Establishing "a Due Form of Government, Both Civil and Ecclesiastical": a Reassessment of Theocracy, Aristocracy and Democracy in Early New England: the html edition of my Master's Thesis
The aim of this project has been to centralize as many links towards primary sources as could be found. Year in, year out, I shall endeavour to make this page as exhaustive as possible, at least as far as primary sources available on the Internet are concerned. The links will be checked on a periodic basis - which is a very loose measure unit, granted - but please don't hesitate to report any link that doesn't work. If you have or know of any texts not listed here, let me know!
To understand the founders of Puritan New England, their motives and their deeds, it is important to be familiar with the early history of the Puritan movement back in England. Therefore I have also included English sources regarding the history of Puritanism and even Protestantism at the bottom of this page. Even though it is somewhat relevant, I have not gone as far as including sources on Lollardy. I have tried to focus on what came to be called 'Early Modern England', a period that coincides with the history of Puritanism since Puritanism can be said to have started in England some time between the Elizabethan settlement of 1559 and 1563. Discontented with what they viewed as Elizabeth's treacherous Act, they fought an epic battle in Parliament to have their doctrines made official, but failed at the end of the sixteenth century. The movement went underground and thrived until emigration became necessary in the face of Laudian repression.
The texts listed here deal with quite a wide range of subjects: the only restriction has been that they must be primary sources. Note that a few texts dealing with Virginia have been included so that they can be compared and contrasted with their New English equivalents. Also note that the texts have been arranged on a thematic basis and chronologically within each category.
The Different types of texts and their significance: primary sources for dummies
When reading Charters or other similar texts, you must remember that they were issued by the Council for New England or by the Crown. Therefore, the texts have a very official tone to them. The important thing is that they were not written by the settlers, and therefore they in no way reflected their ideas. Charters are very tedious texts to read for anyone who is not used to the somewhat repetitive legal parlance.Yet you can find the precise description of the limits of land granted, along with motivations for settlement (to bring the Gospel to the Heathen was an old favorite, hiding commercial motives). Then in some of them you can find a description of what the political institutions were supposed to be like. This was important in so far as it restricted the settlers, which was meant to prevent innovations that would go against the will of the crown ("laws repugnant to the laws of the realm"). But sometimes the clauses were vague enough to allow some degree of innovation and initiative on the part of the settlers. It's important to remember that most of the settlers of the Great Migration of 1630-1640 were religious dissenters. At any rate, the leaders and most prominent of them were: their beliefs had caused them to be persecuted and emigration was a last chance of escape for them. Therefore, the shape they would give to their institutions would be likely to be at odds with Charles' will.
These considerations give a distinct flavour (and are here to influence your reading in that way) to not only the Charters, but also the official texts drafted by the settlers, be they legal, constitutional, judicial... When they created an institution, the Puritans often reformed an existing one in a fashion they believed to be more in keeping with their interpretation of the Bible. In that sense, we can apply the adjective 'experimental' to their work of shaping a society.
The second important type of text listed here are the Covenants. They are short professions of faith and can be considered as the 'birth acts' of communities since churches (in the sense of congregations) and towns were founded with that tool, if covenants may be described as tools. In them, the settlers explicitly declared that they had come to found the New Jerusalem that God had commanded on a contractual basis -- more than mere birth acts, they may be considered as genuine 'social contracts'. That is the subject of the finale (the most famous passage by far) of Winthrop's Modell of Christian Charity. The New Englanders were God's chosen people and were on a 'Special Commission' -- which Perry Miller called an 'Errand into the Wilderness' after Rev. Danforth's phrase -- a belief which can be seen as the defining driving force of the whole experience, in the context of Visible Congregationalism. Therefore, the series of Covenants presented on this page should be given very particular attention. And it is always worth keeping in mind the whys and the wherefores: why had they come? How were they to build their communities? What sort of philosophy animated the leaders of early New England? More than it seems at first sight can be extracted from the covenants and the philosophy behind them.
A final word for the courageous few who have got here: you can rely on the texts presented in the white column, but don't take this one and the red one for granted: some scholars may disagree with me as I have very little room to develop my views. And ALWAYS remember that "it's not true just because you have found it on the Internet!" Read the texts carefully. Get acknowledged with their authors, with their backgrounds, and then build your OWN interpretation. Then start reading what others think about them. Then reassess your views if necessary. Only that approach is intellectually stimulating and can make historical research go forward: new interpretations are needed all the time. New England puritanism has been extensively studied in the past, but fresh interpretations of the original texts will always be needed. The great book of New England history - as far as we are concerned - must never be closed, and 'old' interpretations must not be worshipped but questioned and put to the test. This is why primary sources must be made accessible to everyone, so that everyone can make their own opinion on them. Here they are!
Grants and Patents: right to the soil, official motivations and a sketch of political
Under Charles I:
Under the Long Parliament:
Under Charles II:
» The Charter of Massachusetts Bay, 1691
The Covenants, the Special Commission, sermons and religious propaganda:
» The Mayflower Compact, 1620
» Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings
(includes Sermons by leading Puritan theologians)
Legal texts and codifications:
» The Laws of Virginia,
Constitutional texts proper:
» The MBC Constitution, 1629
» The Examination of Mrs.
Ann Hutchinson at the Court at Newton, 1637
Miscellani: Letters, memoirs, pamphlets, oaths and protests:» John Robinson's Farewell letter to the Pilgrims, 1620
» The Sin and Danger of Self-Love, a Sermon by Robert Cushman of Plymouth, 1621
» Early Plymouth Letters to England, 1620-1628
» Wills of the Mayflower Passengers
» Edward Winslow (?), Mourt's Relation (Excerpts, 1623)
» Good Newes From Newe England, Edward Winslow, 1624
» John Smith's 'True Travels and Adventures', 1629
» Rev. Francis Higginson's 'True Description', 1629
» The Cambridge Agreement, 1629
» The Humble Request, 1630
» A Letter to William Pond, 1631
» Lists and Oaths of the Freemen of Mass. Bay, 1630-1636
» Officers of the Commonwealth from 1630 to 1686. (Win.Soc.)
» Anne Bradstreet, A Dialogue between Old England and New, 1630
» Journal of the Crossing of the Atlantic by John Winthrop, 1630
» Advertisements to Planters of New England, by Capt. John Smith, 1631
» Thomas Dudley's Letter to Lady Bridget, Countess of Lincoln, 1631
» John Winthrop's 'Experiencia'
» John Winthrop's 'Christian Experience', 1636
» Letter by John Cotton to Lord Say and Seal, 1636 (Seal or Sele, by the way)
» Thomas Morton, Revels in New Canaan, 1637
» John Winthrop on the Origins of the Body of Liberties, from his Journal, 1639
» John Cotton on the 'Just Price', from J. Winthrop's Journal, 1639 (also here)
» Excerpts of the Journal of J. Winthrop, 1640-1648
» John Winthrop:Arbitrary government described and the Government of the Massachusetts vindicated from that aspersion, 1644
» John Winthrop's 'Little Speech on Liberty', 1645
» Remonstrance and Petition (Robert Child et al.), 1646
» Rev. Nathaniel Ward against Toleration, from The Simple Cobbler of Agawam, 1647
» Samuel Willard on Witchcraft in Groton, 1671
» Samuel Willard, The Character of a Good Ruler, 1694
Elizabethan Religious Statutes:
» Queen Elizabeth's Proclamation
to Forbid Preaching (1558)
Calvinist Theology: Theories of Resistance; Predestination; Social Contract
How Superior Powers Ought to Be Obeyed
by Their Subjects, Christopher Goodman (1558).
Early Stuart Texts:
» The Millenary Petition (1603)
Character of the Old English Puritan, John Geree (1646): A short
definition of the Puritan
Puritanism can be said to have been a reaction against the Elizabethan settlement, caused by the frustration of former Marian exile to Geneva, Frankfurt or Strasburg in the face of what they saw as an inacceptable compromise. On the Continent, those who had fled the Marian persecutions discovered a new brand of Protestantism: Calvinism. And when they returned from exile at the end of the Catholic reaction, they wanted to establish this new conception of religion.
In the second part of the 17th century, the Puritans fought nail and tooth to make Parliament accept their belief: they wanted to purify a Church of England they still felt too Catholic, therefore not pure enough. But they never managed to win their Parliamentary struggle. On the contrary, they were more ofr less persecuted against as heretics. The movement went underground, but that it became 'invisible' did not mean it 'died'. Hope was revived in 1604: a new king - a Scot into the bargain - would perhaps mean a shift in the 'right' direction. Actually it did not. And little by little growing persecutions and reactions of disgust - among other causes - led to the migration movement of the 1630s.
In this first list of texts, you will find mostly official texts regulating religion under Elizabeth and the Early Stuarts, but also 6 theological texts that greatly influenced English puritanism, and indirectly New English puritanism, and in an even more indirect way, the Revolutionary movement in the 1770s.
Other texts will be added and commented upon in the future - when I have time!
Contact: Lauric Henneton
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