Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Puritan Migration: Albion's Seed Sets Sail

As tensions between Parliament and the Crown heated toward what became the English Civil War, dissenting Puritans in the Eastern Counties sought refuge from economic hardship and religious persecution. To the shores of Massachusetts Bay they brought their spiritual ideals and way of life. In 1618 John Winthrop could count himself among England's fortunate. He married Margaret Tyndal, the woman he was to call "mine owne, mine onely, my best beloved," and he inherited his father's estates, becoming Lord of the Manor in Groton, Suffolk. Born 30 years earlier, he had survived the high childhood mortality rates of his era and was to live another 31 years. He was already an esteemed country justice. With a thriving professional life, estates in one of the richest parts of England and a family of children born during two previous marriages to wealthy heiresses, Winthrop occupied a comfortably cushioned niche in society. Only 12 years later, however, and despite having won a royal legal appointment, he left England, taking himself and two of his sons, 9-yThe answers are many. Economically, times were bad. Wars in Europe had halved the markets for the Suffolk shortcloths (knee breeches) -- one of the main economic supports of Winthrop's county. Charles I was on the throne and, like his father James I, he raised money by selling monopolies that inflated the prices of many basic commodities. With a growing brood, Winthrop was not alone in thinking he might do better overseas. Many English families were emigrating to Ireland and the Caribbean as well as to America. Like them, Winthrop, who had lots of practical experience, probably foresaw economic benefits to be gained overseas. As his shipboard exhortation shows, though, his most powerful motives for leaving England -- and instructing his eldest son to sell the manor house at Groton and follow him across the ocean -- were religious. Winthrop and his fellow passengers were Puritans, and for Puritans life in England was especially hard.
Their problems were rooted in 16th-century religious controversies. Led by Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, early 16th-century European theologians set out to reform the church, questioning such doctrines as the real presence of Christ at the Mass and protesting such abuses as the sale of pardons, the levying of church taxes and the lax habits of its monks and priests. In England Henry VIII, flush with imperial notions and eager to divorce Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, was easily persuaded that he, not the pope, was head of the English church; by 1532 he had insisted on a Submission of the Clergy that forced most priests to agree. In 1536 he went further, expropriating monastic lands and properties to boost his treasury or reward his courtiers.
Archbishop Cranmer encouraged Henry's supremacist policies, but Henry never abandoned Catholicism. Cranmer was more successful with his son Edward VI, who became king in 1547. Under Cranmer's tutelage, Edward banned cults of saints and customs such as blessing candles at Candlemass, or releasing doves from St. Paul's Cathedral at Whitsuntide. Church music was forbidden and church paintings were obliterated. Cranmer had long been secretly married; now all priests could marry. English replaced Latin as the language of church services, and everyone -- not just priests -- was encouraged to read one of the new translations of the Bible.
Describing "the exhilarating appeal of Protestantism," historian Simon Schama notes, "If there was destruction of false gods and idols, it was only so that the purity of gospel truth could be brilliantly revealed." The idea of "purity" is central to the religious debates of the era and especially to the beliefs of Winthrop and other passengers on Arbella. They strived to create a church and to live lives that shone with the spirituality of early Christianity. From these beliefs, they took the name Puritan.
But how pure was pure enough? Many Protestants happily abandoned the supremacy of the pope and the obscurity of the Latin service, but still loved gorgeous vestments, painted churches and the traditional sacraments. On the other hand, as theologians explored the Scriptures, radical Puritan ideas emerged. Doctrinally, they replaced the belief that grace was won by good works and repentance with the sterner notion that it was given by God only to those predestined to receive it. Puritans also believed in the inherent depravity of humankind and, like other Protestants, rejected the idea that Christian truth could only be approached through a priest. Indeed, personal encounter with the Scriptures was central to Puritan faith.
Possibly Winthrop and his peers would have lived contentedly in the Protestant regime of Edward VI, but in 1553 his half-sister Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, succeeded him. Mary was a fervent Catholic who repealed all of Edward's religious laws, returned England to the authority of the pope and arrested and eventually burned Cranmer along with nearly 300 other Protestants. Some saved themselves from the flames by fleeing to Holland or Geneva, where they immersed themselves in Calvinist doctrine.
When Henry's second daughter, the Protestant Elizabeth, became queen in 1558 she stopped the burnings. While she favored a celibate clergy, she tolerated leeway and permitted individuals to guide their flocks in many ways -- not, however, through the Church of Rome. Catholic priests trained on the Continent smuggled themselves into England at great risk. Equally, Puritan scholars persecuted during Mary's regime were not always entirely welcome to Elizabeth's archbishops. Ironically, then, Elizabeth's relatively tolerant policies polarized many churchgoers. Controversy continued under the Stuart kings, James I and Charles I, who followed Elizabeth in promoting a moderate English church that supported a hierarchy of bishops, an ornate liturgy and the efficacy of the sacraments.ear-old Adam and 10-year-old Stephen, across the Atlantic to an uncertain future on the rocky shores of Massachusetts.
Why? As the ship Arbella battled the waves, he told its passengers, "We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work...we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the way of God." But how had it come to pass that these serious citizens were leaving England for a distant continent whence most would not return?


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