Describe the Puritans.  What were the their beliefs? What did they hope to accomplish in the New World?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Puritans were one of the first group of people to settle in the New World. They were a group of religious separatists from England.  As a group in England, they held true to their beliefs and their own interpretation of spiritual identity.  They were convinced over time that the preservation of their sacred identity could not be preserved in an English church that they saw as filled with corruption and impiety. The Puritans believed in scripture.  Through its literal interpretation, they felt that one had the necessary path provided on how to live life.  Their "pure" moniker comes from the belief that living in accordance to scripture is the only way that one who is devoted to God should live. At the same time, the Puritans were convinced that the Church of England was becoming cluttered and inundated with other opposing notions of the good that took away from this "pure" notion of living.  They felt that the growing commercialism and trappings of wealth were infiltrating spiritual worship in the church.  After repeatedly voicing their discontent, it became clear that the preservation of their own notion of religious life could only be accomplished through physical separation with England. It is in this mode that the Puritans set sail for the New World.

As the Puritans settled in the New England portion of the New World, they believed that their establishment would be an example to all.  It was meant to be, as John Winthrop put it, "as a city upon a hill." The Puritans sought to establish a new world where living in accordance to scripture could be visible to all.  The New Testament guided how individuals lived in the New World, ensuring that all who lived in the community were bound by spiritual devotion. Essentially, what could not be accomplished in the Church of England was seen as possible in the New world.  There was a distinct lack of tolerance in Puritan society, reflective of  the "harshness and bigotry of the early colonists."  The Puritan world was meant to be a spiritual and social example of how religious purity could be achieved.  In this, they were non- negotiable.  Puritan life was geared towards upholding the example of the life devoted to a healthy fear of the divine.  Their beliefs were rooted in the idea that individual consciousness has to be subservient to the divine order.  The community frowned upon excessive celebration and prideful displays, rather seeking to have individuals live humbly and act with deference towards authority and the divine.  The Puritan belief in predestination ensured that stringent work ethic and a sense of focus in one's being would guide individual actions.  The perpetual fear of "dark forces" lingered in  Puritan life, making the individual susceptible to temptation and going astray without strict devotion.  Children were treated with a sense of the austere, ensuring their adherence to spiritual purity.  This was evident in both schooling and how they were seen by adults.  In the Puritan foray into the New World lay the very basis of much of American identity.

The Puritans represented both the very best and the fundamental challenges of living in the New World. They believed that purity could be achieved and that the New World was to be the testing ground where this could be possible to realize.

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