Puritans

 

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PuritanPuritans, a name applied in England, at the middle of the sixteenth century, to persons who wished to see a greater degree of reformation in the Established Church than was adopted by Queen Elizabeth, and a purer form, not of faith, but of discipline and worship. It became a common name of all who, from conscientious motives, but upon different grounds, disapproved of the established ritual in the Church of England from the Reformation under Elizabeth to the act of uniformity in 1562. From that time until the Revolution in England in 1688 as many as refused to comply with the established form of worship were called Nonconformists. There were about 2,000 clergymen and 500,000 people who were so denominated. From the accession of William and Mary and the passage of the toleration act the name of Non-conformists was changed to Dissenters, or Protestant Dissenters. Because the stricter Non-conformists in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. professed and acted purer lives in morals and manners, they were called Puritans in derision.

There were different degrees of Puritanism, some seeking a moderate reform of the English liturgy, others wishing to abolish episcopacy, and some declaring against any Church authority whatsoever. Representatives from these three classes of Puritans formed the larger portion of the earlier settlers in New England. The union of these in the civil war in England effected the overthrow of the monarchy, and at the restoration the name of Puritan was one of reproach. Since the toleration act of 1690 the word has ceased to designate any particular sect.

Puritan WomanAt the time of the passage of the toleration act in Maryland (1649) the Puritans in Virginia were severely persecuted because they refused to use the Church liturgy, and 118 of them left that colony. Their pastor, Mr. Harrison, returned to England; but nearly all the others, led by their ruling elder, Mr. Durand, went to Maryland, and settled on the banks of the Severn River, near the site of Annapolis, and called the place Providence. The next year Governor Stone visited them and organized the settlement into a shire, and called it Anne Arundel county, in compliment to the wife of Lord Baltimore. These Puritans gave the proprietor considerable trouble.

Puritanism was exhibited in its most radical form in New England, for there it had freedom of action. The Puritan was not a sufferer, but an aggressor. He was the straitest of his sect. He was an unflinching egotist, who regarded himself as his "brother's keeper," and was continually busied in watching and guiding him. His constant business seemed to be to save his fellowmen from sin, error, and eternal punishment. He sat in judgment upon their belief and actions with the authority of a God-chosen high-priest. He would not allow a Jesuit or a Roman Catholic priest to live in the colony. His motives were pure, his aims lofty, but his methods were uncharitable and sometimes absurd. As a law-giver and magistrate, his statute-books exhibit the salient points in his character—a self-constituted censor and a conservator of the moral and spiritual destiny of his fellow-mortals. His laws in those statute-books were largely sumptuary in their character. He imposed a fine upon every woman who should cut her hair like that of a man. He forbade all gaming for amusement or gain, and would not allow cards or dice to be introduced into the colony. He fined families whose young women did not spin as much flax or wool daily as the selectmen had required of them. He forbade all persons to run, or even walk, "except reverently to and from church," on Sunday; and he doomed a burglar, because he committed a crime on that sacred day, to have one of his ears cut off. He commanded John Wedgewood to be put in the stocks for being in the company of drunkards. Thomas Pitt was severely whipped for " suspicion of slander, idleness, and stubbornness." He admonished Captain Lovell to " take heed of light carriage." Josias Plaistowe stole four baskets of corn from the Indians, and he was ordered to return to them eight baskets, to be fined £5, and thereafter to " be called by the name of Josias, and not Mr. Plaistowe, as formerly." He directed his grand-jurors to admonish those who wore apparel too costly for their incomes, and, if they did not heed the warning, to fine them; and in 1646 he placed on the statute-books of Massachusetts a law which imposed the penalty of flogging for kissing a woman in the street, even by way of honest salute. He rigidly enforced this law 100 years after its enactment, because it was not repealed.

A British war-vessel entered the harbor of Boston. The captain, hastening to his home in that town, met his wife in the street and kissed her. He was accused, found guilty, and mildly whipped. Just before sailing on another cruise he invited his accuser, the magistrates, and others who approved the punishment to dine on board his vessel. When all were merry with good-cheer he ordered his boatswain and mate to flog the magistrates with a knotted cat-o'-nine tails. It was done, and the astonished guests were driven pellmell over the side of the ship into a boat waiting to receive them. Such were some of the outward manifestations of Puritanism in New England, especially in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In Rhode Island it was softened, and finally it assumed an aspect of broader charity everywhere. Its devotees were stern, conscientious moralists and narrow religionists. They came to plant a Church free from disturbance by persecution, and proclaimed the broad doctrine of liberty of conscience—the right to exercise private judgment. "Unsettled persons "—Latitudinarian in religion—came to enjoy freedom and to disseminate their views. In that dissemination Puritanism saw a prophecy of subversion of its principles. Alarmed, it became a persecutor in turn. " God forbid," said Governor Dudley in his old age, " our love for truth should be grown so cold that we should tolerate errors—I die no libertine." " To say that men ought to have liberty of conscience is impious ignorance," said Parson Ward, of Ipswich, a leading divine. "Religion admits of no eccentric notions," said Parson Norton, another leading divine and persecutor of socalled Quakers in Boston.

Puritan Home

Puritan Home

The early settlers in New England regarded the Indians around them as something less than human. Cotton Mather took a short method of solving the question of their origin. He guessed that " the devil decoyed the miserable savages hither in hope that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his absolute control over them." And after wars with the Indians had embittered both parties, the expressions of pious men concerning them are shocking to the enlightened mind of today. After the massacre of the Pequods, Mather wrote: "It was supposed that no less than five or six hundred Pequod souls were brought down to hell that day." The learned and pious Dr. Increase Mather, in speaking of the efficiency of prayer in bringing about the destruction of the Indians, said: "Nor could they [the English] cease crying to the Lord against Philip until they had prayed the bullet into his heart." In speaking of an Indian who had sneered at the religion of the English, he said that immediately upon his uttering a "hideous blasphemy a bullet took him in the head and dashed out his brains, sending his cursed soul in a moment amongst the devils and blasphemers in hell forever." The feeling against the Indians at the close of King Philip's War among the New-Englanders was that of intense bitterness and savage hatred. It was manifested in many ways; and when we consider the atrocities perpetrated by the Indians, we cannot much wonder at it. The captives who fell into the hands of the Rhode - Islanders were distributed among them as servants and slaves. A large body of Indians, assembled at Dover, N. H., to treat for peace, were treacherously seized by Major Waldron. About 200 of them were claimed as fugitives from Massachusetts, and were sent to Boston, where some were hanged and the remainder sent to Bermuda and sold as slaves. To have been present at the "Swamp fight" was adjudged by the authorities of Rhode Island sufficient foundation for putting an Indian to death. Death or slavery was the penalty for all known to have shed English blood. Some fishermen at Marblehead having been killed by the Indians, some women of that town, coming out of church on Sunday just as two Indian prisoners were brought in, fell upon and murdered them. King Philip's dead body was first beheaded and then quartered. His head was carried into Plymouth on a pole and there exhibited for months. His wife and son, made prisoners, were sent to Bermuda and sold as slaves. The disposition of the boy was warmly discussed, some of the elders of the church proposing to put him to death, but slavery was his final doom.

 

 

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