How Were the Pilgrim & Puritan Colonies Similar & Different?

by Meg English

Both the Pilgrims and the Puritans were English Protestants who believed that the Church of England was in need of reform. Although both were strict Calvinists, they differed in approaches to reforming the Church of England. The Pilgrims were more inclined to separate from the church, while the Puritans wanted to reform the church from within. The Pilgrims were the first group of Puritans to seek religious freedom in the New World. As strict Calvinists, members of both groups believed in original sin, predestination and the literal interpretation of the Bible as God’s word.

Pilgrim Migration

The Pilgrims were Puritans who escaped to Holland as political exiles in 1608. They immigrated to North America on the Mayflower in 1620. "Pilgrim" means a person who takes a long journey, usually for a religious or moral purpose; "Pilgrim" also is the popular term for all passengers of the Mayflower who sought religious freedom and who arrived in Plymouth in the 1620s. The Pilgrims were soon followed by other, larger groups of English settlers in the 1620s.

Pilgrims and Reform

The Pilgrims wanted to reform the Church of England quickly. They became known as separatists. They were passionately committed to reform and were willing to separate from the Church of England. They tended to emphasize individual righteousness before God and believed they were specially chosen to create a new Christian commonwealth utopia.

Great Migration

The Great Migration lasted from 1629 to 1640 when conditions for Puritans in England became intolerable. In 1629, King Charles I dissolved Parliament. As a result, Puritan leaders no longer had representation and Puritans were vulnerable to persecution. The same year, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, chartered by a group of Puritans, set out to establish a “Zion in the wilderness.” During the next 10 years, over 20 thousand Puritans left England to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1640, when Parliament was reconvened, attention was redirected from the New World back to the old and migration to New England dropped sharply.

Puritan Beliefs

A Puritan of 16th- and 17th-century England was any person seeking "purity" of worship and doctrine.The Puritans who migrated to the New World in the 1630s are often called the The Non-Separating Puritans. Although they shared Calvinist beliefs such as original sin and predestination with the Pilgrims, the Puritan newcomers continued to think of themselves as English. They saw their new colony as a "city on a hill" which would set an example of biblical righteousness in church and state for the entire world to emulate. The Puritans emphasized especially the importance of community over individuality.

About the Author

Meg English has been an education professional for more than 25 years. She has taught elementary, middle and high school students in both inner-city and rural schools. She also publishes a weekly newspaper column titled "Education Matters." English holds a doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Dakota.

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