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2.4: The Puritans

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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New England was first settled by Puritans, people from England who believed that the Church of England had become corrupt. Their name comes from their intention to purify the Church. The first group of settlers, who came on the Mayflower and founded the Plymouth colony, were called separatists. They wanted to leave the Church entirely. A decade later, a second group of Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but they were less radical. Instead of separating from the Church, they wanted to remain members of the church and purify it from within. The following documents are taken from this second group of settlers. As you read, think about how their beliefs might have influence their actions in New England and helped shape the new colony.

City upon a Hill – John Winthrop

Source: John Winthrop (1588–1649), lawyer and leader of the 1630 migration of English Puritans to Massachusetts Bay Colony, delivered this famous sermon aboard the Arbella to settlers traveling to New England.

The only way to provide for our posterity is to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We must be knit together in this work as one man; we must take care of each other with brotherly affection.

We shall be united in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, so that we shall see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness and truth.

We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall [behave badly] and cause God to withdraw his help from us, we shall [invite] the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us.

Therefore let us choose life, that we, and our [children], may live; by obeying his voice, for he is our life, and our prosperity.


future generations


  1. Sourcing: Who kind of person was John Winthrop? Who was he speaking to in this sermon? What do you think was his purpose in giving this sermon?
  2. Contextualization: What might Winthrop’s audience might have been thinking and feeling as they listened to him on the ship?
  3. Close reading: What do you think Winthrop means when he says, “We shall be as a City Upon a Hill?”

The Divine Right to Occupy the Land – John Cotton

Source: Puritan leader John Cotton gave the following sermon to members of his congregation who were immigrating to America in 1630. Cotton became a respected and influential clergyman in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Bible says: “I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more.”

The settling of a people in this or that country is the Lord’s decision.

Now, God makes room for a people in three ways: First, He drives out the heathens before them by waging war on the inhabitants.

Second, He gives a foreign people favor in the eyes of any native people to come and sit down with them.

Third, He makes a country empty of inhabitants where the people will live. Where there is an empty place, the sons of Adam and Noah are free to come and live there, and they neither need to buy it nor ask permission.


a term used at this time to describe anyone uncivilized and who did not believe in God
assign; decide on
people who live in a certain place


  1. Sourcing: Who was John Cotton? Who was he speaking to in this sermon? Why is he speaking about settling in a new land?
  2. Contextualization: In this sermon, who are the ‘inhabitants’ in the new land? Who are the ‘foreign people?’
  3. Close reading: What does Cotton say that God will do for the foreign people when they arrive in the new land?

Section Question:

  1. Corroboration: Considering information from both Winthrop’s sermon and Cotton’s speech, were the Puritans selfish or selfless? What is the evidence for your answer?

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