may wish to view our Digital Story
about the Puritans by Michael Ray as an introduction
to this section.
group has played a more pivotal role in shaping American values
than the New England Puritans. The seventeenth-century Puritans
contributed to our country's sense of mission, its work ethic,
and its moral sensibility. Today, eight million Americans can
trace their ancestry to the fifteen to twenty thousand Puritans
who migrated to New England between 1629 and 1640.
people, however, have been as frequently subjected to caricature
and ridicule. The journalist H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as
"the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy."
And particularly during the 1920s, the Puritans came to symbolize
every cultural characteristic that "modern" Americans
despised. The Puritans were often dismissed as drably-clothed
religious zealots who were hostile to the arts and were eager
to impose their rigid "Puritanical" morality on the
world around them.
stereotypical view is almost wholly incorrect. Contrary to much
popular thinking, the Puritans were not sexual prudes. Although
they strongly condemned sexual relations outside of marriage--levying
fines or even whipping those who fornicated, committed adultery
or sodomy, or bore children outside of wedlock--they attached
a high value to the marital tie. Nor did Puritans abstain from
alcohol; even though they objected to drunkenness, they did not
believe alcohol as sinful in itself. They were not opposed to
artistic beauty; although they were suspicious of the theater
and the visual arts, the Puritans valued poetry. Indeed, John
Milton (1603-1674), one of England's greatest poets, was a Puritan.
Even the association of the Puritans with drab colors is wrong.
They especially liked the colors red and blue.