The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE CHURCH COVENANT

"God sifted a whole nation to bring choice grain into the wilderness," said the Puritan historian, never doubting that he was setting down the "cause" of the Great Migration. He would have acknowledged that social pressures at home or the promise of financial reward in a new country had been inducements, but he would never have called them the cause; they were at best "means" employed by God to bring His people together in a holy commonwealth, natural methods for working a special providence. A later age, less wont to distinguish the hand of God in history, finds itself unable to ascertain precisely how or to what extent the more mundane influences operated upon particular emigrants. Our researches into economic and geographical origins have not as yet made clear why this or that man, or this or that group, migrated, while their neighbors, equally Puritanical and subject to the same compulsions, stayed at home. Recent disclosures, however, have pointed to one previously neglected factor that must now be allowed as much influence as hostility to the personal rule of Charles I or the depressed state of the wool industry: long before they left England, a large number of those who ultimately became leaders of the colonies were known to each other. Many of the clergy were united by friendships formed at the universities, or by their common allegiance to a few great theologians, particularly Ames and Preston. The civil leaders were friends of the clergy, and often acquainted with one another before they began to purchase shares in the Massachusetts Bay Company. It would be an exaggeration to say that, before the departure, all the ministers and magistrates had become an organized band or that the settlement was a matured conspiracy to which every settler was an accessory, yet a sufficient number of connections can be traced among the principal figures to suggest a

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