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The Puritan Separatists and the “Plimoth Plantation.” Part I

15 November, 2009

On November 6 and 8, I wrote two separate posts in which I mentioned the Protestant/Puritan background of the U.S. and their continuing influence on the character of New England and ultimately on the nation which was yet to come. Later, I decided that I should  briefly define some of the names associated with the Protestant Pilgrims.  Part I is a summary of the religious history that led the Mayflower to set sail for the “New World.”


Christians had been coming to Great Britain since the Romans and they returned in several waves as Catholic missionaries.  It took a few hundred years, but after the “heathens” had been converted, the Church of England was a Catholic one.

In Europe, the Protestant Reformation, begun by Martin Luther in 1517, was an attempt to reform the Catholic Church by members who believed that corruption and misdirection were leading Catholics astray. As most movements do, this movement soon splintered and led to the creation of many Protestant churches.

—————————— CALVINISM——————————

John Calvin, for instance, left the Roman Church in 1530 and fled from France to Switzerland.  There he helped build a large Protestant community, particularly in Geneva.  Eventually he and Luther disagreed about the character of the new Protestant Church and they went in different directions.  Calvin believed that a man’s life was predestined before the beginning of time and could only be redeemed by absolution from God, rather than by good works or thoughts or any other thing in his power.  He had been  strongly influenced by St. Augustine, who developed the idea of “original sin,” ” just war,”  and “the city of god” (the Church).

In England, when Henry the VIII broke with the Catholic Church, over divorce, a growing national pride and those who believed that a Reformation was necessary supported him. At that time there were a small number of Protestants, but their numbers grew rapidly.

Edward the VI, Henry’s son, began the establishment of the Protestant Church and many Catholics died; but upon his death at an early age, his sister Mary tried to reinstate the Catholic Church and persecuted the Protestants, many of whom sought refuge in Geneva.

Among those refugees was John Knox who later returned to Scotland to lead the reform and the creation of the Presbyterian Church there; another was William Whittingham who translated the Geneva Bible, the plain text version used by the Pilgrims; upon his return to England he became Dean of Durham Cathedral.

It wasn’t until Elizabeth became Queen of England in 1558, that the issue was settled.  The Church of England became a Protestant one which blended both its Catholic and Protestant history.


The Protestants who returned from Geneva, however, brought with them the teachings of John Calvin and they began to insist upon purifying the Church of England of its Catholic remnants and its Protestant missteps.  They wanted to return to the earlier teachings of the Bible and to undo many of the trappings of the Catholic religion that had been embraced by the new Protestant Church. These nonconformists were outlawed by the monarchy. Some of these “Puritans” (those Protestants wishing to ‘purify’ the Church) were willing to remain unnoticed within the larger English Church and to practice their purer religion quietly.  And they were mostly ignored, except by local bullies who taunted, beat and occasionally murdered them.


But there were also many who believed strongly that they must act on their faith and separate themselves from the sinners around them. They became less secretive and more subject to violence and recrimination from their local communities and from the Crown.

Although they were denied the right to leave the country, sometime in the 1580’s many Puritans fled to Holland where they were allowed to stay and where they were protected from England’s wrath. William Bradford joined a congregation that went to Holland in 1608.  They stayed in Amsterdam for a year before moving to Leyden where they “fell to such trades and employments as they best could, valuing peace and their spiritual comfort above any other riches whatsoever. And at length they came to raise a competent and comfortable living, but with hard and continual labor.” (Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, chapter 3)


After approximately twelve years, the community made the decision to look for a new home, “Not out of any newfangledness or other such like giddy humor by which men are oftentimes transported to their great hurt and danger, but for sundry weighty and solid reasons…”

In Chapter 4 of his history, Bradford lists several main reasons for this decision:  the labor required to sustain the community discouraged many from joining them, the years took their toll on those elders who had come from England and on the children who toiled beside their parents, many of the youth succumbed to temptation and “were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses.”

Most importantly, I think, was the “great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation…for the propagating and advancing the gospel…in the remote parts of the world…The place they had thoughts on was some of those vast and unpeopled countries of America, which was fruitful and fit for habitation, being devoid of all civil inhabitants, where there are only savage and brutish men…” After much debate and objections, the community decided to leave Holland.  They acquired a patent to settle in Virginia, made arrangements and set out on their long and difficult voyage as Pilgrims.


All quotes from Of Plimoth Plantation are from the following book in my library:

Samuel Eliot Morison, editor, Introduction to “William Bradford,” Major Writers of America,(Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York, 1962)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. christianclarityreview permalink
    15 November, 2009 21:15

    good post other than buying into the lie that the Roman Catholic Church was ‘the’ Church of all true Christians and then splintered ..thus leaving open the door to the constant Romanist lie of asking everyone to “come back”. There were many Christians that were neither the gnostics or Romanists and were true brethren that never gave an inch to the heresies on which the Roman Church was founded. The Romanists always pretend Luther “suddenly” and out of nowhere “found out” they were lying. Many people knew they were ..and are ..lying. That understanding itself is evidence the Roman Church was never the “founding” Church it has claimed to be, no matter how old that lie has gotten.

    The same heresies kept being questioned by those outside of the Romanist Chusch and yet kept being supported by the Romanists. But the truth always came from outside the witness that they claim to be carrying on the same ‘truth’ they always had in an unbroken line from ancient times. They are witnesses against themselves every time they try the “ancient” ploy.

    1Corinthians 13:8-10 Love never fails; but whether prophecies, they shall be done away; or tongues, they shall cease; or knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part: but when that which is perfect has come, that which is in part shall be done away.

    1Corinthians 2:7-10 But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, that hidden wisdom which God had predetermined before the ages for our glory: which none of the princes of this age knew, (for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;) but according as it is written, Things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man’s heart, which God has prepared for them that love him, but God has revealed to us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.


    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

    • 15 November, 2009 21:15

      Thank you for the compliment on the post, but I think you misread my first paragraph. I said Christianity had been coming to England and that the Church finally defeated the “heathens.” Eventually England was Catholic until Henry. I certainly did not mean to imply that I believe that the Church was “the” Church of all Christians. In fact I was only discussing England and the early Protestant movement. Even then, I said that there were Protestants in England before Henry. I am no apologist for the Catholic church.

  2. christianclarityreview permalink
    17 November, 2009 21:15

    The way its written it could go either way. It makes it seem that the Roman Catholic Church was the first ‘official’ church in England and/or England wasn’t ‘officially’ Christian until the Catholics showed up, which is not accurate. ( after non-Catholics did the real evangelism work as God did it through them usual ) , Even the Catholics dispute they were the first.


    1John 4:5 They are of the world; for this reason they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.

    In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen

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