I’d like to preface my essay by stating that although I am drawing parallels between Puritanism and Mormonism, my point is not to argue that Mormonism came from Puritanism. There were many differences between the two religions and societies; there were many things about Puritan society and religion that were greatly at odds with Mormonism (including the severity of some their punishments of crime, for example). However, Puritanism helped pave the way for the Restoration.
Much of the information about Puritanism comes from the following source:
Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
In the 1600s a wave of emigrants crossed the rough Atlantic Ocean, huddled together in their sailing ships headed to a new land and new opportunity. Some of the ships were comfortable and safe; others were cramped and unsound. Sometimes illness and death swept through the ships, breaking the health and hearts of the travelers. Those who came to Massachusetts, particularly the Bay Colony, were generally the middle-class in England. They were some of the cream of the crop of England. Charles Dickens made a similar comment about one group of Mormon emigrants he visited as they prepared to depart for America: “They were in their degree, the pick and flower of England” (The Uncommercial Traveller, Chapter 22, Bound for the Great Salt Lake, Charles Dickens). The journey for the Puritan families was pricey – up to four times the gross yearly income of many middle-class workers. They sacrificed much to cross the ocean in order to have religious liberty. Why did they give up so much?
The Puritans sought religious freedom and new lives. Many of these emigrants came from the eastern shores of their native country England. They came from an area in which the Protestant Reformation movement was strong. This part of England was populated by many people who rejected the rules and doctrines of the prevailing church and who protested its power. Some of these Protestants met together sometimes at the peril of their lives to hold Bible study groups. Many were viewed as heretics and were often persecuted. They suffered much at the hands of the ruling theocracy. In fact, during the 1500s, most of the Protestants who were burned as heretics were from this eastern region of England. One prominent English minister called this eastern portion of England the “throbbing heart of heresy in England” (Fischer, p.47).
A particular sect of Calvinists called the Puritans, who based many of their doctrines on the teachings of John Calvin, flourished in this region. They were among those persecuted by the prevailing church. However, they persevered through persecution; they longed for a day when they could worship how and when they wanted. They wanted freedom of religion.