Religion was the foundation of the early Colonial American Puritan writings. Many of the early settlements were comprised of men and women who fled Europe in the face of persecution to come to a new land and worship according to their own will. Their beliefs were stalwartly rooted in the fact that God should be involved with all facets of their lives and constantly worshiped. These Puritans writings focused on their religious foundations related to their exodus from Europe and religions role in their life on the new continent. Their literature helped to proselytize the message of God and focused on hard work and strict adherence to religious principles, thus avoiding eternal damnation. These main themes are evident in the writings of Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mathers, and John Winthrop. This paper will explore the writings of these three men and how their religious views shaped their literary works, styles, and their historical and political views.
John Winthrop 1588-1649
John Winthrop was a pioneer for religious freedom in America. As one of the early settlers sailing west on the Arbella, he composed a sermon called A Model for Christian Charity. Winthrop’s sermon is the framework for creating the spiritual colony that he envisioned and a way to unite the people coming to a new land. The people traveling west were not from one group but rather came from many groups and backgrounds. Winthrop knew that in order to succeed in the wilderness these individuals would have to give up some of their individuality for the greater good of the colony. Winthrop felt that religion was the ultimate way to accomplish this and that Christ was the perfect model to follow. In one passage he says:
For patterns we have that first of our Savior who, out of his good will in obedience to his father, becoming a part of this body and being knit with it in the bond of love, found such a native sensitivity of our infirmities and sorrows as he willingly yielded himself to death to ease the infirmities of the rest of his body, and so healed their sorrows. (Winthrop, 2008)
This passage shows how Christ set the example for all to follow by giving his life for us and that if these people coming to the world would follow Christ’s pattern, they in turn could be an example to others one day.
John Winthrop was a true leader who understood that the difficulties the new world would present could be overcome through Christian Charity. As such he was able to organize a community based on religious convictions that would motivate people to work as one to succeed.
Cotton Mathers 1663-1728
Cotton Mather was remembered as one of the most influential Puritan ministers of his time. Mather set the moral tone in the colonies and led the charge for 2nd and 3rd generation Puritans to get back to the theological roots of Puritanism that were held by the earlier generation settlers. From an early age much was expected of Mather. He was the son of Increase...