Study Guide

New England Puritans & Pilgrims People

  • John Winthrop

    John Winthrop (1587–1649) was a devoutly religious Puritan elder who led a large migration of Puritans from England to America in 1629 and became the first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony one year later. He was probably the most powerful figure in New England in the first half of the 17th century.

    Seeking refuge and a new beginning for his fellow Puritans, Winthrop joined the Massachusetts Bay Company after it formed in 1629. When the company received a royal charter to begin a colony in New England, Winthrop pledged to sell his estate and take his family to Massachusetts if the company government and charter were also transferred to America. The other company members agreed to these terms and elected him governor on October 20th, 1629. 

    Winthrop arrived in Salem in 1630 and founded the settlement on the Shawmut peninsula that became Boston. Besides serving as governor 12 times, he successfully opposed dissenter Anne Hutchinson and her followers and allowed the exiled Roger Williams to remain in North America. After several years of protest and negotiation, he also reluctantly allowed the settlers of Massachusetts to participate in the colonial government and to create a representative body out of the General Court of Massachusetts.

  • Increase Mather

    Increase Mather (1639–1723) was an influential Boston Congregational minister during the period when colonial leadership passed over to the first native-born generation in North America. He attended Harvard at age 12 and graduated at 17. The following year, he delivered his first sermon in Massachusetts and then traveled to England to preach. He returned to New England and in 1661 he accepted a post at Boston's North Church. The next year, he married his stepsister, Maria Cotton.

    Mather was an author and educator, and exhibited a fierce independence throughout his life. In 1676, he published a Brief History of the War with the Indians in New England, in which he argued that King Philip's War was a form of divine judgment sent upon the second generation of Puritans for having failed to follow "the blessed design of their Fathers." He said that the new generation had forsaken church protection by seeking material gain over spiritual purity. He also wrote the preface to Mary Rowlandson's famous captivity narrative from her experience during King Philip's War (1675–1676). 

    When King Charles II demanded that the Massachusetts colonists pledge absolute fealty to him or lose their charter (in 1683), Mather announced that it would be a sin against God for the colonists to agree and pledge their obedience. He argued that God alone was deserving of absolute fealty. The colonists agreed and Massachusetts lost its charter in 1686. 

    Two years later, Mather again traveled to England to express the colonists' gratitude to King James II for his declaration of liberty to all faiths. He remained in England through the Glorious Revolution, when he obtained from the new King William and Queen Mary a removal of the despised Massachusetts Governor Edmund Andros—Sir William Phipps was appointed in Andros' place. Mather also acquired a new charter for his home colony in 1691. He then returned to Massachusetts, where the new charter proved so unpopular that he felt compelled to give up his post as president of Harvard in 1701.

  • Cotton Mather

    Cotton Mather (1663–1728) was Increase Mather's son, a Puritan clergyman and a writer like his father. 

    Cotton was ordained in 1685 and became a colleague of his father at North Church, Boston. He was pastor during his father's many absences and then after his father's death in 1723. Cotton's Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), an ecclesiastical history of New England, was quite influential in his time and made him famous among New England ministers. While his father negotiated with King William and Queen Mary for a new Massachusetts colonial governor, Cotton helped lead the movement at home against the very unpopular Edmund Andros. When the monarchs replaced Andros with Sir William Phips, Cotton served in his government.

    Cotton praised the heroism of the famous Native American captive and author Mary Rowlandson—his father even wrote the preface to her 1682 narrative. He's also more notoriously remembered for his role in the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. He didn't approve of all the trials, but just a few years prior, he'd published Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions, followed after the trials by Wonders of the Invisible World, in which he discussed satanic possession. 

    Despite these topics, he combined this mysticism with an earnest curiosity for science. Cotton was the first native-born American to be a fellow of the Royal Society, and he supported smallpox inoculation even when it provoked a popular outcry against him.

  • Roger Williams

    Roger Williams (1603–1683), a clergyman and advocate of religious freedom, was the founder of Rhode Island. 

    Williams founded the capital, Providence, after he was exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. The Massachusetts General Court banished Roger Williams for his radical religious beliefs and ideas about politics. He challenged his fellow Puritans to acknowledge their separation from the Church of England, and questioned the king's right to confiscate Native American lands. For the sake of purifying the church, he believed in the complete separation between church and state, and also in religious tolerance. People fleeing persecution in Massachusetts colony and England found a home in Rhode Island.

    Rhode Island became an official colony in 1644, thanks to several powerful friends of Roger Williams. He served as its president for three consecutive terms after 1654, and made a living from farming and trading. Williams maintained close ties with the local Native Americans, especially the Narragansetts, whose language he spoke and from whom he purchased the land that became Providence. 

    Still, he couldn't prevent the outbreak of King Philip's War in 1675 and actually fought in it as a captain of militia. Known for his charm and integrity, Williams remained a Christian all his life, though he dissociated himself from the existing churches.

  • Anne Hutchinson

    Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643) was an outspoken and controversial figure in the religious development of Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

    After migrating there in 1634, Anne organized weekly meetings to discuss recent sermons, in which she also expressed her own theological views. In particular, she stressed the individual's relationship with God as opposed to reliance upon ministers. She thought ministers erred in emphasizing good works as though they could bring a person salvation, since the destiny of a person's soul was—according to Calvinist theology—predetermined by God from the day he or she was born.

    Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop considered Anne Hutchinson's opinions blasphemous and led the successful counterattack against her. Hutchinson was pregnant when she was tried before the General Court in 1637. Though court testimony showed that she held her own in the sophisticated theological debates with the testifying ministers and the presiding magistrates, she was convicted of "traducing [slandering] the ministers" and banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

    After she was held for a time at the marshal's house in Roxbury, Massachusetts, she still refused to recant, and was then tried before the Boston church and formally excommunicated. She settled on Aquidneck Island (now Rhode Island) in 1638 and her baby was stillborn there. 

    After the death of her husband, Anne resettled on Long Island Sound, where she was murdered by Native Americans. Her enemies, including Winthrop, took this in combination with the stillbirth of her daughter as confirmation of God's judgment against heretics.

  • Metacom

    Metacom (1638–1676) was the second son of Wampanoag chief Massasoit. His father coexisted peacefully with the Pilgrims and gave them crucial knowledge to survive their first harsh winters. He also maintained peaceful relations with the Rhode Island settlers. 

    When Metacom took over in 1662, he reacted against the treatment of his people by settlers encroaching further onto Wampanoag lands. At Taunton in 1671, he was humiliated when whites forced him to sign a new peace agreement that included the surrender of Native American guns. Convinced that the whites were bent on total domination, he established a military alliance with other southern New England tribes.

    When officials in Plymouth Colony hung three Wampanoags in 1675 on flimsy evidence for the murder of a converted or "praying" Indian, Metacom's alliance launched a united assault on colonial towns throughout the region. The resulting war, named for Metacom (or King Philip, as he was known to the colonists), was one of the bloodiest in American history, proportionate to the size of the population at the time. Metacom's forces enjoyed initial victories in the first year, but then the alliance began to unravel. 

    By the end of the conflict, the Wampanoags and their Narragansett allies were almost completely destroyed. Metacom foresaw the defeat and returned to his ancestral home at Mt. Hope, but was then killed in battle, quartered and beheaded. The Puritans displayed his decapitated head on a pole at Plymouth for another 25 years.

  • Squanto

    Squanto (unknown–1622), also known as Tisquantum, was born into the Pawtuxet tribe that lived around present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

    Little is known about his early life, until he came into contact with Europeans who began documenting his story. He may have been the Native American whom George Weymouth took to England in 1605 and then returned with John Smith in 1615. He was certainly kidnapped along with other Native Americans by one of Smith's men, Capt. Thomas Hunt, who took them to the Mediterranean port of Málaga, Spain, to be sold into slavery. Squanto managed to escape to England and return home in 1619 with Capt. Thomas Dermer, only to find that his tribe had been wiped out by disease.

    In the spring of 1621, Squanto met the Pilgrim settlers and showed them how to grow maize and fish. Since he spoke English, he played a vital role as an interpreter between the Pilgrims and the surrounding Native Americans. He also facilitated a treaty between Wampanoag Chief Massasoit and the whites. 

    Squanto was serving as guide and interpreter on William Bradford's expedition around Cape Cod when he contracted smallpox and died.

  • Weetamoo

    Weetamoo (unknown–1676) was the squaw-sachem (or warrior-leader) of the Pocassets. She exercised substantial power in the Wampanoag and Narragansett communities and was Metacom's sister-in-law. Weetamoo was perhaps the most powerful Native American woman of the colonial era, and allied with Metacom during his war against the colonists from 1675 to 1676.

    Weetamoo guarded Mary Rowlandson during her captivity in 1675—Rowlandson referred to herself as Weetamoo's slave. Rowlandson described her as "a severe and proud Dame [...] bestowing every day in dressing herself neat as such time as any Gentry of the land: powdering her hair, and painting her face, going with Neck-laces, with Jewels in her ears, and Bracelets upon her hands." 

    In his history of the war, Puritan minister Increase Mather described Weetamoo as an enemy of similar stature and power to Metacom himself. After Weetamoo died of an accidental drowning, the Puritans beheaded her body and displayed her decapitated head on a pole as a lesson to others. Increase declared it an act of divine intervention that Weetamoo had "furnished Philip with Canooes for his men" during the war, but had drowned because she "could not meet with a Canoo."

  • Mary Rowlandson

    Mary Rowlandson (1637–1701), a housewife in Lancaster, Massachusetts, became one of North America's first female authors after her harrowing experience in Native American captivity during Metacom's War from 1675 to 1676. 

    Not much is known about her life until February 10th, 1675, when Native Americans attacked Lancaster in a surprise offensive. They took Mary, her three children, and 20 other people captive for 83 days, during which time she was forced to travel some 150 miles on foot along with her captors. A Native American gave her a stolen copy of the Bible, which she later identified as her only solace during the ordeal. Mary was finally released on 20 pounds ransom near Mt. Wachusett on May 2nd, 1675. Her two surviving children were later released as well.

    At some point in the next seven years, Mary wrote her renowned narrative. It was one of the first and finest written North American captivity narratives and became an instant hit among readers after its publication in 1682. Mary described the places she traveled and the people who held her prisoner in vivid detail. The short yet exhilarating narrative went through over 30 editions in the ensuing centuries and is often assigned in classrooms today.