Puritan migration to New England (1620–40)
The Puritan migration to New England was marked in its effects in the two decades from 1620 to 1640, after which it declined sharply for a time. The term Great Migration usually refers to the migration in this period of English Puritans to Massachusetts and the West Indies, especially Barbados. They came in family groups rather than as isolated individuals and were motivated chiefly by a quest for freedom to practice their Puritan religion.
King James I of England made some efforts to reconcile the Puritan clergy who had been alienated by the lack of change in the Church of England. Puritans embraced Calvinism (Reformed theology) with its opposition to ritual and an emphasis on preaching, a growing sabbatarianism, and preference for a presbyterian system of church polity, as opposed to the episcopal polity of the Church of England which had also preserved medieval canon law almost intact. They opposed church practices that resembled Roman Catholic ritual.
This religious conflict worsened after Charles I became king in 1625, and Parliament increasingly opposed his authority. In 1629, Charles dissolved Parliament with no intention of summoning a new one, in an ill-fated attempt to neutralize his enemies there—which included numerous Puritans. With the religious and political climate so unpromising, many Puritans decided to leave the country. Some of the migration was also from English expatriate communities of non-conformists and Separatists who had set up churches in the Netherlands since the 1590s.
The Winthrop Fleet of 1630 included 11 ships led by the flagship Arbella, and it delivered some 700 passengers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Migration continued until Parliament was reconvened in 1640, at which point the scale dropped off sharply. The English Civil War began in 1641, and some colonists returned from New England to England to fight on the Puritan side. Many then remained in England, since Oliver Cromwell backed Parliament as an Independent.
The Great Migration saw 80,000 people leave England, roughly 20,000 migrating to each of four destinations: Ireland, New England, the West Indies, and the Netherlands. The immigrants to New England came from every English county except Westmorland; nearly half were from East Anglia. The colonists to New England were mostly families with some education who were leading relatively prosperous lives in England. One modern writer, however, estimates that 7 to 10 percent of the colonists returned to England after 1640, including about a third of the clergymen.
Religious societies in New England
The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit, and politically innovative culture that is still present within the United States. They hoped that this new land would serve as a "redeemer nation." They fled England and attempted to create a "nation of saints" in America, an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community designed to be an example for all of Europe and the rest of the world.
All Puritans, although most strongly the separatists, were unhappy with the insufficient reforms of the English church, as well as with their lives in the Netherlands, those of them that migrated there. William Bradford opens chapter 4 of hisHistory of Plymouth Plantation 1620 – 1647 with four reasons for the 1621 Puritan migration from Leiden to the Plymouth colony. Briefly, they were: the hard life of work; their advancing age; the work of the children who also were tempted away from the Puritan life; and the conversion of natives.
In the new world, they would continue a tight control of theology, banishing those that did not adhere strictly.
Thomas Morton founded the Mount Wollaston colony in 1624. The colony name was changed to Merrymount in 1626, and was raided by Myles Standish and disbaned in 1628. He wrote New English Canaan, published in 1632, which described native society and his ten years of "Knowledge and Experiment of the Country".
Roger Williams preached religious toleration, separation of church and state, and a complete break with the Church of England. He was banished in 1635 from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded Providence Plantations, which became the Rhode Island Colony.
The Rhode Island Colony provided a haven for Anne Hutchinson, tried and banished in 1638 for her Antinomian beliefs. In 1642 she moved to what now is The Bronx. The Hutchinson River Parkway carries her name.
Quakers were also expelled from Massachusetts, but they were welcomed in Rhode Island. Years later, four Quakers known as the Boston martyrs remained in Massachusetts and were hanged on the Boston Common in 1659 for practicing their religion.
- History of Massachusetts
- English Civil War, for further details on King Charles I's conflicts with parliament.
- Great Migration Study Project
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- John Winthrop, The History of New England from 1630 to 1649, Vol. I, 2nd edition (James Savage, ed.), Little, Brown and Company publ. 1853, page 442
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