The Puritans came to establish a utopia, not religious chaos

The conventional explanation that the Puritans migrated to New England for religious freedom misses the obvious.

When the Puritans first arrive in 1629, followed the next year with the beginning of their great flood of migration, theirs is a well-orchestrated and well-financed scheme to establish a utopia, one based on their Calvinist Protestant worldview. In many ways, it ranges well beyond the confines of religion.

They set forth in droves.

Crucially, sensing that their mission could be corrupted by false teachings and practices, they squelch unorthodoxy and dissent early on. Within the first decade of their arrival along Massachusetts Bay, they banish Samuel Gorton, Roger Williams, and Anne Hutchinson, who find refuge in Williams’ new colony of Rhode Island. Early Quaker history turns its focus there and neighboring Cape Cod, for good reason, though much also happens north of Boston in Salem, Hampton, and Dover.

Hutchinson’s brother-in-law, the Reverend John Wheelwright, also takes flight and founds the town of Exeter, on the other end of Great Bay from Dover, in New Hampshire.

The Arabella, one of the Puritan fleet. Imagine spending two months confined to a vessel like this in often turbulent waters.

Others head more or less straight to Dover. Among them is Hansard Knollys, a minister whose evolving theology will lead him to being a founder of the Baptist denomination when he returns to England. He’s not quite there yet when he formally organizes the church in Dover as a congregational society just six years after its first services. Had he been a bit clearer in his theological evolution, Dover could have established the first Baptist church in America, a year before Williams in Providence. Oh, well.

But that does leave an opening for the Quakers a decade later.

Yes, Puritans. They do look like a smug, judgmental lot. Of course, that’s a judgmental view on my part. I’d hate to get in an argument with them. Ahem.

All the more, I sense that Knollys leaves enough nonconformist thought in his wake to lead some independent spirits in Dover to privately question the ongoing Puritan preaching. As my new book will note, there are hints of that in the town records – supposedly subversive thinking that has to await the arrival of the itinerant Quakers for confirmation and action.

As we’ll see, it’s a volatile mix awaiting the spark for explosion.

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