Puritan or Pilgrim


My friend Ashok and I were at Starbucks today and along the way I mentioned to him my research I’ve begun on the Puritans. It lead to a question that he had for me about the difference between the Pilgrims and the Puritans. With it having been Thanksgiving a few weeks ago I think it is an important topic to discuss.

The Protestant Reformation had already hit England in many ways before Henry VIII formally separated from Rome. The Scottish were exposed to the Calvinist brand of Protestantism and formed the Presbyterian Church. Their beliefs and ideology spread down into mainland England in the aftermath of the English Reformation. There were pockets in England who believed that the King had not gone far enough in reforming the Church of England. Among those who believed this were a group that I will generally call English Calvinists. This group was made up of the Puritans and the Pilgrims; religious cousins if you will. Both groups subscribed to Calvin’s particular brand of Christianity and believed that the Church of England needed to be purified. The distinguishing difference between the two was what this purification meant. The Pilgrims quickly became a more radical brand of English Calvinism going so far as to flee England for the Netherlands.

The Pilgrims believed that the Church of England was beyond salvation and utterly corrupt. As an extension, because the King of England was also now the head of the Church of England the state itself was corrupt. The Puritans on the other hand held out faith that King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth and King James would all do their part to purify the Church more and more, eventually riding it of the Catholic influences. Puritans became integral members of their respective towns, including becoming political leaders. Puritans would even infiltrate the King’s own privy council with men like John Locke. And while members of the Puritan church did eventually leave England for the New World, their actions once they arrived separate them from the Pilgrims.

The Pilgrims received a charter to establish a colony in Northern Virginia along the Hudson Bay and immediately set sail for the New World along with others who they called “Strangers” on board the Mayflower. When they arrived the men on board decided to write a compact for the governance of their new colony. This compact was the first such document written by the people in the new world and while it was not a constitution, it was very much a proto-constitution. It also is significant because it did not come from the King nor Parliament and the men who wrote it did not have legal authority to do so. However, the Pilgrims had taken it upon themselves to govern their colony as they saw fit rather than depending upon the corrupt government in London to do so.

Unlike the Pilgrims, the Puritans did not write their own compact when they arrived in the New World in the 1630’s. Instead they had their own charter. And while they did have a government, it was not in the same manner we would recognize as in New Plymouth. Eventually such compacts would be written by Puritans in Connecticut, though. In all the Puritans were seeking religious separation but not necessarily legal or political separation from the state. Their charter was revoked in the 1690’s and the New Plymouth colony and the  Massachusetts Bay colony were merged.

New Plymouth


Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (Vintage)

Only some parts of this book are reviewed.

Most school children in America are taught the story of the Pilgrim voyage to the New World and their subsequent Thanksgiving with the local Natives. The name Squanto resonates in the minds of Americans and those who pay a bit more attention to history know the name belongs to a Native American who helped save the New Plymouth colonists from starvation. None of this is found in Nick Bunker’s book Making Haste from  Babylon.Without actually telling his reader what happened when the Pilgrims reached Cap Cod, he instead describes what William Bradford must have meant in his book on the history of New Plymouth. This history, published in 2010, of the New Plymouth Colony is more concerned with the landscape and seas than with the actual events. The book is divided into six parts with three chapters in each.

The first part tells the tale of how the Pilgrims came to the Mayflower and then adds in stories of other ships and the landscape that the Pilgrims and there ship must have seen. Only brief mention is made of the reasons the Pilgrims are uninterested in staying in England, despite the fact each of them are English subjects. He conflates the Pilgrims with their future northern neighbors, the Puritans. In all, the reader finds the discussion more interested in describing the history of the Mayflower and it’s skipper prior to taking the Pilgrims to America. This part is largely insignificant with exception of it’s description of why the English government chose to allow the Pilgrims to migrate. But as we’ll see, the book only picks up in part two; part 1 could almost be renamed “Prologue 2.”

In the second part of the book, Bunker decides to leave us at the banks of Cap Cod and tell another tale some 40 years prior to the voyage in 1620. The story of the origins of Separatism is actually quite interesting and tells the story of John Browne, but also the other influential leaders and families of Separatism. Many readers will be interested in finding that Sir Francis Bacon’s brother was actually involved in the formation of the Pilgrim faith. Chapter 5 is very useful for students of Puritanism and Separatism. Bunk helps to shed light on the origins of both faiths and who were the most influential thinkers associated with the movements.

This historian, if we can call him that, gets side tracked too often and ends up burying the actual point of his chapter, part or even book. Making Haste from  Babylon is an excellent read for those who are interested in the deeper historical aspects of the Pilgrim voyage. However, for those who are only interested in learning about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, Cap Cod and New Plymouth this book is absolutely useless and a waste of money.

The book does have some very useful information in it and Bunker does a decent job at analyzing the history of New Plymouth. While at times the book drags on about the landscape of England or New Plymouth, it does provide the reader with an indepth analysis of the events leading up to the colony. However, as was said above if you are not familiar with the basic storyline this isn’t worth the purchase.

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