ALook at the Mayflower Voyage: What is a Puritan?

Puritan Man
Puritan Man


The word has historically been used to characterize the Protestant group as extremists.    However, in more modern times the word means against pleasure.

The word was used in Thomas Fuller 1564 Church History.  In 1560, the term was used as a term of abuse for those who found the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559 inadequate.

Puritans were dissatisfied with the English Reformation, and the Church of England’s tolerance of practices which they associated with the Catholic Church. Puritans formed or joined religious groups to advocate a greater purity in both worship and doctrine.

Puritan's wanted religious freedom
Puritan’s wanted religious freedom

These separatist and independent strands of Puritanism became prominent in the 1640s, when the supporters of a Presbyterian polity in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church.

Puritans did not originally use the term for themselves. The practitioners knew themselves as members of particular churches or movements, and not by a single term. The Puritans preferred to call themselves “the godly.”

Puritans were blocked from changing the established church from within, and were severely restricted in England by laws controlling the practice of religion.

By the late 1630s, the Puritans became a major political force in England and came to power as a result of the First English Civil War (1642–46). After the Restoration of 1660 and the 1662 Uniformity Act, almost all Puritan clergy left the Church of England, some becoming nonconformist ministers.

puritan meeting house
puritan meeting house

The nature of the movement in England changed radically, although it retained its character for a much longer period in New England.

Precisemen and Precisians were derogatory terms used for early Puritans.

Those who thought that the Church of England was so corrupt that true Christians should separate from it altogether are known as “separating Puritans” or simply “Separatists”.

Separatists were a group who advocated complete separation from the Church of England, but had no particular Church title. Many of the Mayflower Pilgrims were referred to only as Separatists.

Today, Puritan is often used to refer to both the Puritans and Separatists.


Puritanism has a historical importance over a period of a century, followed by 50 years of development in New England. It changed character and emphasis almost decade-by-decade over that time.

Elizabethan Puritanism contended with the Elizabethan religious settlement and the role of Calvinism in the Church of England.

Jacobean Puritanism began with the reign of James I of England.  Many of his appointments were Calvinists.  The Puritans often adapted and compromised to the church of the time.

William Bradshaw used the word Puritan in his writings, as a self-identification.  His writings also show the word as the beginning of congregationalism.

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