The Plymouth Colony officially ended in 1691 when it was combined with the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north to create Massachusetts. Today, what was the Plymouth Colony is southern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. There were many similarities between the Pilgrims of Plymouth and Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. As I have mentioned in a previous column, both groups were Calvinists. The Pilgrims settled Plymouth in 1620 and the Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay in 1629-1630. There were some earlier settlers, but the larger and more successful attempts began with Salem in 1629 and Boston in 1630.
The Puritans were Calvinists who wanted to take over the Church of England and purify it, but many chose to move to America instead. The Pilgrims were also Calvinists, but they believed the Church was too corrupt and they wanted to separate and be left alone to practice their beliefs and live the life they felt would honor God. The Puritans quickly outnumbered the Pilgrims in America. Puritan emigration exploded during the Great Migration from 1629-1640. The years for this period are debatable, but typically the term Great Migration coincides with the period of the dissolution of the English Parliament by King Charles I. Many of his enemies, such as the Puritans, chose to leave England rather than continue to suffer persecutions.
Around 20,000 settlers moved to New England during the Great Migration, thousands of others moved elsewhere. While not exclusively Puritan, the Puritans dominated Massachusetts Bay and shaped it into their vision of what a colony should be. Governor John Winthrop, quoting Jesus, wanted Massachusetts Bay to be “a shining city upon a hill.” Massachusetts would be a religiously devout, hard working, economically successful haven for all things good in the world. That desire would also lead to the negative aspects of the Puritans, for which they are famous.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.