The Puritans: A Transatlantic History

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Release Date: 
November 12, 2019
Princeton University Press
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"David D. Hall provides an enlightening, well organized, easy read . . . on how the Puritans arose from English populism to what they became in America"

The 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in America has inspired many new books on the beginnings of European settlement in New England. Princeton University Press now adds to its works on the Puritans with David D. Hall's work on the lost history in opposition to "ways that come under the heading of myth making" and "in response to post-Puritan cultural, political, and religious circumstances."

Hall understands these people in America through their creation in England in the mid-1560s. They believed "that true could be readily defined" and "defending true religion against its enemies was crucial." Kings "use the powers of the civil state in behalf of true religion." This one faith "was a means of grace for all mankind."

"A Protestant country led by a Protestant Prince was plagued by other contradictions," however. "The problem of the people was more than a matter of overcoming custom, illiteracy, and indifference." England's parliament had reason to fear Protestant rebellion as much as a Roman Catholic uprising.

Reformation could never "achieve closure or completion," especially as many of the English remained loyal to the old Church or to the Church of England that continued much of what other faiths shunned. The disorder of the age encouraged support of absolutist monarchs but the reign of Charles I led to civil war over tyranny.

How does a single-minded religion deal with Protestantism such as the Anglicans, Baptists, independents, Presbyterians, and Quakers? The "lay people as ignorant, illiterate, and unstable" often led by "half-hearted Puritans—or half-hearted conformists—were much less likely to question the principle of things indifferent."

England had additional problems in faith brought on by rapid changes in monarchies until the long reign of a not sympathetic Queen Elizabeth. "Whenever the reformers exploited the weaknesses of the church as an evangelical institution, their movement aroused broad support," however.

The last chapters deal with "the experiment of godly rule in New England and, thereafter, the remarkable turn of events in Scotland." Just as the Protestant religion in England involved political and social change, the Separatist settlements begun in Massachusetts "were implementing an innovative array of rules and practices in social and economic life."

A truly new world, Massachusetts, the so-called bright and shining city on a hill, had, for the 1600s, fair courts and local democracy, "a system that ensured the economic independence of the great majority of households." It also carried with it the problems in England and "unity broke down in Massachusetts in the mid-1630s." "The currents of revolution and counterrevolution" swept through Bermuda, Caribbean islands, Maryland, and Virginia, however, but not in "the four orthodox colonies" of New England.

"One focus of debate was liberty of conscience, which Roger Williams was advocating and John Cotton contesting," that would shake Protestant Europe. No less famous in American history, Anne Marbury Hutchinson "justified her ministry to women" "in the weekly meetings some 60 or 70 women were attending in her Boston home."

David D. Hall provides an enlightening, well organized, easy read, over many pages in small print, on how the Puritans arose from English populism to what they became in America, along the way making their religion an engine of societal reform. The Puritans has extensive documentation.