During the mid-seventeenth century, thousands of English Puritans escaping from religious persecution immigrated to North America, where they established a society whose ideals and principles would become central to the American concept of civil and religious freedom.
Although the Puritans fled from England during the seventeenth century, the seeds of their migration were sown years earlier with the advent of the Protestant Reformation led by sixteenth century theologians, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. In England, King Henry VIII defied the pope by divorcing his Roman Catholic wife and marrying Anne Boleyn. Henry’s archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, continued to loosen Catholicism’s hold by forbidding church music, allowing priests to marry, replacing the Latin mass with services in English, and encouraging everyone to read the Bible. These changes within the Anglican Church opened the door to Puritanism, which advanced the foundational doctrine of predestination–the belief that all people were inherently sinful, and the notion that the God is revealed through a personal encounter with the Scriptures and not through the agency of a priest.
During the reign of England’s
In 1607, a group of Separatists from Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, left England to escape government persecution and eventually settled in Leiden, Holland. Although they enjoyed a prosperous life, they were concerned about the influence of Dutch culture upon their children. In order to preserve their English identity and religious freedom, they decided that they would sail for the New World. Various sites were discussed, including Guiana, Virginia, and the Hudson River area. With the financial support of London merchants and adventurers, they eventually secured a land patent in New England.
Pilgrims holding their first Sabbath service after landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
After dropping anchor in Provincetown Bay in November, 1620, forty-one male Separatists signed the Mayflower Compact. Exposed to the dangers of theocracy in England, as well as to advantages of a civil government in Holland, the Separatists were aware that formulating “just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices” that were applicable to every citizen was necessary for the colony’s survival. The
Disembarking from the Mayflower on November 21, 1620, the Pilgrims settled in what is now
During the years the Pilgrims were struggling to make their Massachusetts a utopia, Puritans in England were increasingly harassed. After succeeding his father, James I, in 1625, King
The Great Migration began with the sailing of the Winthrop Fleet, which comprised eleven ships carrying seven hundred passengers. Most of these immigrants were prosperous, middle class, and well educated. Their primary motivation for settling in the New World was their desire for religious freedom and not for material gain. They possessed a unique set of characteristics that contributed to their success as colonists: They traveled to America in family groups, were highly literate, enjoyed robust health, and were skilled workers who provided well for their typically large families. As the settlers expanded north and south of Boston, they took advantage of land distribution policies, allowing them to purchase large tracts of property that in many cases were kept in families for hundreds of years. The Puritan immigrants’ secure family life, shared social and religious values, and stable land distribution system provided a firm foundation on which to build a society whose cultural mores would shape American history in succeeding generations.
Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. New England’s Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Focusing on 693 settlers who arrived in New England between 1635 and 1638, Anderson examines the reasons for the stability of New England society. Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation. 1630. Reprint. New York: Dover, 2006. This firsthand account written by the colony’s second governor documents the Pilgrims’ life in Holland, their Mayflower voyage, their first winter, and the aid they received from Native Americans. Moore, Susan Hardman. Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007. Explores the reasons colonists set out from England during the 1630’s, their experiences in the Massachusetts colony, and why some chose to return to England. Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Viking Press, 2006. Examines fifty years of often tenuous relations between the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors, and shows how the clash of cultures resulted in King Philip’s War in 1675-1676.
History of immigration, 1620-1783
Religion as a push-pull factor
Religions of immigrants