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Explain how the Puritans and Pilgrims differed and identify early leaders in Massachusetts, such as John Winthrop; describe the daily life, education, and work of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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external image John_winthrop_illustration.3.jpg
  • For more on John Winthrop and early colonial leaders, see Grade 5.7.
  • See Grade 5.8 for more information on the Puritans and the Pilgrims.
  • See USI.30 for information on the growth of colonial education.

game_icon.svg.pngFor a quiz on the Puritans and the Colonial Era, click here.

Pilgrims vs. Puritans

"The Pilgrims were Puritans, but not all Puritans were pilgrims." The Difference Between Pilgrim and Puritan
"Pilgrims and Puritans were English Protestant who did not believe that reforms of the English Church." People and Ideas: The Puritans

Massachusetts Bay Colony Seal
Massachusetts Bay Colony Seal

Three Different Definitions To Know:
  • The Pilgrims: A small, specific group of puritan separatists who landed on Plymouth rock.
  • Pilgrim: One who embarks on a quest for religious purposes.
  • Puritan: A member of a group of English Protestants during the 16th and 17th centuries with strict religious disciplines. (Richard Howland Maxwell, Pilgrim Hall Museum, March 2003)

"In America, we've added specific references to those two terms. We apply the name Pilgrim (with a capital "P") to the small band of English people who came here in 1620 on a vessel called the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth. We use the name Puritan to refer to a much larger group of English immigrants, led by John Winthrop, who came here ten years later and started Massachusetts Bay Colony. Both groups were motivated by their religious convictions. Both groups wished to purify their church by applying the principles of the Protestant Reformation" (from Pilgrim and Puritan: A Delicate Distinction)

The first Thanksgiving.
The first Thanksgiving.

  • The Pilgrims were separatists that believed Anglican reforms of the Church of England did not go far enough, and that placing the King of England at the head of the church was corrupt and unnecessary order.
  • Pilgrims were seen as originators of democratic society, as they were firm believers that those involved in the public function of the church should be chosen by a common voice.
  • To establish themselves as rightful preservers of the bible, they separated themselves from the Anglican Church. This of course meant leaving the country, and they left for Holland in 1608.
  • The Pilgrims moved back to England 12 years later after an unsuccessful tenure in Holland, and proceeded to form the Virginia Company to move to the Americas, where they landed at Plymouth Rock.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngClick here for a Thanksgiving Timeline, 1541-2001

primary_sources.PNGClick here for a 1911 primary source about how progressive reformers changed how people understood Thanksgiving.

external image Book_icon.pngKate Waters has books on the daily life of a Pilgrim boy and girl. They offer a look at the average colonists' life.

John Davenport was a Puritan clergyman and Purtian founder of New Haven.
John Davenport was a Puritan clergyman and Purtian founder of New Haven.

-The Puritans had no intention of breaking with the Anglican church, but were set out to reform or purify their church and the religious beliefs of others. The Puritans were nonconformists as were the Pilgrims, both of which refusing to accept an authority beyond that of the revealed word.

-Unlike the Pilgrims, the Puritan population as a whole were not consistent about the degree of change necessary to the Anglican Church, or what it would take to cause that change. Puritans were radical by nature, but some more than others.

-Puritans believed that the idle life was the devil's life, so Puritans filled their time with work and religion

-They prided family and the New England Puritans lived long lives, many saw themselves become grandparents, which was uncommon in the time

lessonplan.jpgClick here for lesson plans and resources on Pilgrims and Puritans

Early Leaders in Massachusetts

  • John Winthrop
    • 1588-1649
    • Puritan
    • First Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony
    • Governor 12 times between 1631 and 1648
    • When he wasn't Governor, he served on councils
    • Helped the colonists form towns
    • Encouraged the colonists to work as a group
    • Click here for "People and Ideas: John Winthrop" from PBS
  • William Bradford
    • 1590-1657
      William Bradford
    • Separatist
    • Left England and moved to the Netherlands with the other Pilgrims
    • Helped write and signed the Mayflower Compact
    • Served as Governor of Plymouth for 30 years between 1622 and 1656
    • He and other Plymouth leaders decided to distribute land among all settlers
    • He and other Plymouth leaders also took on the debt to the merchants
  • John Carver
    • 1575-1621
    • Joined the separatists
    • Left England and moved to the Netherlands with the Pilgrims
    • Decided to move to the New World
    • Elected Governor of Plymouth after arriving
    • Died only 5 months after arriving
    • Replaced by Bradford

The Massachusetts Bay Colony Life

  • Settled in 1630 in Massachusetts under governor John Winthrop
  • Included around 1,000 Puritans who assembled a theocratic government.
  • These people remained loyal to England, and served an important function in colonizing unclaimed territory and gathering new trade commodities.
  • Approximately 200 settlers died the first year and many England in the spring of 1631.
  • Living conditions would eventually improve leading to a population of English Puritans that reached 20,000 over the next decade.

Daily Life

  • The colonists were focused mainly on work and religion
  • The people mainly worked and attended church
  • Women were married by 20, men by their mid-twenties
  • There were town meeting houses in each community for the laws to be made
  • Sundays were considered a day of rest
  • Church attendance was required, it was also a time for the colonists to socialize
  • The people lived in mud houses with thatched roofs or log cabins


  • Education was very important to the Mass Bay Colony
  • It was law that a school, funded by taxes, had to be in every community with at least 50 families
  • Literacy rates were very high and the colonists wanted it to stay that way so the children could study the Bible


  • Men worked outside the home
  • Work was established by location
  • For example, those who lived close to the ocean were fishermen or shipbuilders
  • Other jobs included lumber work,blacksmith, farming, and hunting
  • Women were expected to raise the children and cook
  • Women were also expected to make candles, soaps, clothes, and help in the gardens
Click here and here and here for more information on life in the Mass Bay Colony.

Anne Hutchinson on Trial.  Painting by Edwin Austin Abbey, 1901
Anne Hutchinson on Trial. Painting by Edwin Austin Abbey, 1901

womens history.jpgClick here for information on Anne Hutchinson, a woman who defied tradition in the Mass Bay Colony

The Trial and Interrogation of Anne Hutchinson from Thomas Hutchinson, History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts (Boston, 1767)