Puritanism in Colonial America: Beliefs & Definition

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Puritanism
  • 0:31 Puritan Early Years
  • 1:40 Puritan Religious Beliefs
  • 2:17 Puritan Society
  • 2:57 Puritan Politics
  • 3:25 Puritan Problems
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Crystal Daining

Crystal has a master's degree in history and loves teaching anyone ages 5-99.

Puritanism was an important aspect of Colonial America. Learn about their early history, as well as their religious beliefs, society, politics, and problems as they tried to make successful colonies in the New World.

Introduction to Puritanism

Puritanism was a religious reform movement within the Church of England. It began in the late 16th century in England but soon spread to the Northern English colonies in the New World. The Puritans in America laid the foundation for the religious, social, and political order of New England colonial life. Puritanism in Colonial America helped shape American culture, politics, religion, society, and history well into the 19th century.

Puritan Early Years

It's important to start by explaining that the Pilgrims and the Puritans were two different groups of settlers that came to America. Both groups had problems with the Church of England; however, the Pilgrims wanted to separate from the Church, and the Puritans wanted to purify the Church. The Pilgrims came to America in 1620 and settled Plymouth Colony. In 1630, the Puritans came to America and they settled Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Puritans were a larger group of settlers and were quite wealthy. They were such a large group that by the 1640s, there were at least 10,000 Puritan colonists in America, and they had to spread out. They ended up spreading out into what would become Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine.

When they came to America, they compared their travels to the biblical story of Exodus. They saw themselves as chosen by God to create a new, pure Christian utopia. Their leader, John Winthrop, made a famous sermon in which he declared that they were to create a 'City Upon a Hill', a perfect Christian colony in the New World that other colonies would admire and want to imitate.

Puritan Religious Beliefs

The Puritans truly believed that if they honored God, their colony would be blessed and succeed, and if they failed to honor God, their colony would be punished. This obsession with honoring God made American Puritanism a very strict, severe religious movement. It was important to Puritans that everyone in their community tried as hard as possible to be good Christians. Individual belief in God was important, but to the Puritans, the spiritual health and welfare of the community was the most important thing of all. Religious conformity and community harmony were the backbones of American Puritan religious belief.

Puritan Society

Unlike many of the early colonists to America, the Puritans migrated over as groups of families instead of mainly just young men. These families were not only wealthier than other colonial settlers, they were also more intelligent and educated. The Puritans believed that everyone needed to be literate so that they could be able to read the Bible and strengthen their relationship with God. This interest in literacy meant that in 1647, the Puritans passed a law requiring that every town needed to provide free schooling for the citizens. This was a completely new concept to not only Colonial America, but to the Western world at that time.

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