The American Puritans: Recommended Resources

FOR THE AMERICAN PURITANS, the wealth of material is overwhelming. Here is an attempt to make the overwhelming manageable; the focus is on Puritanism from 1630 to 1730.

Two of the most accessible overviews complement each other nicely. Francis Bremer, in The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards (St. Martin’s, 1976), covers key events in an engaging narrative. Leland Ryken’s Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Zondervan, 1986) discusses topically who Puritans were and what they believed.

Puritanism as an intellectual movement is covered magisterially by Perry Miller in The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939) and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953)—essential but not for the faint-hearted. A more accessible treatment is J. I. Packer’s Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990).

Puritan Faith

How did the Puritans live out their faith? Harry S. Stout studied the key role of preaching in The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (Oxford, 1977), while Horton Davies, in The Worship of the American Puritans, 1629–1730 (Peter Lang, 1990), shows why and how Puritans worshiped.

Getting more personal, David D. Hall looks at relationships between pastors and parishioners in The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century(North Carolina, 1972). Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe’s The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth Century New England (North Carolina, 1982) reveals how Puritans improved their spiritual lives.

Edmund S. Morgan wrote The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth Century New England (Greenwood, 1944, 1966) to give us a glimpse inside the Puritan home. The experience of Puritan women is revealed by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in Good Wives: Image and Reality in Northern New England, 1650–1750 (Vintage, 1980).

Want a closer look at a time when Puritan intentions went awry? Start with Larry Gragg’s The Salem Witch Crisis (Praeger, 1992), an effective narrative of the events.

Key People

Two books that help us look at individuals are Edmund S. Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Little, Brown, 1958), an engaging look at the prominent Puritan governor; and Michael G. Hall’s more exhaustive The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather (Wesleyan, l 988), the archetypal Puritan preacher.

Samuel Eliot Morison, in Builders of the Bay Colony (1930), gives quick biographies of important early Puritans. For a close look at one dissenter, see Edwin S. Gaustad’s Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America (Eerdmans, 1991).

By the Puritans

Finally, hear Puritans speak for themselves in these two splendid anthologies: Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco, eds., The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology (Harvard, 1985) and Perry Miller, ed., The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry (Doubleday, 1956).

By Mark Galli

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #41 in 1994]

Mark Galli is managing editor of Christian History.
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