Comunidad puritana

Antropología. Puritanismo. Puritanos. Grupos sociales. EEUU (Estados Unidos). Influencia. Vida moral y religiosa. Educación # Puritan community. Puritanism. Puritans and Pragmatists. Massachusetts Bay Colony

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Puritanism was based on intensity of the Puritan's commitment to a definite morality, a form of worship and a society based on God's commandments (“Puritanism” Encarta 1994). Everything in which they believed in came from God's will and all good human action on earth could help them seek for truth, perfection and salvation. Puritans believe in the sinfulness of humankind and that some will be saved through the righteousness of Christ no matter what their sins are (“Puritanism” Encarta). Puritans came to America from New England seeking for a place where “freedom of worship” is accepted since they were discriminated from the Church of England. They wanted to reform the way of Protestant and Catholic worship forms into a more pure and glorifying dedication to God.

In XVI and XVII, religions were gaining followers and discovering new lands in America. People went to America because they felt that their beliefs were not well seen in their home countries and that they had to create their own community with their own rules (Underwood,46). Puritans wanted to reform or “purify” the church by reducing bishop's powers who did not take their vocation seriously and were gaining corrupt attitudes. They also wanted to reform the clergy who were uneducated men with little interest in theology (Brinkley,20). There were some radical Puritans, also called Separatists, that wanted to create an own independent congregation of Puritans where the people lived correctly as the Puritan society would demand and they would follow the truth in which they believed in (Conlin,52).

Puritans became frustrated because authorities did not answer to their demands. Their discontent grew after the death of Elizabeth and accession of James I in 1603. King James thought that kings ruled by divine authority so he hated Puritans and he tried to cut their influence in the Church and the government (Brinkley, 20). James I put illegal taxes on Puritan followers, he favored only the English Catholics and he gave his total support to the “High-Church” forms of ceremony. He said, “I will make them conform or I will harry them out of the land”(“Puritans”,Compton's). In the 17th century many religious groups different from Catholics, refuge out of the kingdom so they wont suffer all injustices of belonging to a different religion (Brinkley,21). In 1608, after being persecuted for the practice of their own religion in New England, Puritans began to emigrate quietly, a few at a time, to Leyden-Holland. There they lived with the utopian idea of a place were “freedom of worship” existed but there were some disadvantages too. The Puritan men had to work in unskilled and poorly paid jobs. Puritan children were learning to speak Dutch and they were marrying with Dutch drifting away from their Church (Brinkley,35). Separatists did not like this society drift, so they decided to move across the Atlantic to create a protected community in America and spread the “gospel of the kingdom o Christ in those remote parts of the world”(Brinkley,35). In 1620, religious leaders obtained permission to settle in Virginia and received assurances from the king that he will not molest them there. Economic funds for the trip were not a problem since English merchants gave funds for the voyage on the condition that they would share profits of gold or any valuable resource at the end of 7 years (Brinkley,35). So, in September 1620, 35 Puritan separatists and 67 strangers went on the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth, England to the New World of

freedom and justice. In November of the same year, the Mayflower reached land at Cape Cod and even though they arrived to and area not expected, they settled there labeling it “Plymouth”(Brinkley,35). From here, a lot of people started to settle in America creating a wave of “Great Migration” during 1630-40 (Conlin,52). People saw America as a place of opportunities of living under your own believes and under your own rules. This idea of freedom attracted all people especially puritans that came in big quantities and created different towns in Salem, Boston and Massachusetts.

The first winter in America was really harsh and half of the first Puritan settlers died of malnutrition, disease and exposure. They were assisted by the local Indians who showed them how to cultivate food and take advantage of that rich land. In the first harvest settlers made, they invited the Indians to thank them for what they had done and made a big feast of food and good feeling between each other. From here, came the tradition of “Thanksgiving” that is celebrated because of this reason now a days (Brinkley,36).

Once in America, Puritans wanted to make sure that they had complete control over the territory so they created the Massachusetts Bay Colony. William Bradford was the first governor in 1621 and he won the title of the land so no one could have the right to take it away from the Puritan community (Brinkley,36). The town was democratic and authoritarian at the same time. Every decision that was taken was made by mutual agreement and by vote of the majority. This system's principles were imposed directly by God and everyone followed rules and stayed beyond the limits. Democracy was used to give an owner a piece of land or who should be elected magistrate of the town (Conkin,15).Every Puritan had the right to vote for the company officials, and later on the General Court was established that was an assembly of 130 freemen, or people who had land or were members of the church (Colin, 53). A large group of Puritans began organizing new enterprises for America and also they tried to create in new England a refuge center for Puritans so all will have the opportunity to go to America and live a democratic life of self-discipline and introspection (“Puritanism”, Encarta).

This authoritarian-democratic system of Puritans influenced much of North America politics today. Some examples of this influence are shown in the quote below:

“it made clear the delegated and limited authority of magistrates and assemblies, gave objective sanction for the reserved rights of citizens, emphasized the moral ends of government, made all democratic processes subject to establish principle and laws and precluded any authority vested in rank, priestly ordination, feudal titles or claims of divine right”(Conkin,17).

The political leaders of Massachusetts included governor of villages and selectmen, and they were usually men of ability and integrity. Poor men often held elected office, while been wealthy was to be an officeholder. In this community there were people that were resentful and embittered, but there had never been recorded that neither any resistance to the system nor clerical domination of politics existed. The officeholder was very respected for his role and function. The elections were held annually, and magistrates and delegates had to give a sermon and instructions in the elections. A minister, who had little opponents because there were few candidates, was elected by their constituents. He often gained the respect and love of the community they ruled. “He was the foremost professional in a providence with few lawyers or trained physicians” (Conkin, 22). He represented the best of the community, the best education and the best talent; therefore he was the most respected, with the highest prestige and with the highest pays. The only power he didn't possess was the ecclesiastical (Conkin,22).

The minister and magistrate performed entirely different functions, but they shared common religious and political goals (Conkin, 24). The magistrate was also an important part of the community, but he could not remove a minister or in any legal way determine congregational policy. He seeked the general welfare and they had to consider and make provisions for religious worship.

Puritans were very dedicated to their moral and religious beliefs. They were very concerned about the right conduct more than with the truth. They were very activist, brave, and persistent about all the goals that they set up for and they even condemned laziness, escape and weakness (Conkin,12). “The Puritans tried always to keep their hands on the throttle and their eyes on the rail”,(Conkin,12) They always faced their problems and tried to reach spiritual fulfillment and were always seeking for greater challenges. They had warrior souls to fight against sin and possessed great force and power to defend everything they thought to be right (Conkin,12). Their moralist behavior had two sides, one shown for the outside world to see and the other one was for their interior conscience. They were straight to their beliefs of right and wrong and they lived based on all this moral concepts.

Puritans wanted to replicate the city of God in earth; “a city upon a hill”,(Brinkley,39) by using a moralized education system, politics and diplomacy. They saw themselves as a model by living under hard work all the time. They wanted to stay purified within the boundaries of their town and the ministers and officers worked together for better organization and purification (Brinkley, 39}. Puritans were seekers of wisdom and the right use of knowledge (Conkin,12). Their whole life was based on God and they believed that without Him there was nothing. An important puritan phrase was that “ what man desires and chooses is all-important, at least to man”(Conkin,13). But this phrase also meant that choices were the result of God's will since all things depended on Him to exist. Puritans hated all materialist possessions, “Luxury and wastefulness, were not the ways of a godly man”(Foster, 109). They also disliked all mechanisms that could replace man's labor because they thought that machines took away their responsibility for free will and belief in accidents. They also had their beliefs about the future and how it was that every person had a predestined life controlled completely by God and that He would be the only one to alter any changes in your destiny. (Conkin,13) All puritan beliefs came from God's will of human perfection and their journey through earth. at learning was a necessary part of the preparation for salvation, therefore they “stressed the ear and mind for acquiring religious understanding” (Gordon, 118). Puritans believed that children were born without a fear of God, and with an original sin and pride that resisted God. Puritans also believed that to vanish this characteristic it was necessary a humble and tractable education. It was indispensable that parents, the clergy and other people in the town could teach a proper awareness of God to children. In the 17th century parents were obsessed with their children. They started to put in practice a severe regime to arm children against the lures of the devil, which included family prayers twice a day, daily Scripture readings and repeated explanations of church sacraments. The most important part of this regime was “catechizing”, that was “a personal process of questions and answers which formed for colonial children the most constant and ever-present means of instruction in the faith” (Gordon, 118).

Ministers were very important for the Puritan community because they gave educational speeches to the town and all people heard them. The education the sermons provided to the citizens was full of moral fervor and energy. The topics of his speeches were from Bible lessons to commentaries and opinions of politics, special personal problems and social problems. The minister usually knew more about Christian doctrine than anyone else in the town. That is why he became the prime interpreter and custodian of the community ideology. He was the community philosopher, and therefore had great influence on political decisions. “The more able ministers were the great source of cultivation, of sophisticated ideas, of eloquent and literary output and political thoughts” (Conkin, 23).

For ministers to give such sermons and for them to be filled with knowledge, puritans thought that ministers should be well educated to be able to interpret scriptures. So, in 1636 the 1st college was created in Cambridge Massachusetts. The General Court of this town gave funds for this college to succeed and in 1638 a man called John Harvard died and left his library and money to the school that later became the well known Harvard University that has so much prestige now a days (Conlin, 59).

It was declared that parents and masters were responsible for children's ability to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of the country. Understanding the capital laws was crucial, therefore in 1649 the Puritan government ruled that:

“any children over 16 who shall curse the smite their natural father or mother or act in a stubborn or rebellious manner would be put to death unless the parents has been unchristianly negligent in his education or provoked him by extreme and cruel correction into protecting himself from death or maiming” (Gordon, 119).

Children were not executed but this action showed the community's authority regard the “private sanctuary of the family” (Gordon, 118). Finally in the 18th century the government interfered in family's affair such as putting children who didn't read at the age of 6 into other families.

All Puritans had their own specific job or calling and even if some calling were less than others and created inequality among men, Puritans believed that all callings were equal in front of God's eyes and that he will judge your effort to receive the light of eternity (Foster,102). But this does not mean that Puritans did not believe in wealth and that they believed that every man should encourage himself to live seeking for richness and perfection (Foster, 103). Extreme poverty was unusual in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and in Connecticut (Conlin,55). For puritans, each person's effort for his or her calling was the proof of salvation and was the principal end of man. They thought that by performing successfully everyday, they would glorify God and showed gratitude towards such powerful being. Mostly all people were farmers and raised corn, squash, beans and had livestock. The land some people possessed was not to get rich from it but only for survival of the whole family. Another job was fishing since Puritans had one of the best fishing areas around and it was very beneficial for getting fresh food everyday. They had to work in their callings most of the time, but not all. Puritans believed in recreation time to give yourself a time to rest because if not that would only bring melancholy and sadness. “... Poetry, Music, Shooting, and such other allowable sports as best fit with men's several dispositions for their comfort and refreshing”(Foster, 106). All type of work and recreation puritans did, they saw it as an activity of religion and an evidence of sanctification (Foster, 108). The system of this callings was very successful since all people gave their best effort and if anyone was cheating in a business or charging unfair prices for products, they were harshly punished (Conlin, 57). This made the Puritan town very organized because everyone worked really hard to satisfy God and live in the constant pursue of giving the best to achieve total salvation.

Families in the puritan community were almost always of only one doctrine and they were considered of very important value in a human life (Brinkley, 60). The men were usually farmers or trades men with a social and wealth position in the puritan society. There was not a nobility, poverty or incapability. As throughout history, the male of the house had absolute authority and puritans always emphasized female weakness and inferiority towards hard work. Wives were supposed to serve the needs of her husbands and have a modest and submissive behavior (Brinkley,69). The father governed each family and the town was a confederation of family heads that had control of the land and over the new people that arrived to town. “One had to find his place in a family and in a town; otherwise he or she could not become a citizen of the colony”(Conkin,14). The town was dedicated to an external standard of truth and excellency. It was like a club with many rules, demands, prohibitions, etc. It educated children and adolescents, preached adults and deal with the outside enemies. All puritans' beliefs were considered internal and voluntary within the community and there were laws and courts that gave harsh punishments to wrong actions. But since everyone stayed beyond the limit, the application of this punishments were rare (Conkin,15).

As in every society, in the Puritan community were privileged positions. One of these was to be a church member. To be part of it was a signal of adult responsibility, wisdom, good character and maturity. The people that were not members were seen as weak and incapable men. There was a complete process for been qualified as member, a puritan that wanted to be a member had to make certain standard of intelligence and quality. The Puritan town demanded a high standard of performance (Conkin 18).

The whole community punished sins such as “unnatural” sex or minor differences in religious beliefs. There was no threat of religious persecutions because neither Jews nor Catholics tried to be part of the community since they had communities of their own.  The town had special limits because without them the essential identity and goals of the community will surely vanished. So if they admit people from other religions they would destroy the pure community and were left with an ordinary village, without “a covenant a cause or divine justification” (Conkin,18). This mission of protect people would have died if they didn't create a law that said: those who were not Puritans will not be allow to be part of the community, those within were vanished, and those who were already in and accepted the rules had to face punishment. Puritans had trials that imposed punishments to strangers or sinners and the punishments were very traditional since they came from a long history of existence. The person accused had the right to be heard in a town meeting and as today the economic power and the persuasive ability could define the sentence. Each procedure in a trial was clear and objectively and the law tried to be as much arbitrary as possible. They also discussed accusations in town, so this created tension between members of the meeting and this would lead to terrible events like the witchcraft accusations in Salem Massachusetts in 1689 to 1690. In this event, some adolescent girls began to show strange behavior in the presence of people who were accusated for witchcraft (Brinkley, 75). Hundreds of people were accused and 19 residents of the town were killed. Curiously, the accusated people were mostly women, often widowed, with no children and a low social position. The trials ended in 1692 when the girls accused an important member of the government and because of the tension of the doubt from the authority they later declared that all accusations had been false.

In Massachusetts there was a woman called Anne Hutchinson that challenged the Puritan church saying that all faithful people could communicate directly with God as she had done and that she had received assurance from God of grace and salvation (Brinkley, 40). Her teachings known as “Antinomian heresy” threatened the position of ministers that were not essential for salvation anymore and people started to get the idea that you could save yourself with no minister's need (Brinkley, 40). Winthrop, the Puritan governor, said that no one should hear her in religious subjects but this did not stop her to debate her ideas in public. So, in 1638 she was convicted of heresy and she moved to Narragansett Bay where she later died in 1643 (Brinkley, 41).

So Puritans took care of every aspect from social to religious, from political to educational. This way they created a society that lasted long because of the organization to keep a close society away from people from other communities different from theirs.

Work cited

(MLA style)

Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993.

Conlin, Joseph R. Our Land, Our Time. San Diego, Coronado Publishers, 1987.

Conkin, Paul K. Puritans and Pragmatists. Canada: First Midlant Book Edition, 1976.

Foster, Stephen. Their solitary way. London: Yale University press, 1971.

Gordon S, Wood. We Americans. Washington D.C: The National Geographic Society,


Underwood, Lynn.Religiones del Mundo. Madrid: Altea, 1991.

“Puritanism” Microsoft Encarta. Microsoft Corporation, 1994.

“Puritans” Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia. Compton's New Media, 1994.