This is the week that the United States celebrates Thanksgiving Day. It is only fitting that the pilgrims and Puritans be our VIPs for this week. A simple definition of these particular pilgrims is that they are people who came to America from England to obtain religious freedom. They settled in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.
Among the pilgrims were Separatists and Puritans. Separatists were once part of a group of English Protestants known as Puritans. The Puritans were a group within the Church of England who tried to continue the changes in the church which started with the Protestant reformation. They were called Puritans by those who opposed them because their goal was to “purify” the church.
Some Puritans in the late 1500’s decided that they could not reform the church; therefore, they decided to leave – or separate from - the Church of England and set up their own congregations. Thus, they became known as Separatists.
Some of the Separatists left England to settle in Holland. After living in Holland for several years, some Separatists feared that their children were becoming more Dutch than English. America began to look really good to them for a couple of reasons. Laws in Holland forbade foreigners from owning land in Holland plus war was starting in Europe.
The Separatists offered to start an English colony in America and found some merchants willing to finance their plans. They sailed to America in September 1620 on the Mayflower. The group on the ship included 41 separatists and 61 other English people. They arrived in America on November 21, 1620, and chose Plymouth as the place for their colony. "The term Pilgrim may have come from William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony. Bradford wrote that `they knew they were pilgrims' when they left Holland.'" (Joan R. Gundersen, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 15, pp 463-464). Other Puritans gave up on the idea of reforming the Church of England and left for America in the 1600's. Their settlements were in Virginia and along the New England coast, particularly in Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony.
We can understand from this brief history that some Puritans became Separatists and some Puritans and some Separatists later became the Pilgrims - but they were all Puritan at heart. The Puritans' beliefs in the Bible continued to guide their lives in America. These ideals shaped religion, social life, and government in America. Their strong belief in education led to the founding of Harvard and Yale. Their strong belief in hard work may have led to the rise of the free enterprise system (John F. Wilson, World Book Encyclopediaa, Vol. 15, pp.902-911). Religious denominations that developed from Puritan beliefs include Congregationalism, Unitarianism, Methodism, and Calvinism. Puritans of the 1500's and 1600's had a great effect on the development of our nation.