Puritans arriving at the New World

This article on the Puritans describes their beliefs and their religion

  • Definition of a Puritan
  • Religious freedom
  • Strict and austere moral code
  • The 'City on the Hill' and the concept of a Utopian society
  • Separatists and Non-Separatists
  • Dissenters
  • John Winthrop
  • The 'New England Way', local independence and the saints
Mayflower VoyageReligious Beliefs & Religions
The Pilgrims & the Mayflower
American Colonies Index

History of the first 13 Colonies and religious beliefs in the New World

The Puritans: The religious beliefs and the quest of the colonists for religious freedom

Puritans were the names given to members of a church congregation and is used to describe their beliefs and religions. Refer to
Religion in the Colonies

What is a Puritan?
The Puritans were strongly opposed to the Catholic Church. The Puritan colonists believed that the Church of England, also known as the Anglican church, should make more reforms to remove all the traces and trappings of the Roman Catholic Church. A Pilgrim was a member of a distinct group of puritans who were not only against the Anglican church but also called for total separation from the church. The religion practised in New England was strictly Puritan and the Puritans did not tolerate any other religions - refer to Pilgrims and Puritans.

Puritans - Religious Freedom
The Puritans and the Pilgrims wanted religious freedom. The Pilgrim Fathers left England for America in 1620 looking for religious freedom. In 1630 another religious group left England in search of religious freedom. This group was called the Puritans (hence the term "Puritans").


Picture of a Puritan Girl

Picture of a Puritan Girl

The Puritans wanted the Church of England to become pure by getting rid of Catholic practices. The Puritan wanted to "purify" the Church of England of its remaining Catholic influence and rituals and to return to the simple faith of the New Testament. The Puritans did not want to separate entirely from the Church of England. The Puritan wanted to make reforms or changes.

Puritans - Catholics and Protestants
It is helpful to understand the differences between the Catholic and Protestant religions to fully understand the beliefs of the Puritans. England had broken away from the Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII to form the Protestant Church of England (aka the Anglican church). During the early 1500's all of the people in England practised the Roman Catholic religion. The doctrine and practises of the Catholic Church and religion were questioned during the period called the Reformation. The ideas and beliefs of men such as the German Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) prompted a new religion which called Protestantism. The word 'Protestant' was adopted when supporters of Martin Luther formally protested against efforts to limit the spread of Luther's new ideas.

Differences between Puritans & Protestant Religions and the Catholic Religion
The Puritans developed the ideas of the reformers even further but a lot of their beliefs were founded in Protestantism. Puritanism arose in England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth as part of the more radical trend inspired by the ideas of John Calvin. Calvinism (also called the Reformed tradition) held the belief that all humans were born sinful and only God's grace (not the church) could save a person from hell.

Roman Catholic
Religion and Beliefs


Protestants / Puritans
Religion and Beliefs

Catholics believed that Church Services and the Bible should be in Latin Puritans believed that Church Services and the Bible should be in the language of the people so that the ordinary people could understand them
They believed that the Pope was ordained by God Puritans did not believe that the Pope was ordained by God or that they should adhere to his office
Catholics believed that Priests were the link between God and the people
 Puritans believed their leaders were ordinary people who could find God without a priest or a Pope
Priests were expected to devote their lives to God and remain unmarried
 Puritans believed that people their leaders were ordinary people who should lead normal lives
Priests were expected to wear elaborate robes
 Puritans did not believe in elaborate clothing
Catholics believed that Priests and the Pope were able to forgive sins - at a price. Gifts, or indulgences, were given to the Catholic church in return for absolution
 Puritans believed that only God could forgive sins
Catholics believed that Churches celebrated God and should be elaborately decorated with statues and shrines Puritans believed in total simplicity, that everything should be plain allowing the congregation to concentrate on the sermons

Roman Catholic
Religion and Beliefs


Protestants / Puritans
Religion and Beliefs


Puritans - Strictness & Austerity in Religion
The Puritans extended the Protestant beliefs still further and enforced a strict moral code. Puritans practised strictness and austerity in their religion, lifestyle and conduct. Puritans were strongly opposed to sensual pleasures and were strong advocates of propriety, modesty and and decorum.

Puritans - Dissenters
Dissenters were people objected to the accepted doctrine of the established church. The Puritans were dissenters from the Church of England, or Anglican religion, who wanted to create and practise their religious beliefs in the colonies. The Puritans were looking for religious freedom. The Puritans wanted opportunity to worship, in the way they wanted, without fear of persecution. The Puritans were intolerant any other religions. The Puritans were classed as dissenters.

Puritans - Separatists and Non-Separatists
The Puritans were a Reform movement in the Anglican church. The Reform movement of the Puritans, aimed at purifying the church of corruption, split into two groups called separatists and non-separatists:

  • Separatists wanted to end ties with the established church (like the Pilgrims)
  • Non-Separatists sought to reform the Anglican Church from within

Puritans and their families

Puritans and their families

Puritans - John Winthrop & the 'City Upon a Hill'
City upon a hill is a phrase in Matthew 5:14 from the parable of Salt and Light in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In the parable he tells his listeners, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden".
City Upon a Hill was a name given to the Puritan society that was to be created in the New World. John Winthrop used the phrase "City Upon a Hill" in a sermon to Puritans. John Winthrop (1606-1676) was the first governor and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop was a prominent early Puritan minister. The Puritans believed that they would establish a pure church in New England  that would offer a model for the churches in England and reform the Anglican Church. John Winthrop was one of 20,000 Puritans who journeyed to America between 1620 and 1640.
John Winthrop admonished the future Massachusetts Bay colonists that their new community would be a "city upon a hill", watched by the world. The Puritans believed that this Puritan society would be an example to all the world of what could be achieved by the Puritans. It was anticipated that once the world saw this great city it would follow its example and create a Utopian society.

Puritans - The New England Way
Utopia was a word and place coined by Sir Thomas More in his book called 'Utopia', which was published in 1516. In More's Utopia an ideal community was created with a perfect social and religious structure.  The Puritans dominated New England and their desire to create a Utopian society, based on their religious doctrine, created a distinct society in New England, referred to as the New England Way. Unlike other colonies, New England and its Puritans were guided by their religion and created a government and society tied to the church. The Puritans had migrated to American seeking religious freedom. The Puritans had a strong work ethic which enabled them to achieve a success not seen in other colonies - in comparison with some other colonies the Puritans had achieved their own Utopia - the New England Way.

Puritans - The Cambridge Agreement
John Winthrop was keen on emigrating to the New World colonies. He was instrumental in developing the Cambridge Agreement. The Cambridge Agreement was signed 26 August 1629, just before he left for America, and provided means for emigrating shareholders to buy out non-emigrating shareholders of the Massachusetts Bay Company. The Cambridge Agreement was a plan to colonize America by allowing the immigration of Puritans, who would control the government and the charter of the Massachusetts Bay company and its trading potential. The Cambridge Agreement was based on the creation of a market for trade but instead developed a religion based government.

Puritans - The Massachusetts Bay Colony
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was  created by the Massachusetts Bay Company. Under the leadership of John Winthrop, the Massachusetts Bay colony was created to provide the world with a model Christian society. The Massachusetts Bay colony was created in 1630 and it was governed through a General Court selected by church members. There were Puritans who were deemed as 'dissenters' and included Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson who were banished from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. The Puritans also played a significant part in the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692.

Salem Witchcraft Trials - Examination of a Witch

Salem Witchcraft Trials - Examination of a Witch by Puritans

Puritans - Congregationalism - Local Independence
Congregationalism was the word used to describe the religion based government and organizational system operated in New England by the Puritans. The system of Congregationalism was based on the freedom of each church to control its own affairs and maintain local independence.

Puritans - The Saints
The saints is the word used to describe the Puritans that were members of the council that governed the congregation. The saints consisted of male-only Puritans who were held in high esteem within the community and were chosen by the church council. The New England puritans developed a democratic system of government that gave the power to elect the governor to all male saints. The democratic system of government was furthered in 1644 when it adopted a bicameral court with elected delegates. Town meetings were the center of the Puritans political life in New England. Town Meetings were gatherings in which all of the voters in the area would all congregate and discuss issues that interested them, such as town officers and taxes for the following season.


Pilgrims in Colonial America


  • Interesting Facts and information about Puritans

  • Facts and info about Puritans

  • Fast Facts and info about the Puritans timeline

  • Puritans - and educational resource for kids

  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the Puritans

Puritans - Religious freedom - Moral code - City on the Hill - Puritans - Colonial America - Facts - Religion - Religious Freedom - Utopian - Puritans - Separatists - Non-Separatists - Dissenters - Puritanism - John Calvin - Puritans - Colonists - John Winthrop - Saints - Congregationalism - Local Independence - Puritans - England - English - Colony - Colonies - History US - Summary - Definition - Puritans - History - Interesting - Information - Info - Short - Kids - Children - Studies - Puritans - US - United States - America - USA - Social Studies Teaching resource - Social Studies - History - Teachers - Kids - Dates - Religious Differences - Colonial America - Puritans