The purpose of the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay was to establish a “Godly” society as a model for all Christians, based on a church purified in membership, worship, and structure from what they considered corruption in the Church of England. Free of the church hierarchy in England, they built their colony around independent church congregations, and their religion became known as Congregationalism.
Life in the colony was demanding. The necessities of life as well as the Puritans’ belief in hard work required everyone to labor from sunrise to sunset. Attendance at Sunday religious services was compulsory, and there was little leisure time. Amusements and dancing were frowned upon, and there was no theater. There were laws against stylish dress, but fashions changed as the colony became more prosperous. Wedding celebrations and such events as house-raisings, town meetings, and militia training sessions provided occasions for gathering with friends and enjoying refreshments. Punishments for crimes were very harsh. When the Society of Friends, or Quakers, attempted to preach against this way of life in the mid-1650s, the General Court persecuted them unmercifully.
Quakers were banished from the colony and threatened with death if they returned. One Quaker who did so, Mary Dyer, was hanged in 1660.
This strict control of life and religious beliefs led some people to leave the colony. In 1635 clergyman Thomas Hooker and his congregation migrated for economic reasons to found Hartford and other towns of what later became Connecticut. Others, such as Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, questioned the religious purity of the colony.
Williams preached the separation of church and government and questioned the colony’s right to take Native American lands without compensation. In 1636 Williams was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and, after taking refuge among the Wampanoag, established Providence, the first permanent white settlement in what would become Rhode Island. Two years later Hutchinson was banished for her religious dissent, and she and some followers also went south to found Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Her brother-in-law John Wheelwright fled Massachusetts to found Exeter, New Hampshire. While these and other people emigrated from the colony to escape the restrictions of church government, immigration to Massachusetts Bay brought rapid growth.
The Puritan belief that communities were formed by covenants produced America’s first democratic institution, the town meeting. At the town meeting every church member had the right to speak, and decisions were made by majority rule. In some towns, property-holding men who were not church members also had voting rights. At first the meetings dealt only with local problems, but in 1634 representatives of the towns forced the Puritan leaders to allow each town to send two deputies to the General Court. These deputies were chosen at the town meeting and represented its interests. In 1644 the General Court was divided into a bicameral assembly, with the governor and the assistants sitting in one chamber and the deputies in the other. The democratic atmosphere of the town meeting influenced the deputies, who over the ensuing decades sought to influence the assistants to lessen restrictions on religious and personal freedoms in the colony. "Massachusetts" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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