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Who were the Pilgrims, and what did they want?1
The year after the House of Burgesses met for the first time, the Pilgrims of the Mayflower founded the second permanent English settlement in America. Their arrival in 1620 has always been presented as another of history's lucky accidents. But was it?
Had Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower, turned the ship when he was supposed to, the little band would have gone to its intended destination, the mouth of the Hudson, future site of New York, and a settlement within the bounds of the Virginia Company's charter and authority. Instead, the ship kept a westerly route-the result of a bribe to the captain, as London gossip had it-and in November 1620, the band of pioneers found safe harbor in Cape Cod Bay, coming ashore at the site of present-day Provincetown. Of the 102 men, women, and children aboard the small ship, fifty were so-called Pilgrims.
Here again, as it had in Queen Elizabeth's time, the Protestant Reformation played a crucial role in events. After the great split from Roman Catholicism that created the Church of England, the question of religious reform continued heatedly in England. Many English remained Catholic. Others felt that the Church of England was. too "popish" and wished to push it further away from Rome-to "purify" it-so they were called Puritans. But even among Puritans strong differences existed, and there were those who thought the Church of England too corrupt. They wanted autonomy for their congregations, and wished to separate from the Anglican church. This sect of Separatists viewed in its day the same way extremist religious cults are thought of in our time-went too far for the taste of the authorities, and they were either forced underground or out of England.
A small band of Separatists, now called Pilgrims, went to Leyden, Holland, where their reformist ideas were accepted. But cut off from their English traditions, the group decided on another course, a fresh start in the English lands in America. ' With the permission of the Virginia Company and the backing of London merchants who charged handsome interest on the loans they made, the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth in 1620. Among their number were the Pilgrim families of William Brewster, John Carver, Edward Winslow, and William Bradford. The "strangers," or non-Pilgrim voyagers (men faithful to the Church of England, but who had signed on for the passage in the hope of owning property in the New World), included ship's cooper John Alden and army captain Miles Standish.
'From Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About History. New York: Avon Books, 1990.
U.S. History: Book I.America: Creating the Dream
Handout 7 (page 1)
Puritanism and the Work Ethic
Part A. Read the following excerpt from a Puritan sermon, "Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of men," by the Reverend William Perkins, a Puritan minister.
A vocation or calling, is a certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God, Jor the common good. . . .There are two general! rules to be learned of all, which belong to every calling. The first: whatsoever any man enterprizeth or doth, either in word or deede, he must doe it by vertue of his calling, and he must keepe himselfe within the compasse, limits, or precincts thereof. This rule is laid downe in these wordes of the Apostles: Let every man abide in that calling, wherein he was called. . . .The second generall rule which must bee remembred, is this: That Every man must doe the duties of his calling with diligence. ...
And to like purpose our people have a common saying, that an occupation is as good as land, because land may be lost; but skill and labour in a good occupation is profitable to the end, because it will helpe at neede, when land and all things faile. And on the other side, wee must take heede of two damnable sinnes that are contrary to this diligence. The first is idlenesse, whereby: the duties of our callings, and the occasions of glorifying God, are neglected or omitted. The second is slouthfulnes, whereby they are performed slackly and carelesly. God in the Parable of the hus-bandman, cals them that are idle into his vineyard, saying. Why stand ye idle all the day? Mat. 20.6. And the servant that had received but one talent, is called an evill servant, because he was slouthfull in the use of it: for so it is said. Thou evill servant and alouthful. Mat. 25.26. S. Paul gives this rule to the Thessalonians, He that would not labour, must not eate: yet such a one hee would have to bee noted by a letter, as walked inordinately. And this he sheweth, that slouth and negligence in the duties of our callings, are a disorder against that comly order which God hath set in the societies of mankind, both in church and common-wealth. And indeed, idlenes and slouth are the causes of many damnable sinnes. The idle bodie, and the idle braine, is the shop of the divell. The sea, if it mooved not, could not but putrifie, and the body, if it be not stirred and mooved, breedeth diseases. Now the idle and slouthful person is a sea oi corruption: and when he is most idle, Satan is least idle; for then is he most busie to draw him to manifold sinnes.1
1. According to William Perkins, what are the two general rules concerning a person's
" vocation? -
2. According to Perkins, what is the difference between "idleness" and "slothfulness"?
3. According to Perkins, why are idleness and slouthfulness sins?
'James Axtell, ed., The American People in Colonial NewEngland (West Haven. Conn.: Pendulum Press, 1973). 78-79.
© COPYRIGHT, The Center for Learning. Used with permission. Not for salt
U.S. History: Book 1 America: Creating the Dream
Handout 7 (page 2)
Part B. Read the following excerpts and answer the questions at the end.
The moral teachings of Puritanism, the principles of individual conduct that it
pressed so insistently upon unregenerate man, were just those rules one might expect to
hear proclaimed by a Christian movement burning to reform the world yet live in it. Piety,
sobriety, industry, honesty, frugality, simplicity, order, silence, resolution—these were the
instrumental virtues through which men might yet build here on earth a reasonable
imitation of the city of God. The practice of them brought Puritan saints no nearer to the
arbitrarily bestowed gift of salvation and eternal life, but the man who displayed them in
his dealings with other men could consider himself an expediter of God's great plan to
reform the world. And although he could not in his orthodoxy subscribe to a covenant of
works, it was hard for the good Puritan to believe that he was predestined to eternal
torment. The virtuous life was, if not the means, certainly the sign of salvation, and the
practice of the Puritan virtues became in itself a consuming purpose. ... .
The plans of the Puritan fathers for a holy commonwealth in the new world never did stand much chance of success. The wilderness environment was a treacherous foundation, the men of the great migration defective materials. Yet the Puritan system of practical ethics, which called upon responsible, rational, virtuous, self-reliant men to pursue their busy lives within a system of ordered liberty, was the first and, it may certainly be argued, the greatest of all American ways of life.2
From the outset, the Puritans feared the consequences of economic success with a passion equal to the energy they had put into building their settlements and securing their gains. . . .With continuing economic success, a merchant elite began to supplant the clergy's social power and symbolic prestige. Instead of a holy commonwealth, Boston was fast becoming a trading center, linking the New World with the Old. Ministers had to pay heed to the wishes of a growing commercial aristocracy. While some continued to challenge economic interests, ministers were increasingly tempted to cater to the new prosperity. Success in one sphere spelled doom in another. The once preeminently powerful clergy now spoke with full authority to only one, increasingly private aspect of people's lives.3
1. What qualities denned a "visible saint" to Puritans?
2. Which of the qualities would also make a successful businessman? Why?
3. How did prosperity lead to the disintegration of the Puritan Bible commonwealth?
2Clinton Rossiter, The First American Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1956), 216-17. 3James G. Moseley, A Cultural History of Religion in America (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981). 11-12.
© COPYRIGHT, The Center for Learning. Used with permission. Not for sale.
U.S. History: Book 1 America: Creating the Dream .
Handout 7 (page 3)
Part C. Read the following excerpts, and answer the questions at the end,
"I hope I shall not take another Journey merely for my Health very soon. I feel
sometimes sick of this—I feel guilty—I feel as if I ought not to saunter and loyter and trifle
away this Time—I feel as if I ought to be employed, for the Benefit of my fellow Men, in some
Way or other."4 —John Adams
"Reading was the only amusement I allow'd myself. I spent no time in taverns, ganies,
or frolicks of any kind; and my industry in my business continu'd as indefatigable as it was
necessary."5 . —Benjamin Rush
"From the time of my settlement in Philadelphia in 1769 'till 1775 I led a life of
constant labor and self-denial."6 —Benjamin Franklin
In 1787, Jefferson made his views-on industriousness very clear for the sake "of his
young daughter Martha. "It is your future happiness which interests me," he wrote, "and
nothing can contribute more to it (moral rectitude always excepted) than the contracting
a habit of industry and activity. Of aU the cankers of human happiness, none corrodes it
with so silent, yet so baneful a tooth, as indolence. . . .Exercise and application produce
order in our affairs, health of body, cheerfulness of mind, and these make us precious to
our friends." It is while we are young that the habit of industry is formed. . . .If not then,
it never is afterwards."7 —Thomas Jefferson
I love to receive letters very well; much better than I love to write them. I make but a poor figure at composition. My head is much too fickle. My thoughts are running after bird's eggs, play and trifles, till I get vexed with myself. Mamma has a troublesome task to keep me a studying. I own I am ashamed of myself. I have but just entered the third volume of Rollin's History, but designed to have got half through it by this time. I am determined this week to be more diligent. I have set myself a stint to read the third volume half out. If I can but keep my resolution, I may again at the end of the week give a better account of myself. I wish, sir, you would give me in writing some instructions with regard to the use of my time, and advice me how to proportion my studies and play, and I will keep them by me, and endeavor to follow them.
With the present determination of growing better, I am, dear sir, your son,
—John Quincy Adams, age 98
U.S. History: Book 1 America: Creating the Dream
Handout 7 (page 4)
1. What evidence do these quotations by eighteenth-century Americans reveal about the continuing impact of Puritanism.
2. The "work ethic" may be denned as those values employers hope to instill in their workers. How did Puritan values help to create the Puritan work ethic?
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