While we are all familiar with the story of the Pilgrims and the landing at Plymouth Rock, we may be less acquainted with the religion and culture that informed the early North American settlers that followed.
Ten years after the founding of the Plymouth Colony in 1620, a major migration of immigrants from England was already underway. These immigrants were the so-called Puritans, who characterized themselves as ‘escapees’ from the dictatorial rule of the British monarch and the stifling hierarchy of the Church of England. Because they were overtly critical of the English power structure, the Puritans were persecuted by the British authorities, and many were either exiled for their dissent or traveled to the New World to escape persecution.
The rules of the Puritan community were often severely harsh and draconian. The punishment for violating Puritan law could be publicly humiliating, designed to be a deterrent against future violations of the public order. Moreover, Puritan culture was exceedingly androcentric, and women occupied subservient positions in society.
The earliest literary expressions of the Puritans in America took the form of sermons, historical narratives, and poetry. These writings were steeped in religious themes borrowed from the Biblical scriptures that informed the Puritan worldview.
[For our introduction to the cultural and historical setting of the Puritan period in American Literature, please download and complete the web-search guide sheet: Introduction to the Puritan Period of American Literature.]