Persecutions In Early New England -- By: Jesse Johnson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 088:352 (Oct 1931)
Article: Persecutions In Early New England
Author: Jesse Johnson


Persecutions In Early New England

Jesse Johnson

The popular picture of the Puritan is a caricature. Anybody can be caricatured; most of us are not, because we are not of enough importance. The Puritan was a large figure, positive in conviction and forceful in action. He had rugged features that lent themselves to caricature, and his enemies have made the most of them. He pays the penalty and reaps the reward of amounting to something. The penalty is caricature, partly ignorant and partly malicious; the reward is an honor which his conceded faults should not render less sincere.

In this article the attempt is to clear the New England Puritan of any exceptional degree of guilt on account of the persecutions of which his enemies make so much. It is a public injury to popularize a false idea of the Puritan, and then use the term Puritanical, with the odium thus attached, to beat down projects of reform. This is what is always going on. That the Puritan was hard, narrow, cruel, superstitious and tyrannical beyond other men of his time, and that his persecuting grew out of such traits in him, is what his enemies desire us to believe. And they have succeeded only too well. With many, to call a thing Puritanical is to condemn it.

From their enemies one would get the wrong impression that the religious activity of the New England Puritans was mostly persecution. They did persecute. They shipped back to England two men who insisted on conducting worship in Salem according to the Anglican prayerbook. They drove out Roger Williams and other Baptists. They banished Mrs. Anne Hutchison. They hung Quakers. They executed witches, some say as many as thirty. The indignation felt at all this is heightened by the notion that their main purpose in leaving England was to escape persecution, an idea that needs straightening.

To make a fair estimate we must in imagination go back, live with the Puritans, and get their viewpoint. It is, of course, unfair to imagine them living their seventeenth-

century lives in the Old England or the New England of today, and pronounce judgment on that basis.

The seventeenth century was a time of national churches. Each nation had its church, and only a few thought there should be liberty for individuals to group themselves into separate churches. The Puritans (as distinguished from such separatists as the Pilgrims) did not believe in such liberty. In no uncertain terms they blamed the separatists for claiming it. For three quarters of a century Puritans in England had striven to work a thorough reformation in the Church of England. They did not think it desirable or even right to organize another church. England already had...

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