"he had all the Puritan traits, both good and evil"
Puritan pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock (1877)
Public DomainPuritan pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock (1877) - Credit: Henry A. Bacon
A Fair Puritan
Public DomainA Fair Puritan - Credit: Percy Moran

Puritanism originated in sixteenth-century England as an offshoot of Protestantism. Its adherents held that the Reformation had not gone far enough, and sought to rid the Church of England of the remaining vestiges of ceremony and ritual they regarded as idolatrous. Believing Charles I would ultimately foist Roman Catholicism — the religion of his wife — back on the country, some Puritans formed plans to establish a new colony on American shores where they would be free to practice their faith without fear of persecution. Migration began in the 1620s, with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered around present-day Salem and Boston, being officially established in 1628. The ensuing decades saw a mass exodus of English Puritans swell the numbers of the early settlers. 

Puritanism is synonymous with harsh austerity, and the New England settlers were at the extreme end of the spectrum. Though they were a dedicated, prudent, hard-working, quiet-living people who valued self-examination and sincerity, they were also fiercely intolerant, and the paranoia which became rife in their enclosed society spurred them on to the cruel persecution of those they believed threatened their theocracy. Quakers and alleged witches, as Hawthorne goes on to say, were the main victims of their fear.   

Watch a recreation of everyday life in Puritan New England below.

 

 

Cartoon satirizing the Puritan predilection for putting people in pillories and stocks for such outrages as shaving or blacking their shoes
Public DomainCartoon satirizing the Puritan predilection for putting people in pillories and stocks for such outrages as shaving or blacking their shoes on a Sunday - Credit: Louis Dalrymple