The Puritans and the Mayflower

The Mayflower ship.
Replicas of 17th century Pilgrim homes, Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts, USA.
Statue of German Martin Luther, who symbolizes 16th century criticism of the Catholic Church.

Though the English Empire indeed grew by Englishmen crossing the Atlantic, not all English colonists arrived in North America to expand London’s influence. Some of them, instead, traveled to America to escape London’s influence. These people included the Puritans, who, back in England, had tried to purify the English Church, which they saw as corrupt.

Attempts to change the English church

While still in England, the Puritans had argued that the Reformation, initiated in present-day Germany by Martin Luther to purge the Catholic Church, had not been fully carried out as it should. To complete the purge, the Puritans had contended, people in England needed to live fully according to Bible scripture. In the Puritans’ view, this meant that one could not indulge in gambling, have sexual relations outside of marriage, celebrate Christmas or do anything else not condoned by the Bible. Instead, they believed, scripture, virtue and hard work should always be guiding principles for people who called themselves Christians.

Because of their uncompromising ways, the Puritans came to be seen as obtrusive and as a threat by both the English Church and the English monarchs. Furthermore, in the 16th century, an increasingly nervous English establishment began to persecute the Puritans and, at times, put dissenters in prison. The English Church, evidently, was not interested in conforming to any splinter group’s requests, and the English monarchs, concerned with their own power, were not willing to have religious forces take a firmer grip on their country.

The Mayflower

After the rejection of Puritans in England, North America, eventually, became a sanctuary for Puritans who wanted to practice their particular denomination of the Christian faith without persecution. In line with this, in 1620, the first group of Puritans made their Atlantic voyage, a trip undertaken on the later-to-become-legendary ship, the Mayflower. This first group, known in history as Pilgrims, would then be followed by more English Puritans, who followed in the Pilgrims’ footsteps and landed in the northeast corner of present-day United States.