"Perhaps no one can really be a good appreciating pagan who has not once been a bad puritan."

Randolph Bourne


"It seems to me that I can see the entire destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who came ashore."



"D.H. Lawrence asserts the Puritans were running away from liberty, and that they simply could not stand the ever increasing personal freedom and humanity of post-Renaissance England, that there was far more religious freedom in the England they left than in the New England they founded."

Studies in Classical American Literature


"It is a common misperception that the early English settlers of what would become the USA were Puritans and Quakers looking for religious freedom. The term Puritan is too loose; the Pilgrim Fathers of 1620 were Congregationalists, and that was the religion which took hold in New England. They were anything but tolerant to other religions, initially outlawing any other, though by the end of the Century some areas reluctantly allowed Baptists and Episcopalians. Congregationalist Massachusetts imprisoned and whipped Quakers, even executing three in 1659. despite this persecution, the quaker William Penn's Pennsylvania was always tolerant of other varieties of Christianity."

David V. Barrett

The New Believers


"The term 'Puritan' has never had a precise use; it was the creation of their opponents, like the term Quaker, Shaker, Ranter or, in earlier times, Monophysite. In negative terms, the 'Puritan tendency' (if we may call it that to distinguish it from a particular sect or party) was Protestant, iconoclastic, opposed to the 'Laudian tendency' with its Catholic rituals and liturgies. Archbishop Laud and the Earl of Strafford, Charles I's great instruments of policy, saw themselves as the true conservatives, maintaining the 'ancient ways', the political, intellectual and theological heritage of an authoritarian Anglicanism, bolstered by bishops and monarchy. Like Thatcherism in our day, 'Laudianism' was praised by its friends for being daringly radical, cursed by its enemies as dangerously reactionary."

Graham Dowell

Enjoying the World: The Rediscovery of Thomas Traherne


   "After Luther, a generation of new reformers emerged, who followed the precise but terrifying teachings of John Calvin. Calvin claimed that faith alone is a guarantee of salvation, and that human beings are predetermined from birth to achieve salvation or to be forever damned. Calvin's followers introduced a new militancy into the Protestant movement. They rejected any representation of divinity sculpted or painted by the hand of man, rejected ceremony, ritual, festival, and feast-remnants, they claimed, of a sordid pagan past embalmed by corrupt Rome. They set out to smash the icons in their frames, to cast the gilded statues from their pedestals, to purify the world in preparation for the second coming of Christ. Instead of ushering in the New Jerusalem, they brought about a societal change that would transform both Europe and the newly discovered American continents and threaten with extinction many ancient customs and festivals: the rise of the Puritan."

Michael Judge

The Dance of Time: The Origins of the Calendar


   "Predominantly, though by no means exclusively, a lay movement, Puritanism had its roots in the prosperous mercantile classes of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, for whom material wealth was a sign of God's blessing. Protestantism of the Geneva/Calvin model was, as Tawney and others have abundantly documented, the bedfellow of capitalism. 'Men', says Tawney, 'who have assurance that they are to inherit heaven have a way of presently taking possession of the earth.' An ironic commentary on the Beatitudes and the enigmatic statement that 'to him that hath shall be given'!"

Graham Dowell



"How is it possible that, in a land fairly alive with game, the waters of which were crowded with fish, the shores of which were strewn with lobsters, clams, eels and oysters, in whose woods and fields grew quantities of edible berries, the Pilgrims literally starved? Perhaps one might say that our amazement results from the fact that they felt themselves to be starving when forced to eat shellfish and game. Some have supposed that the truth lay in their inability to catch the fish or kill the game, and it seems indeed extraordinary that they possessed no nets strong enough to hold cod and the other large fish which abounded, and on the other hand no hooks small enough to catch the fish which teemed in New England waters. They came from a land of fishermen to a land of game and fish, and seem to have been neither prepared nor able to kill the one or catch the other."

Roland G. Usher

The Pilgrims and Their History



   "A group of modern boys preparing to set up a summer camp would set about it more practically than did the Pilgrims. Their discovery of America began by their not finding Virginia at all. Instead of landing them in the South, their pilot took them to the North. They were legally only adventurers, "without a patent nor a charter," without any right to the soil nor power to set up a government. With childlike genius they at once set up their own government, which had nothing to do with the Virginia Colony. James Truslow Adams observes that this solution was eminently English; no Spaniard would have dared such a venture. It was soon to become an American trait-for every Anglo-Saxon carries a charter of independence in his pocket.

   These devout, adult children landed in the dead of winter. They realized fully that at the beginning they would have to live on fish and game. But when they went on land and looked into one another's faces, it turned out that none of them had ever caught a fish or killed a wild animal. One of them shot a large bird that may have been a turkey; but they thought it was an eagle and would not eat it. They heard animal sounds in the night and took them for lions roaring; since there were no lions in Holland or England, they took it for granted that there would be lions in America. They were absolutely unprepared for the conditions they found and brought nothing but good constitutions, loyalty to one another, good sense, patience, forbearance, and devotion to a high religious ideal. Indeed, they lacked everything but virtue."

H.E. Jacob

Six Thousand Years of Bread


"In fact, Puritan controls were more praised than practiced. Geneva was full of forced marriages and bastards, and Calvin’s own daughter and sister-in-law were caught in adultery. The elaborate and severe sexual regulations were so repellent to many people in England that there were few prosecutions and fewer convictions. Rape, incest, fornication and homosexuality went on unabated. In the American colonies, there were "illegitimacy, premarital and extramarital sex, bestiality and homosexuality. Attempts to enforce the death penalty for adultery failed after a few decades, and it was removed from the books. The American Puritans tried to blame the sexual lapses in their utopia on newer arrivals: their realm was now a dumping ground not only for old world utopians and zealots but for criminals and zealots of all kinds. In 1642 Governor William Bradford of Plymouth complained that although sins were nowhere more severely punished than in his Colony "all of this could not suppress the breaking out of sundry notorious sins….especially drunkenness and unclaimees; not only in contingencies between persons unmarried…..but that which is even worse, even sodomie and bugerie, things fearful to name,) have brook forth in this land, oftener than once." Cotton Mather reassures us of the Colonial sexual imagination by telling of a man considered saintly by his community until his son caught him "hideously conversing with a sow."

Arno Karlen

Sexuality & Homosexuality*


"Nearly every association which now clings to the word puritan has to be eliminated when we are thinking of the early Protestants. Whatever they were, they were not sour, gloomy, or severe; nor did their enemies bring any such charge against them.....For More, a Protestant was one "dronke of the new must of lewd lightnes of minde and vayne gladness of harte.".....Luther, he said, had made converts precisely because "he spiced al the poison" with "libertee"....Protestantism was not too grim, but too glad, to be true."

C.S. Lewis

English Literature in the Sixteenth Century


"To be sure, there are standards by which the early Protestants should be called "puritanical"; they held adultery, fornication, and perversion for deadly sins. But then so did the Pope. If that is Puritanism, all Christendom was then puritanical together. So far as there was any difference about sexual morality, the Old Religion was the more austere. The exaltation of virginity is a Roman, that of marriage, a Protestant trait."

C.S. Lewis



   "Central to the Puritan's life was the question of individual election and damnation, the pursuit by each man of God's works, the relation of private destiny to predestined purpose. Besides the history and the sermon, there was the journal, the recording of the individual life. For each pious settler, personal life was a theater for an inner drama comparable to the history of the community as a whole. Each day's experiences could be scrutinized for indications of God's will and evidence of predestination, and so the story of individual lives grew in the pages of diaries and journals in much the way historians shaped their accounts of historical crises and public events. What the aspirant to holiness sought as he read his life was  a pattern of salvation-some indication, however minute, that he belonged to the predestined regenerate. This commitment to self-scrutiny and conscience gives us, in the many journals, a remarkable access to the Puritans' inward life, their balance of self and society."

Richard Ruland & Malcolm Bradbury

From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature


   "Who were they? The Puritans concocted a celebrated solution. They were the community of saints. Leadership in both church and state, fell to men pre-ordained for salvation by their Calvinist God. They calibrated their ranks with fine moral distinctions-the saints even dreamed up a category for people admitted "half-way" into their church congregations. Virtue distinguished leaders from followers, voters from nonvoters, us from them.

   As they founded their towns, the colonists signed covenants pledging "mutual love" . The members of these tight communities promised to watch over and assist one another. In the fine print they also vowed, as the Dedham, Massachusetts, covenant put it, "to keep off from us such as are contrary minded." The boundary between the saints and the contrary minded quickly grew hot. The Puritans slaughtered Native Americans (agents of Satan), hanged witches (carnal knowers of Satan), and sent heretics packing to Rhode Island (the latrina of New England," even then). In his Puritan histories, Cotton Mather portrayed a New England under constant siege; waves of satanic malice crashed down on the good community. "It was time for the devil to take alarm" and "attack a plantation so contrary to his interests," wrote Mather about the first Indian wars against the Pequot people. "A horrible army of devils is broke in....upon the people of God," he commented about the witch frenzy in Salem Village. Each enemy clarified the settlers' identity by demonstrating what they were not, what they must never become. 

   One last leap marked the Puritans and their legacy. They arrived with a mission-redeeming the Protestant reformation. In the old world, Anglican corruption eroded Calvin's ideals. Here the settlers would start fresh, organize a Christian commonwealth, and perhaps set a model for the rest of the world. Even before they reached land, John Winthrop delivered his beautiful sermon, "We shall be as a city on a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." The stakes were huge. "If the Lord shall be pleased....he shall make us a praise and a glory." This odd idea stuck and spread. The Calvinist culture burst out of New England on gusts of religious revival led by the purer Puritans, the Baptists."

James A. Morone

Hell Fire Nation


"....The Puritans set out to "purify" the inherited religion of extraneous elements which had been added in the course of its history, but there was a wide difference of opinion as to how far such purification could or should be carried. The first Puritans subtracted the Pope, the Mass, images and five of the seven sacraments, thus creating the Church of England. Presbyterianism, which was the second wave of Puritanism, originating in Calvin, subtracted the rule of Bishops and substituted the authority of presbyters or elders. For this they found sound precedent in the New Testament. Then came the more radical Independents or Congregationalists, who subtracted the centralized form of church government which had not existed in New Testament times and substituted a decentralized and more democratic procedure. The Baptists were still more radical. They subtracted infant baptism and made church membership dependent on conversion and the gift of the Spirit as described in the New Testament. Finally arose the Quakers. They subtracted all ritual, all programmed arrangement in worship and the professional ministry, allowing for no outward expression except the prophetic voice which had been heard in the New Testament Church at the beginning. They endowed no officials with religious or administrative duties. Worship and administration were considered the responsibility of the local group or meeting as a whole. Elders and overseers, it is true, existed in the primitive church and the Quakers eventually made use of both. They exercised an advisory function, not over the meeting, but under it as the instruments of its will."

Howard H. Brinton

Friends for 340 Years


Book: "HellFire Nation" by James A. Morone

Book: "American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans" by Eve LaPlante



© 2001



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