their family. Some families who would have been poor in England were beginning to become more prosperous in the New World. Their children were able to read and write, and they were rising in their social class.

Some people were not as interested in religion as Puritan leaders would have liked. Puritan church members became worried that the colony was not based on the laws of God anymore. So, the Puritan leaders made some of the laws even stricter to control how the people of the colony behaved. Puritans and non-Puritans alike broke the law.

Here are some examples of Puritan laws:

  • Sunday was a holy day. Therefore, trade and business were not allowed. No public enteretainment or meetings were allowed except for church services. Church or "meeting" on Sunday included two-hour services in the morning and the afternoon. Travel on Sunday was banned, except walking to and from the meeting house and for emergencies.
  • The Puritans thought it was important to be able to read and understand the Bible. Schools were created to help educate the children of the colony. The "Old Deluder Law" stated that every town of 50 or more families had to pay for a teacher and that all children should attend school.
  • There were laws passed about what kinds of clothing you could wear. The laws allowed only certain wealthier people to wear silver, gold, silk, laces, and other finery. These were called Sumptuary Laws. Sumptuous means extremely costly, rich, luxurious, or magnificent.
  • There were laws to punish people for using bad words, drinking too much alcohol, being lazy, and even gossiping. No Christmas celebrations were allowed, and marriages were performed by colony officials, not by ministers.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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