New England began as a refuge for religious radicals. The first English settlers were the Pilgrims. They were Separatists—Protestants who, unlike the Puritans, seceded from the Church of England rather than try to reform it.
They sailed for the New World in 1620. After difficult early years, they established a community of farms at Plymouth that was ultimately absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Company. A much larger Puritan migration began in 1630. The Puritans objected to the corruption and extravagance of the Stuart kings, who considered alliances with Catholic monarchs and paid no attention to Puritan demands for religious reform. The Puritans came to believe that God would destroy England for these sins. They obtained a charter from the Massachusetts Bay Company and made plans to emigrate—not to hide in the wilderness from God’s wrath, but to preserve Protestant beliefs and to act as a beacon of truth for the world.
A thousand Puritans migrated to Massachusetts in 1630. But this Great Migration ended in 1642, when the Puritans became involved in a civil war against the Stuart kings. The Puritans eventually won and ruled England until 1660. When the migration ended, Massachusetts had 13,000 European inhabitants. The Puritans left England because of religious persecution, but they, too, were intolerant. In Massachusetts they established laws derived from the Bible, and they punished or expelled those who did not share their beliefs.
The Puritans established a governor and a general court (an assembly elected by adult male church members) and governed themselves. Although they refused to secede from the Church of England, they did away with bishops and church hierarchy and invented congregationalism. In this type of Protestantism, each congregation selected its own minister and governed its own religious life (although outside authority sometimes intervened to punish heresy). Government officials were expected to enforce godly authority, which often meant punishing religious heresy. Roger Williams was a Separatist who refused to worship with anyone who, like nearly all Puritans, remained part of the Church of England. Massachusetts banished him, and he and a few followers founded Providence in what is now Rhode Island. Anne Hutchinson was a merchant’s wife and a devout Puritan, but she claimed that she received messages directly from God and was beyond earthly authority. This belief was a heresy, a belief contrary to church teachings, known as Antinomianism. She, too, was banished and she moved to Rhode Island. Puritan magistrates continued to enforce religious laws: In the 1650s they persecuted Quakers, and in the 1690s they executed people accused of witchcraft. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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