his heroes and their religions

But we must overcome this myth that arose during the victory of the “progressive” North over the “slave” South after the Civil War in 1865.

At that time, the Western world was in search of a “National History” and the young State did not escape the phenomenon of this exacerbated nationalism.

The Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers did exist, but its important place in American history is a 19th century creation.


But let us not lose sight however that New England, (including Massachusetts), is essential in the cultural evolution of the colony and its action on the evolution of the future independent nation, made that the Puritans became the symbols of the values, which claimed the North, then by extension all the United States.


This is the Northern Colony: New England.  


It is the North which would have given a religious and political identity to the future Independent State.


It is therefore considered the founding colony of the American state… and yet this region was colonized after Virginia, a colony in the South.

In the history of the United States, two major events of the national legend are to be remembered: the baptism of Pocahontas in the State of Virginia and the arrival of the Mayflower in New England.


We will come back later to the founding of Virginia since we have chosen to present these colonies in a geographical order, going from North to South.  

The idea was therefore to remain predominantly English , puritanical and protected from outside influences.  


It meant a withdrawal into oneself!


After many negotiations with Shipping Companies, they found in Plymouth, England, the Mayflower, a ship belonging to the Virginia Shipping Company. They signed a contract by which in exchange for the trip, they undertook to make the colony they would establish grow.

The goal was to found a colony between the 34th and the 41st parallel, which would be far enough from the existing trading posts so as not to be under the thumb of the Anglican Church whose authority they contested.

 On September 6, 1620, one hundred and two passengers boarded, including the thirty-five minority “Pilgrim” Puritans.

The others were craftsmen (whose know-how would be essential later), mainly English, whom they called “the Foreigners” because they were not Puritans.

The crossing lasted 66 days.

It was a terrible ordeal and yet they had to deplore only one death, a young sailor who had laughed at their religiosity.

 It did not take more to see the divine protection there.

Before disembarking, the men hold a council, including the "Foreigners", and 41 of them sign a pact which fixes the statutes of the future colony: the Mayflower Compact .


This charter will be considered a cornerstone of the American Constitution.

According to some historians, this text has long been described as the original source of American democracy. In fact, it is not.


From a very practical point of view, the Puritans wanted to have political power in their hands in order to maintain order and discipline before landing on these unknown lands.


The roots of US parliamentary democracy are to be found in Jamestown and the Virginia House of Bourgeois more than on the Mayflower.  

They give their implantation the name of New Plymouth which will become Plymouth , from the name of the port of departure. Strangers and Puritans decide to stay together under pressure from the captain. Separating would have been perilous and would have undermined the return on investment of the Maritime Company. Led by strong and determined leaders, the settlers, most of whom emigrated as families, quickly set to work, erecting a palisade and building a warehouse and houses and even a school.

Each party, for various reasons, wants to establish a good relationship quickly.

The English colony of Plymouth is a very fragile advance in Amerindian territory and wishes to live in peace with its neighbors.


For his part, Massasoit wishes to trade with these newcomers and moreover, he needs their support in his fight against more numerous and more powerful tribes like the Narragansetts and the Massachusetts.

In March 1621, a treaty was signed.


The land of the Migrants was not very fertile, but enough so that with the know-how of "foreign" artisans and the courage which was not lacking in all, they had enough to survive.

- A ship, the Mayflower;  

- a date, 1620;  

- a feast, Thanksgiving;  

- a text, the Mayflower Compact;  

- a place, Cape Cod;  

- a utopia, "the city on the hill";   

- heroes, the Pilgrim Fathers  



Here are all the ingredients for the mythical birth of the United States.

In the northeast, between Canada and the New York megalopolis, this northern region or New England includes six states:




New Hampshire,

Rhode Island and Vermont.

New England was built on religious identity, from the 17th century Puritans aboard the Mayflower  


On November 11, 1620, these Puritans thank heaven by finally seeing America, their Promised Land.
They soon landed on the East Coast (in the future state of Massachusetts), where they founded the city of Plymouth. They are not the first English emigrants to settle in the New World, or even in the current United States, but they will become, in the American imagination, the real pioneers of the country, to the point of being nicknamed, from the 19th century, the Pilgrim Fathers.  

But who are these Puritans?  

Puritanism historically corresponds to a current of protest within the Church of England in the
16th century which wished to purify the Anglican Church of its rites considered as "Catholic", and to
push the Reformation further to lead to particularly stripped rites.
In addition, he advocates total autonomy of the church against royal power.
These Puritans are known as “ Independents ” or “ Separatists ” in England and
“ Congregationalists ” in America.

These Puritans, refugees first of all in the United Provinces of the Netherlands since 1609, left Europe, determined to keep their English identity and to maintain their religious rigor. 


In fact, they felt that the Dutch, despite being sectarian, no longer corresponded to their values.

In this document, the signatories " pledge allegiance to King James I of England and agree before God and before each of them to constitute themselves into a civil political body, to devise just and equitable laws for the good of the colony, to which they promise to submit ".  


Photo credit: Mayflower Compact
Edward Percy Moran (1862 - 1935) 

In March 1621, passengers disembark and find a desolate land following a series of epidemics that wiped out more than three-quarters of the Native American population along the Massachusetts coast between 1617 and 1620

A governor is immediately elected in the colony. 



The first governor, John Carver (1576-1621), was a businessman who helped organize the expedition. 

In the fall of 1621, he organized a feast - the Thanksgiving  - on the anniversary of their arrival, to thank God and the Indians for having been able to obtain their first harvest by inviting Massasoit and his tribe to share a meal during which turkeys and pigeons were offered. 


He instituted a day of rest for the colony, whose influence is still considerable on American culture: turkey, ears of corn are still on the menu of this festival today secular but having kept its sense of the sacred and the religious in the most families.

The population of the small colony increased steadily: 124 inhabitants in 1624; 300 in 1630; and 550 in 1637. Quickly, Plymouth spread with the creation of several villages where they set up schools, anxious to give their children all the education necessary to accomplish the task that this community had set itself as well as a church in order to preserve religious homogeneity.


Finally, in 1636, the colony received confirmation of its charter and set up a Council of 7 elected members, with legislative power, to assist the governor. Two years later, it was decided that each village could elect two members of the Council. 

Plymouth is now a small, stable, prosperous and very homogeneous community from a social and religious point of view, which is growing rapidly.

• Raw materials were plentiful, mainly wood .

• They took advantage of the strength of the waterways to set up workshops , such as mills and sawmills.

• Shipbuilding developed rapidly, all the more so as the geographical configuration was favorable to ports.

• Cod fishing became a generous source of income.

• Trade transformed small villages into prosperous towns.

• The farms satisfied the townspeople.


Other evidence of assured prosperity was the creation of schools and places of worship.  


But the situation will change for this mother colony which will be absorbed by the State of Massachusetts which, throughout the colonial period, will be the flagship colony of New England.


The community of the Puritans has now succeeded in its bet to establish itself in the New World thanks to their courage and to the natives.

A massive influx of migrants will permanently modify the North-East coast.

New cities will be established and will give Massachusetts a considerable influence throughout the colonial period.

Texte :  Françoise Rochet 

Illustration : Gratianne Garcia 

Relecture et conseils avisés : Claudine Leroy 

New England - Part 1 

Quickly, the first contact takes place with the locals.


History has retained the name of Squanto (real name: Tisquantum -1580 - November 1622) who was one of the two Native Americans who helped the Migrants. (Samoset being the other).

His role will be essential because he spoke English. He had been in captivity in England between 1605 and 1612 and thus naturally became the main interlocutor of the colonists. In addition, he will serve as an intermediary with Grand Sachem Massasoit.

The winter of 1620-1621 was terrible for the colonists, since half of them perished from hunger and cold.


They owed their salvation to the intervention of Squanto and his tribe, who taught the English to survive.

The few and peaceful Iroquois taught them to cultivate corn and to fish

The second governor, William Bradford (1590-1657), elected in 1621 and then always re-elected until 1644, comes from the Netherlands.


He is the author of a chronicle of the first thirty years of the colony

Thousands of Puritans arrive and are determined to create a true state and build cities like Salem and Boston. In a decade, nearly 13,000 Puritans migrated to Massachusetts.


This astonishing figure is worth to this migratory movement the name of   "Great Migration". 

Boston therefore quickly became one of the most influential cities in this region, if not of all the English colonies in America.

Throughout the colonial period, Massachusetts was the flagship colony of New England.

In 1636, they founded the University of Harvad which will be the breeding ground for American knowledge and which will train many pastors.


 And the knowledge of science and mathematics was achieved through books printed by the Puritans on the press brought to Boston in 1638.

What was the government of this colony?  


You should know that theoretically, Church and State were separate. 

In fact, they were one.

This resulted in theocratic governance and cities developed around religious communities who organized public meetings where the material problems of the pioneers, civic and religious obligations were discussed.

Other colonies, however, were quickly founded in the North following political and religious dissensions or in response to the attraction of new lands.

The main demand of the dissidents is to obtain the separation of church and state.

Another, theological, is led by Ann Hutchison who denies the idea of ​​predestination within the church:

 “  Whatever you do, it's all written. 

Some will be saved, others will burn in hell.  "

Ann Hutchinson and three other dissidents, joined by Quakers, founded four towns in southern Massachusetts: Providence (1636), Portsmouth (1639), Newport (1640) and Warwick (1643), respectively.

In 1644, they obtained from King Charles I a colonization charter which formalized the association of these four establishments by creating the colony of Rhode Island.  

This new colony is poles apart from the Puritan project.

There is a total climate of tolerance and the temporal is completely detached from the spiritual.

Civil authorities have no jurisdiction over religion and vice versa.

Each town was self-governing and, from 1647, sent representatives to the colony assembly at Portsmouth.

But reasons other than political or religious will bring the colonists to new territories.

Groups of settlers who moved from Plymouth and the towns of Massachusetts to settle in the fertile valley of Connecticut .

In 1634 the first arrivals, joined by the Puritans from England, settled there.
The main motivations of these settlers are economic: they seek new land and hope to develop trade with natives living further west.

The politico-religious element is not, however, totally absent: They no longer wish to restrict the right to vote to only members of churches as in Massachusetts, but to extend it to all landowners.

Still from the colony of Plymouth which opened outlets along the coast, the  colonies of New Hampshire and Maine were born.  

Thus, the northern territories were conquered. 

The extent of the land and its wealth made it possible to dilute the differences of opinion in the colonies. Those who no longer adhered to the ideas of the majority had the possibility of leaving and founding new colonies elsewhere. This offered the advantage of "social and religious peace". 

In spite of these dissent, however, was preserved in this territory, this rigor peculiar to Puritanism which impregnated the American culture carrying an ideal of freedom, in principle. 


In fact, the road to freedom would still be long…

And to finish, let's say that the descendants of the passengers of the Mayflower, considered as a real aristocracy, are very numerous.

 It includes presidents of the United States including

John Adams (1735-1826)

George Herbert Walker Bush (1924-2018)

George Walker Bush (1946-).

But also, actors, writers such Orson Welles,

Clint Eastwood, Alec Baldwin, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Gere, Raquel Welch.

Philosopher Martha Craven Nussbaum.


Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine,



BERENGER Jean, DURAND Yves, MEYER Jean, Paris, Pioneers and Settlers in North America, Armand Colin, 1974

BERNAND Carmen, GRUZINSKI Serge, Histoire du Nouveau-Monde: Les métissages, Paris, Fayard, lieu, 1993

BOORSTIN Daniel, History of the Americans, Robert Laffont, Paris, 2003

DICKISON John, MAHN-LOT Marianne, 1492-1992 Europeans discover America,

Lyon, University Press of Lyon, 1991


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