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Puritan describes several Protestant denominations, especially the Congregationalists, who sought to "purify" the Church of England of the influence of Roman Catholicism in the 1600s. Puritan ethics were noted for their strictness, especially regarding sexual behavior and the theatre. Puritan literature is highlighted by poet John Milton and writer John Bunyan. Several Puritan groups eventually broke from the Church of England.

Persecuted in England, 100,000 Puritans resettled to mainly to Massachusetts Bay Colony in the American colonies in 1630. They dominated New England and had a profound impact in shaping American history. During the English Civil War, Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell deposed the monarchy under Charles I. The monarchy was restored in 1660 and Puritanism, although not persecuted, lost influence in Britain. The Puritans arrived about a decade after the Pilgrims and were different in that the Pilgrims were always interested in being separate from the Church of England, wheras the Puritans were of the belief at that time that the Church of England could be reformed and sought to purify it.


When Harvard's first president Henry Dunster abandoned Puritanism in favor of the Baptist faith in 1653, he provoked a controversy that highlighted two distinct approaches to dealing with dissent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colony's Puritan leaders, whose own religion was born of dissent from mainstream Church of England, generally worked for reconciliation with members who questioned matters of Puritan theology but responded much more harshly to outright rejection of Puritanism. Dunster's conflict with the colony's magistrates began when he failed to have his infant son baptized, believing, as a newly converted Baptist, that only adults should be baptized. Efforts to restore Dunster to Puritan orthodoxy failed, and his apostasy proved untenable to colony leaders who had entrusted him, in his job as Harvard's president, to uphold the colony's religious mission. Thus, he represented a threat to the stability of society. Dunster exiled himself in 1654 and moved to nearby Plymouth Colony, where he died in 1658.[1]


By 1700 the Puritan churches were called Congregational churches. The British also call them "dissenters" because they dissented from the official orthodoxy of the Church of England. Puritans and other Dissenters were restricted in the political rights until 1835 in Britain.

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Bennett, Arthur G., ed. Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (1975) excerpt and text search
  • Heimart, Alan, and Andrew Delbanco, eds. The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Miller, Perry. The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry, 346 pp. online edition
  • Miller, Perry, and Thomas H. Johnson, eds. The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings (2001)


  1. Timothy L. Wood, "'I Spake the Truth in the Feare of God': the Puritan Management of Dissent During the Henry Dunster Controversy," Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2005 33(1): 1-19,

External links