Were the Pilgrims Puritans?

Religion in Family History

Many people today think that the Pilgrims were Puritans. But were they?

As we all learn in school the Pilgrims came to America and settled at Plymouth in 1620. At the time they were not known as Pilgrims. They were not referred to as Pilgrims until around 1800. Before this time they were known as Old-Comers or Forefathers.

Thanksgiving Day - Pilgrims - Feast - Plymouth Plantation - Plymouth ColonyThe name pilgrim does have roots in Plymouth colony however, as Bradford did use the term pilgrimes in his book Of Plymouth Plantation.

So they lefte [that] goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.

This quote was read at a Forefather’s Day observance in 1793 and it sparked the future usage of the term Pilgrim.

The settlers of Plymouth would not have been referred to as Puritans at that time. They were known as Brownists or Separatists.

One of the early Separatists was Robert Browne, and it was his followers who became know as Brownists.

For more about Robert Browne, see my post: Day after Thanksgiving

First Thanksgiving - 1621 or 1623 - Plymouth Colony - Pilgrims - Brownists - Thanksgiving FeastThe Puritans were still part of the Church of England or Anglican Church. They were trying to reform the church while still staying within the structure of the Church of England.

The Separatists had actually withdrawn or separated from the Church of England.

Of course, many of the Brownists had been Puritans before joining the Separatists. One example is William Bradford. He joined the Puritans when he was only 12 years old and soon joined the Scrooby congregation. The Scrooby congregation separated from the Church of England and due to intense persecution many of the members found refuge in Leiden, Holland.

In 1620 the 30 year old Bradford helped arrange the voyage to America on the Mayflower.

Within a decade the Massachusetts Bay Colony was formed by Puritans who were undergoing increased persecution in England. The two colonies remained separate until 1691 when they were joined together as the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Pilgrims, Puritans, Separatists, Thanksgiving, Plymouth ColonySo, were the Pilgrims Puritans?

The Brownists would definitely not have been referred to as Puritans at the time of the voyage of the Mayflower. They were definitely Separatists and through the years had many conflicts with the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony over religious beliefs.

It bugs me a bit when I hear the Pilgrims referred to as Puritans. Recently a popular genealogy TV show referred to William Bradford as a Puritan. Tonight I was watching a History Channel program about Thanksgiving that referred to the Pilgrims as a sect of the Puritans. I believe that the Puritans could be referred to as a sect of the Church of England, but there was definitely a separation between the Puritans and the Brownists (Pilgrims).

I have both Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors. They definitely had very different views on religion. See Pilgrim Ancestry and The American Soul.

Are you ready for a Thanksgiving Feast?


This post is a part of my Religion in Family History series. Click on the link for a list of posts in the series.

This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Family History, Genealogy, History, Holidays and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Were the Pilgrims Puritans?

  1. gpcox says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!!!!!

  2. Mom says:

    I love the stuff we “assume.”
    Like today, I am cooking all this junk to eat and know, deep down, that it wouldn’t even randomly resemble that Plymouth Rock harvest festival stuff. It’s hard to wrap our modern heads around the idea that people “back in the day” were just as “intellegent” as we are today, they just had less info/ no instant source citations like we do now. But we rarely take the opp to research or “verify” things “everybody” knows.
    And that’s why I am Thankful for bloggers 🙂

  3. Glenda M says:

    Thanks for sharing this on my birthday …

  4. Pingback: Thanksgiving Reading III | Braman's Wanderings

  5. Pingback: Roger Williams in Plymouth Colony | Braman's Wanderings

  6. Pingback: Martin Luther | Braman's Wanderings

  7. Pingback: Migrations | Braman's Wanderings

  8. Pingback: Thanksgiving Thoughts | Braman's Wanderings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.