Puritans Vision for a New World



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Andrew Smeathers

HST 212


Prof. Geib

February 2nd 2013


Puritans Vision for a New World

The Puritans vision for America began as they first set foot in the New World. A large group of Puritans were among the first people to come to the New World in the 17th century. Many first generation American Puritans were immigrants from England who sought religious freedom in the New World. They came with an imagination and a dream to develop a new society based on the Protestant faith. Their visions and beliefs were mainly based on interpretations of the Bible. Having the freedom to practice their religion without scrutiny from others helped to establish the vision of a Puritan lifestyle in America.

The primary visions of the Puritans in Colonial America are based on their religious beliefs. Their historical and geographical position in America is closely related to their biblical definition of themselves and of America. To Puritans they believe that they are God’s chosen people. The discovery of America served as their spiritual and geographical destination planned by God. America was their millennium utopianism, just as Israel is to so many people. The Puritans idea that God chose them to take this land marked the first time the idea of manifest destiny had been used in America. (Puritan pp5). The puritans believed it was their natural right to have the land and spread their religion, just as it was manifest destiny for America to continue spreading westward during the 19th century. The unique American Puritan vision of the 17th century arose when the Protestants left England and diverted from the English Puritanism way.

Puritans defined their societal system as a church-state. They hoped that this religious political system would be a model for the new Christian world. This church-state turned into the idea of a “city upon a hill.” John Winthrop, a highly revered protestant lawyer, came up with this term. He and the Puritans thought their society should be a “city upon a hill,” to show everyone else how to live in the way that God wanted. (Essortment pp5). As time moved forward the vision of America as a utopia became synonymous with the New Haven promised by the Revelation. (Univ. pp7). Puritans believed in many biblical concepts and it is continually seen vividly throughout their history how these biblical versus translate to real life. Later generations of American Puritans developed and refined a special vision that has continued to influence American self-definition into the present.

Individuals living in the New World with Puritan beliefs lived simple lives. These colonists were typically unsophisticated people who felt very much at the mercy of their god in the New World. There was a strict Puritan code that these people lived by. This code was far from tolerant. Irrational rules guided their daily lives such as segregation of seating in church. Men and women sat on opposite sides of the church and it was against the law to not attend Sunday worship. Anything deemed inappropriate or sinful was deserving of a punishment, even the littlest things. The puritan lifestyle was a reserved and rigid one. Music, dancing, and the celebration of holidays were absolutely forbidden. The only music allowed at all was the unaccompanied singing of hymns. The only schooling that children received was through religious doctrines and the bible. Village life revolved around the meetinghouse, were everything of importance took place. These practices show just how religious oriented the Puritans were during the colonization of America. They lived their lives to please God, not themselves. People were expected to work hard and repress their emotions. (Puritan pp9).

Most people during this time period in the New World were primarily farmers. Their lives were difficult and they faced unrelenting challenges and a harsh climate. Add in the fact that the Devil was behind every misfortune, the people believed evil spirits were all around them. Even with their strong devotion to their religion and God they still had a powerful belief in the Devil.

They used the Devil as an excuse to explain the things that they could not make sense of. To the Puritans, Satan preyed on the weakest individuals. Everyone from women, children, slaves and those with mental handicaps were judged. These individuals were often labeled as witches. An example of how paranoid the citizens were is the Salem witch trials.

The Salem witch trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts in the 17th century. In Salem Village, as well as other Protestant towns, life was governed by the precepts of the Church. This meant that anything with roots to Paganism was banned in the towns. Rumors of witchcraft were beginning to come from all around the city. In the book Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions, by, Cotton Mather, he describes his observations of how witchcraft had corrupted the children of a local family.

Mather illustrates how the family’s eldest child had been tempted by the Devil and caused him to steal. The person he stole from was an elderly woman whose husband accused her of being a witch. Supposedly, after the boy stole, three of his five brothers and sisters began to experience strange fits. Symptoms of back pain, loud outcries and other strange actions took over the young kids.

These symptoms are what would fuel the beginning of the Salem witch trials of 1692. (Univ. pp13).

These trials and accusations were made in part by the people’s religious beliefs. Since God and the Devil played pivotal roles in Puritan lifestyles the people thought they were truly surrounded by evil. In keeping with the Puritan code of conformity, the people who were to be accused of witchcraft in Salem were seen as different and social outcasts. The fear of magic and witchcraft was common in the New World. It served as a way for people to justify things they had not answer for. Even with a strong fear of the devil the Puritans were able to establish values that are still present in todays society.

Puritans vision for a New World still live on today. Many speeches and political figures have used phrases or ideas originally conceived by Puritans in the 17th century. Both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan have referred to the “city upon a hill” idea in their presidential speeches. (Puritan pp14). The Puritan notion of election, divine sanction, and high purpose has infused American identity, politics, and culture ever since.


Works Cited

Essortment. "City On A Hill - The Puritans' Model Society." Essortment. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.

"Puritan Belief." Puritan Belief. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.

Univ. Southern Queensland. "Early Puritan Life in the American Colonies." Early Puritan Life in the American Colonies. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.


General Notes:
I’d say that one of the largest issues in this paper is that we don’t get a clear understanding of what the Puritan “vision” is. Basically, we need to know what America looks like, filtered through the Puritan lens. There’s just not enough here on the page that gives me a clear picture of what that is at the moment.
When you are making an assertion like the Puritan vision of America is born out of religious freedom, then we need to make sure that we keep pointing back to that throughout the paper. While we get some solid examples of Puritan society and how it functions on a day-to-day basis, there is no real analysis in terms of how this informs our vision of Puritan America. As of right now, it basically reads as a sort of summary of their existence, not an essay.
The last thing is that we really need citations. There’s too much information that would not be common knowledge to not tell us where you found it.


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