Religion in the Thirteen Colonies

Start Free Trial

Why did the religious fervor of New England Puritans decline after 1660?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Historians generally explain the perceived decline in religious fervor among Puritans to a few key factors. For one thing, many Puritan families, especially those whose presence in New England dated to its founding, had become quite affluent, and the sense of communalism that was so important to the Puritan ethic declined. Many became focused on the acquisition of worldly goods rather than the asceticism that characterized early generations of Puritans who had more of a sense of religious mission.

More important, the colony had grown very rapidly, which affected religious fervor inasmuch as many people who moved to the colony were not actually Puritans. While Puritans dominated the politics and society of New England colonies, the colony's diversity tended to weaken the notion of a religious "city on a hill." Moreover, as people moved away from the coast and began new towns, they struggled to find ministers to tend to new churches. Young people in particular tended to lack the sense of religious orthodoxy that their parents had. This was one of the reasons the Puritans enacted the so-called "Halfway Covenant" that allowed people who had not experienced conversion experiences (formerly essential for church membership) to have their children baptized.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The explanation that is most commonly given for this is that the original Puritan settlers of New England were the most radical of the Puritans.  Therefore, it was practically inevitable that religious fervor would decrease in later generations.  The original settlers were people who felt strongly enough about their religion to leave England.  They did so in a time when Puritans were somewhat persecuted in England.  Therefore, they had a great deal of religious zeal.  Their offspring had much different lives.  They did not grow up persecuted for their religion.  By the 1660s, the English Civil War was over and Puritans were not persecuted.  In short, there was little to instill in the younger generations a true religious zeal. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial