The Puritans first came over to the English colonies because they wanted to escape religious prosecution and were seeking religious freedom. When Charles I disbanded parliament and drove England’s economy into the ground, some Puritans joined up with entrepreneurs and created the Massachusetts Bay Company (MBC). The MBC soon colonized the Massachusetts Bay area, which was run by these non-separatist Puritans.
This colony of mostly Puritans did not agree with some of the ways other colonies managed their settlements and took control of them, one of these colonies being the Plymouth colony of separatist Puritans who came by way of the Dutch. Although there were colonies that disagreed, most of the New England colonies were centralized around religion and most of their values and ideas came from their religious practices. John Winthrop was a Puritan who believed in covenant theology, which means he believed that church and state should work together to govern.
He was a leader of the MBC and governor of the colony for 12 terms. He was mainly an authoritarian leader who let his religious beliefs influence much of his governing duties. Roger Williams, on the other hand, believed the polar opposite of Winthrop. He Said, “God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state…” (Doc. F). Williams had believed in separation of church and state and was an important dissenter who found the MBC to be oppressive. He left eventually to create his own settlement of Providence where he allowed more religious freedom and separation of church and state.
Both of these men show how Puritan beliefs affected politics in the New England Colonies at the time, and how religion was related to those politics. One of the most popular ways for a person to make a living in the New England colonies was to own land. You either worked for the church, were a wealthy land owner, were a white man that didn’t own any land, or you were an indentured servant. There were also many fishing towns and towns that hunted and traded furs. Since not all towns were around fertile rivers or lakes some had rocky soil and had to resort to using timber as a source of income.
Although many needed to trade in order to survive, some tried to remind the colonists the real reason why they settled in the first place. John Higginson, being one of those people, wrote in one of his sermons, “…that worldly gain was not the end and design of the people of New England, but Religion (doc. J). ” This just proves the point that much of the New England colonies were still centralized around religion even economically, and were influenced by Puritan beliefs. In 1636 Harvard, the first college institution in the United States, was founded by vote of the General Court of the MBC.
In the beginning years it trained many Puritan ministers, and many of its earliest graduates went on to become clergymen in Congregational and Unitarian churches throughout New England. One of my resources (doc. B) shows the common format or the way a town in the New England colonies looked. In the map it has the town square in the center of the town along with the school and the church with the ministers house labeled behind it. This is a prime example of how they kept their religion at the center of their lives and had most of their teachings revolving around it.
Harvard and the map are evidence that during this time the Puritans beliefs and religion influenced how they built their towns and even how they organized their schools. This is why most New England colonies were centralized around Puritan religion and belief systems. The countless leaders, schools, and ways of trade are just evidence that supports how much influence the Puritans had on the colonies. From oppressive leaders who have little to no religious toleration to a school where students go to study religion and graduate only to become religious leaders in their future.
When the Puritans left England, they left to escape from the monarchy and the anglican church. They left because they did not want to be forced to practice a religion that they would not agree with. Despite these motivations some puritans came to the new world and forced their practices upon those whom they did not agree with. This along with the unintentional Puritan influence is why much of the New England colonies had so many Puritan ideas and values included in their politics, economics, and social developments.