Puritan Reasons for Leaving



William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury



At the time Archbishop William Laud was the head of the Church of England.  The king sent him a decree giving him the power to visit all the churches and buildings controlled by the church to state the condition of the properties.  When he went he found that the Puritans had been abandoning the Church of England’s elaborate rituals, and allowing ecclesiastical property to fall in to disuse and in some cases disrepair. Contrary to the universal practice of the church, children in these nonconformist towns were going through life not having participated in confirmation.



This air of nonconformity prevailed in these separatist towns because the lecturers who were unauthorized by the church and as such had freedom from clerical control.  With this newly gotten freedom, these lecturers would encourage their congregations to side with the nonconformists.  Even those who were ordained by the church were ripe for a change.  When William Laud was mad the Arch Bishop of Canterbury in 1633, he began his war on nonconformity almost immediately.


An Stone Church from Cheshire England


When Laud was given the power to visit all the churches poor houses, hospitals and schools in the provinceof Canterbury, he authorized all the Justices of the Peace to arrest all non conformists who met in private, behind closed doors, to carry on conventicles contrary to the law and to hale them before the Ecclesiastical Commission.


Some of the earliest efforts of the Archbishop included compelling foreigners that still believed in their protestant ways to conform to the Church of England.  He suggested to the King and the council the best way to rid the overwhelming sense of nonconformity found in the highly diverse immigrant communities was to make them conform to the Anglican ways.  At first these rouge churches said they were exempt from the authority of the Church of England, but Laud stuck with it and finally the churches came around but not in the numbers Laud and the Kind had originally hoped for.  Laud wanted more than just partial conformity for the good of the church.


        Laud proclaimed, he was not actuated by a desire to abolish toleration, but by a “Fear the existence of such independent ecclesiastical units, each maintaining its own discipline, would impair the unity of the Church of England, and might establish what would be, in substance, a state without a state”.  On his visitations, the archbishop found in certain quarters, evidence of a fast growing Puritanism accompanied by a general indifference, and sometimes, by an open hostility to the Church.


The symbol of the Church of England


        This desire to unify all of England under one church, the Church of England, was what set off the migrations ofthe Puritans.  Whom the church was unable to control had been brought before the council for censure. These lecturers would go before the council and were given a choice between removal to the colonies or censure of their nonconformist teachings.


        It was difficult for the church to do all of this on its own as its power had been diminishing with the reformation and the continued defiance of the Separatists.  The people whom the archbishop wanted to impact would not

 be affected by idle threats or arguments.  As a result of the inclusion of civil law, there was an increasing desirefor the upper-class to leave the country and seek refuge abroad. This naturally affected churches and towns in a negative way.  Towns were depopulated; churches abandoned services and fell into a state of disrepair.   The congregations that did remain were consolidated and forced to join other parishes.



John Winthrop (1588-1649)


            One of those people that did make the journey to North America, Thomas Shepard, was banned from preaching by the Archbishop.  Shepard felt unable to conform to the church’s demands, and having felt that his liberty was threatened, and seeing no reason for preaching in England left for New England.  Many left in the previously separatist towns wrote to Governor Winthrop in New England affirming their fears for the future with so many ministers and Christians leaving for the colonies. Then a man by the name of Cotton Mather preachedto a great many Puritans saying, “It was now also a time when some hundreds of those good people which had the nickname of Puritans put on them, transported themselves, with their whole families and interests into the desarts of America, that they might here peaceably erect Congregational Churches.”

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)


            All in all, the puritans left England not as Separatists from the church, but rather as separatists from its corruptions, “to practice the positive part of church reformation, and propagate the gospel in America.”  The persecution from which the Puritans fled was, then, one that was inspired in their opinion, by a party in the church, whose control would soon bring it to the state of “the house which our savior saw built upon the sand.”





The Atlantic Passage of the Puritans



Puritan Belief Page

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