1517, Martin Lutherstarted the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his “95 Theses” on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. Luther had several challenges to the Roman church. The most basic of Luther’s ideas were …
The Bible or scripture alone was the source of God’s word (not the Bible and the church or pope).
People are saved by grace alone from God (salvation comes as an undeserved gift from God, not by earning it or deciding to be saved).
People are saved simply by faith in Christ alone (not by any “good works” the person might’ve done).
John Calvin preached Calvinism that stressed “predestination” (those going to Heaven or hell has already been determined by God).
Basic Christian doctrine was outlined in a 1536 document “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
It said people were sinful.
It said only the predestined would go to Heaven.
A Calvinist expected to see signs of predestination in a person’s life. The person was to have an outward conversion, recognized by others who’d been saved.
An odd irony was created: predestination was very clear about Heaven and hell. But, it created a question as to who’s on what side?
The reasoning went: if a person lives a sinful life, then obviously he’s predestined to hell. If he lives a pious life, then he’s predestined to Heaven.
Calvinists are famous for working hard, dusk to dawn, to “prove” their worthiness.
The impact of Calvinism has been vividly stamped on the psyche of Americans, and been called the “Protestant Work Ethic.”
For personal reasons, King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in the 1530s. He started the Protestant Church of England.
The Puritans vs. the Pilgrims
A group of English called Puritans were moved to reform (“purify”) the Church of England. This is the point that separates Puritans from Pilgrims.
Believed that only “visible saints” should be admitted to church membership.
By contrast, the Pilgrims were Separatists. They vowed to break away from the Church of England (AKA the Anglican Church) because the “saints” would have to sit with the “damned.”
King James I harassed the Separatists out of England. His reasoning was that if this group of people were willing to defy him as their spiritual leader, they might also defy him as their political leader.
King James I is the king for whom the King James Bible is named.
There’s irony here in that the Separatists claimed King James’ Church of England had strayed from the Bible, and they likely had. Yet the “King James Bible” quickly became accepted as being a very accurate translation, and still is considered so.
The Pilgrims, as Separatists, wanted to completely break away from the Church of England.
They first moved to Holland with intentions of simply living there.
Then they decided they’d have to move since their children were growing up Dutch. This was understandable, of course, but they wanted their kids to grow up English.
They sought a location with English traditions where they’d be free to worship in their own way—America was the logical place.
They struck a deal with the Virginia Company and set sail from Holland aboard the Mayflower.
One person was born on the trip and one died.
They were supposed to head to Virginia, but arrived off of the coast of New England in 1620.
Wisely, the Pilgrims carefully surveyed for possible sites. Plymouth was chosen.
Leadership and security against Indians would come to be provided by Captain Myles Standish, known as “Captain Shrimp.”
Since they were in a land where they had no legal right to settle, steps had to be taken.
Before leaving the ship, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact, where they agreed to make and live by new rules.
This was the first form of self-government in New England and laid the foundation that America would be run by Americans.
The winter of 1620-21 was brutal to the Pilgrims. By spring, only 44 out of the 102 were still alive.
Unlike the Jamestown settlers, who had a similar first winter and wanted to return to England in the spring, the Pilgrims were determined to stay.
They worked and prayed diligently the following year, gained some help and seeds from friendly Massasoit Indians, and grew a bountiful harvest—the first Thanksgiving.
William Bradford, was selected as governor of the Plymouth colony 30 times in annual elections.
Plymouth began humbly, but survived.
Its economy was based on fur trapping, fishing, and lumber.
Plymouth never grew large, and in 1691, it merged with the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Bay Colony Bible Commonwealth
A group of Puritans were given a royal charter in 1629. This would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The charter was brought to America and used it like a constitution.
This was another first step toward self-government made in Massachusetts.
The Puritans came in much larger numbers than the Pilgrims—about 11,000 Puritans.
The Puritans were well-equipped and industrious people.
Similar to Plymouth, the Bay Colony enjoyed good leadership, stability, and growth.
There governor, John Winthrop, was elected for 19 years.
The colony thrived and grew with an economy based on fur trading, fishing, and shipbuilding.
Building the Bay Colony
The Bay Colony was a “Bible Commonwealth”—a democracy run on Biblical principles.
The franchise (right to vote) was quickly given to all “freemen.” Freemen were adult men who were members of the congregation (later called the Congregational Church).
Non-church member men, and all women, were excluding from voting.
There was the belief that the common man was incapable of voting wisely. Governor Winthrop called democracy the “meanest and worst” form of government.
Puritans also wanted to retain government control in the hands of the church—hence the rule of church membership. Gaining church membership, by the way, only occurred when the church members voted you in.
All told, this meant that roughly 40% of adult men could vote. This number may seem low by today’s standards (only 40% of men and 0% of women), but it still was larger than percentages back in Europe.
The most noteworthy Puritan preacher was John Cotton. He’d been educated at Cambridge, criticized the Church of England, and then emigrated to Massachusetts.
The Bible Commonwealth had its ways…
Sermons, like those by John Cotton, were stern but moving, and clearly drew the line of right and wrong, Heaven and hell, saints and sinners.
Local congregations could hire or fire their local pastor as they chose, (this is why they’re called “Congregational).”
There was a strict moral code to uphold right and wrong. For example, one couple was fined 20 shillings for kissing in public.
The devil, sin, and hell were very real, very serious, easily fallen into, and had to be constantly guarded against.
Michael Wigglessorth wrote “Day of Doom” and sold one copy for every 20 people.
In such a tightly strung society, tension quickly came to Massachusetts.
Quakers challenged Puritan authority and were given fines, floggings, or banishment.
Anne Hutchinson was an outspoken woman who challenged predestination.
Her theory, called antinomianism, argued that if there was predestination, then a person’s actions were immaterial (because the saints and sinners were already determined). This was heresy.
This struck hard at the Puritans because…
This challenged political control—Why follow government rules/laws if it doesn’t matter?
This challenged religious control—Why follow church rules/laws if it doesn’t matter?
Women were not supposed to question authority and certainly not to speak out.
She was put on trial in 1638, and claimed to have received these revelations from God—even higher heresy.
Hutchinson was banished and moved to startup Rhode Island where religious freedom was new and favorable.
Hutchinson was eventually killed by Indians in New York. John Winthrop said that “God’s hand” was involved in her death.
Roger Williams was a young, outspoken preacher who sought a clean break with the Church of England. His ideas quickly got him into trouble, including…
Questioning the Bay Colony charter’s legality.
Questioning dealings with the Indians.
Questioning whether the church could run people’s lives and the government. He had to go.
In 1635, he was banished for “newe & dangerous opinions.”
The Rhode Island “Sewer”
Roger Williams’ differing religious views got him into trouble in Massachusetts. So, he started Rhode Island.
“Little Rhody” grew attractive to the “otherwise minded.” That is, anyone that didn’t fit into Massachusetts’ tight-laced religious society.
Rhode Island thus attracted a variety of people with nothing in common except a desire for independence. This strain of independence became their point of unity.
The colony was officially chartered in 1644.
New England Spreads Out
A new colony was founded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1635.
Reverend Thomas Hooker quickly led a group into Connecticut. This group was attracted as much by the Connecticut River’s good farmland than by religious reasons.
In 1639, Connecticut settlers drew up the “Fundamental Orders,” America’s first written constitution.
This document later became a model for the U.S. Constitution.
In 1638, the colony of New Haven was established. It later joined Connecticut.
In 1623, Maine was annexed by Massachusetts.
Maine remained part of Massachusetts for nearly 150 years.
In 1641, New Hampshire was annexed by Massachusetts.
New Hampshire remained part of Massachusetts until 1679 when the king separated it.
Puritans Versus Indians
White diseases had made their mark even before the Pilgrims’ arrival in 1620. Disease had then struck the Indians, killing an estimated ¾ of the population.
Initial relations with the natives were friendly.
A Wampanoag named Squanto befriended and helped the struggling settlers.
A white—Wampanoag peace agreement was signed.
This treaty, along with the first Thanksgiving, became the standard symbolic of good white—Indian relations and gave hope for good relations in the future.
In 1637, relations deteriorated when the Pequot War erupted.
Incidents began to ripple through New England as more and more English settlers moved in.
The war raged when whites wiped out a Pequot village on the Mystic River in Connecticut.
All told, the Pequots were nearly wiped out as a tribe. White—Indians relations had turned for the worse and would largely stay that way.
After criticism of the attack, Puritans attempted to convert Indians to Christianity.
Aside from disease, disunity was the Indians top weakness.
In 1675, Massasoit’s son Metacom (known as King Philip by the English) attempted to unite local Indian tribes.
Metacom and his warriors attacked English villages, usually on the frontier.
The so-called King Philip’s War lasted two years and was very bloody and destructive.
His wife and son were sold into slavery.
He finally suffered a complete defeat when his village was surrounded and destroyed. He was beheaded and drawn-and-quartered. His head rested on a pike in Plymouth, on display for years.
Seeds of Colonial Unity and Independence
In 1643, the New England Confederation was set up.
It consisted of 4 colonies and held the main goal of defense.
The colonies were Puritan only (Bay Colony, Plymouth, New Haven, and scattered Connecticut settlements).
The confederation was weak but noteworthy in that it was a large step toward American unity.
The colonies were basically allowed to be semi-autonomous commonwealths.
Charles II, after being restored to the British throne, intended to tighten his control over the colonies.
He was surprised to find how deeply independence had begun to run in the American colonies, especially in Massachusetts.
As a slap-in-the-face to Massachusetts, the king gave Connecticut a sea-to-sea charter in 1662; then also charted lowly Rhode Island in 1663.
Even more embarrassingly, Massachusetts’ charter was revoked in 1684.
Andros Promotes the First American Revolution
In 1686, the Dominion of New England was created as an arm of the king. It’s goals were to (a) to strengthen colonial defense against the Indians and, more importantly, (b) to regain control by England over America by enforcing the Navigation Acts.
The Navigation Acts limited American trade to within the British Empire exclusively.
Resultant, smuggling flourished.
Sir Edmund Andros headed the Dominion.
He established headquarters in the “trouble-area” of Boston.
He was openly associated with the Church of England—much despised by the Puritans.
His soldiers spoke profanities and drank heavily. Puritanical Boston was nonplussed.
Andros was quick to lay the law: he curbed town meetings, placed restrictions on courts the press, and schools. He revoked land titles. He rid the local assemblies and taxed the people without any representation.
At this time, William and Mary were handed the British throne in the Glorious Revolution.
This effectively pulled the rug out from underneath Andros and the Dominion.
The Dominion of New England fell apart.
Andros dressed like a woman and tried to sneak away, but his boots betrayed him beneath his dress.
Changed did come, though not as the Puritans had hoped.
Massachusetts gained a new charter, but their pride had been stung.
With the new charter, all male property owners could vote, not church members exclusively, as it had been. This was a step for democracy, but a step backward for the “Bible Commonwealth.”