Letter: Puritan New England: a godly and representative society

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The Independent Online
Sir: It is discouraging to see what a bad press the Puritans get. Andrew Brown writes (17 May) that Puritan New England was a theocracy and "if that experiment is remembered for anything, it is the witch trials in Salem".

The New England settlers were English Congregationalists. Some were total Independents from the Church of England as were the Plymouth settlers in 1620. A theocracy? Hardly. The Mayflower Compact was a covenant willingly entered into by all the people. They gave their Elders power, but it was a new society and division could be fatal.

The Boston Colony of 1630 did not want independence from the Church of England, but wanted to reform it from the inside as Congregationalists. They thought England would take notice of them and learn. That was a pipe- dream if there ever was one. There were some witch hunts, as there were in Europe at the time. Naturally we deplore them, but it is a shame that what most people know about Salem is from Arthur Miller's play The Crucible which was really about the 20th-century McCarthy era transferred back to the 17th century.

They were persecuted at home and wanted to reform their church or leave it entirely and start another. They started democracy in their day. We should thank them for trying to bring a godly and representative society to birth. We could use some of that today.


Chaplain and Fellow

Mansfield College