The Puritan intention was to build a city to be the light of the world. They attempted to be an example of the Christian way of life. Many conflicts arose for the Puritans in their mission for Christ. From Indians to witches, from theology to superstition, and from the persecuted they became the persecutor. In England they were the tip of the sword against false doctrine and tyranny. In New England they became a theocratic tyrant. Before the word Puritan, the Puritans were called Precisemen, and Precisions as a term to antagonize the Protestants in the 1560’s. Puritans preferred to call themselves “the godly.” Puritan was used as a term of abuse, which referred to their theology, (reformed) instead of a religious sect, (Ritchie). They were English Protestants being persecuted by the Catholics, and taunted with terms such as Puritans.
Between 1620 and 1640, thousands of Puritans migrated to America in search for land and religious freedom from Catholics and tyrant monarchs. There are two Puritan migrations, which are the most identified. The first was the 1620 migration led by William Bradford aboard the Mayflower. These Puritans are also known as the Pilgrims, or separatists, which landed near Cape Cod in Southern Massachusetts. The second was the 1630 migration led by John Winthrop with, “900 Puritans” (53); these Puritans settled in Massachusetts Bay.
There were a few differences between the two Puritan groups. William Bradford’s group left England when King James 1 threatened to drive Puritans, “out of the land, or else do worse” (53). The Pilgrims left England first to Dutch Holland; some remained in Holland while Winthrop led some to America. The American Pilgrims arrived with the full intention of completely separating themselves from their original state and Church of England, thus becoming the separatists. As a result of not having a royal charter, the Pilgrims united to write the first American constitution, the Mayflower Compact, which they used to govern themselves as a religious congregation for political structure. John Winthrop’s group left England when King Charles 1, “repudiated certain Protestant doctrines, including the role of grace in salvation” (53). The English Puritans accused the king of Popery and embracing Catholic beliefs. Furthermore King Charles 1 made Archbishop William Laud head of the England Church.
When Archbishop William Laud dismissed hundreds of Puritan ministers; thousands of Puritan families departed from England to migrate to America. The Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans where given a royal charter from King Charles the 1 and Massachusetts Bay became “New” England. New; signified a new type of England as a Christian society: John Cotton stated, “authority in magistrates, liberty in people, and purity in the church” (53).
The New England Puritans governed themselves different than the Plymouth Puritans. The primary difference was a crucial difference, which may have been the initial reason why the Puritans may not have been able to resolve their conflicts. The Plymouth Puritans governed themselves by separating church and state. The New England Puritans did not. New England Puritans established a theocracy, and were serious about sustaining a biblical rule according to their interpretation of the bible. No other faith was allowed to be practiced in the Colony. In 1636, the New England magistrates banished Roger Williams from the Colony for opposing state religion, seizure of Indian lands, and praising the Pilgrims for their separation of church and state, (54). In 1637, Anne Hutchinson was banished, and found guilty of teaching heretical views, namely salvation by grace instead of works, (54). This was a fundamental reformed doctrine not only emphasized by John Calvin, but by Martin Luther, St. Augustine of Hippo, all the way to the Apostles of Christ. Obviously the New England Puritans were forgetting their fundamental doctrine they adhered to in England against the Catholics. Instead of believing their salvation was secure through faith in Christ; they now believed they had to earn the love of God by their works or behavior, and passing tests given to them by God.
With their perception of Christian doctrine grew another conflict for the Puritans. Believing, that the Devil was conspiring to destroy the Puritan subsistence; some Puritans viewed the heathen Indians as, “imps of Satan, conscripts in the devil’s warfare against the godly . . . implacable enemies and instruments of the devil” (103). Mutual hostility grew between the Indians and Puritans as a consequence of heavy immigration and procurement of Indian lands (72). Violent Indian raids and Puritan retaliation continued until the death of King Philip, (Chief of the Wampanoag’s) in August of 1676 (72).
The Puritans and Indians had one thing in common with each other. They both believed that, “the physical world was full of supernatural forces” (55). For the New England Puritans, superstition began to replace sound spiritual discernment. Puritan judge, Samuel Sewall believed he could cast evil spirits out from a new home by driving a nail threw the floor (55). Cotton Mather believed that a lightning strike was a sign from God instead of natural phenomenon. James Henretta writes, “Thousands of ordinary Puritan farmers followed the pagan astrological charts printed in almanacs to determine the best times to plant crops, marry, and make other important decisions” (55). This charade of superstition sent their theocracy into a downward spiral ending with the false accusations of innocent woman to be hung as witches.
Several historians relate the root of the witch trial controversy to an Indian slave girl named Tituba. According to author, Elaine G. Breslaw, “Tituba was kidnapped as a child by an English trader, and transported to Barbados in 1676 as part of a small group of Arawak slaves” (535-556). It is in Barbados where she learned of the art of witchcraft and voodoo. Tituba was later purchased by a Protestant family and transferred to Boston in 1680. In 1688 she moved to Salem with her masters; the Parris household (535-556). Historians agree that in Salem Tituba would gather young girls and tell tales of magic and voodoo. The young girls began to manifest seizures and act in; what a seventeenth century Puritan may consider, an unnatural sadistic manner. The young girls claimed to be enchanted by Tituba the witch, and that her spectra haunted them. Tituba was put on trial and confessed to be a witch. She claimed that there were others like her in Salem, but did not release any names. Whether or not her claims were true is irrelevant in comparison to the impression she left with the Puritan’s superstitious imaginations. Tituba was not the first witch to be indicted in Puritan history. Witch trials and torture were a usual practice in Europe since the fourteenth century. The first witch trial recorded in New England was in 1648. A new practice in America, Margaret Jones was the first to be indicted as a witch. She was found guilty and hanged in Charlestown as her condemnation (105). The Salem witch trials in 1692 became the most significant moment in New England history. 175 people were charged with the crime of witchcraft, and nineteen of those charged were hung (56).
The enlightenment movement of 1675 took a toll on the Puritan theocracy. Government officials put a cease to witchcraft prosecutions. Superstition and accidents were now explained with reason, rationality, and natural causes instead of fantasy and invisible spectra’s haunting children (57). Consequently to Puritan conflicts between Indians, witchcraft persecution, and Quaker persecution; King Charles revoked the Massachusetts charter in 1684, bringing the Puritan theocracy to an end.
American Literature Before The Civil War. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 2011. (2-105) Print. Breslaw G. Elaine.
Tituba’s confession: The multicultural dimensions of the 1692 Salem witch-hunt. Duke University Press. 44.3. (1997): 535-556. Print Henretta James, Brody David.
America A Concise History, Volume 1 to 1877. Boston. Bedford/St. Martins. 2010. (53-) Print Ritchie Mark, The English Puritan’s Beginnings