It is one of the sustaining ironies of our history that the first Americans were Indians and Englishmen. In the close familiarity of the present, we are apt to forget that the first white settlers of colonial America were the cultural heirs of Elizabethan and Stuart England, not the red-blooded American Revolutionaries of fame and fable.
The people who settled New England were religious Puritans predominately from the cloth-weaving eastern counties of England known as East Anglia. Beginning in 1620 and rising to a crescendo in the Great Exodus of the 1630s, they came to the New World seeking freedom to worship God in their own way, free from what they considered the unscriptural restrictions of the Church of England under its stern patriarch, Archbishop William Laud. They had few differences with the doctrines of the mother Church, which they continued to regard with filial devotion, but they did object to certain of its ceremonies and its administration of discipline. The English Church, they felt, had not been sufficiently "purified" of its Catholic excesses when it was finally converted to Calvinistic Protestantism under Queen Elizabeth. Their criticism--often strident and full of righteous zeal--earned for them the enmity of the episcopal hierarchy, and many Puritan ministers, followed by whole parishes of the faithful, were "hounded out of the land."
After an initial flirtation with Holland, the Puritans selected New England for the site of their "City upon a Hill", a community of godliness that would serve as a beacon of hope to a Europe festering with war, famine, pestilence, and imminent destruction. Believing themselves to be in a special relationship with God, they attempted to fashion a society based on order and harmony so as to avoid the