New England was first settled by Puritans, people from England who believed that the Church of England had become corrupt. Their name comes from their intention to purify the Church. The first group of settlers, who came on the Mayflower and founded the Plymouth colony, were called separatists. They wanted to leave the Church entirely. A decade later, a second group of Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but they were less radical. Instead of separating from the Church, they wanted to remain members of the church and purify it from within. The following documents are taken from this second group of settlers. As you read, think about how their beliefs might have influence their actions in New England and helped shape the new colony.

City upon a Hill – John Winthrop

Source: John Winthrop (1588–1649), lawyer and leader of the 1630 migration of English Puritans to Massachusetts Bay Colony, delivered this famous sermon aboard the Arbella to settlers traveling to New England.
  • Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
  • The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.
  • The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going. And to shut this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. “Beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good and evil,” in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with Him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it.
  • But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. Therefore let us choose life, that we and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.
  1. Sourcing: Who kind of person was John Winthrop? Who was he speaking to in this sermon? What do you think was his purpose in giving this sermon?
  2. Contextualization: What might Winthrop’s audience might have been thinking and feeling as they listened to him on the ship?
  3. Close reading: What do you think Winthrop means when he says, “We shall be as a City Upon a Hill?”

The Divine Right to Occupy the Land – John Cotton

Source: Puritan leader John Cotton gave the following sermon to members of his congregation who were immigrating to America in 1630. Cotton became a respected and influential clergyman in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more [11 Sam. 7:10]....
  • The placing of a people in this or that country is from the appointment of the Lord...
  • Now, God makes room for a people three ways: First, when He casts out the enemies of a people before them by lawful war with the inhabitants....
  • Second, when He gives a foreign people favor in the eyes of any native people to come and sit down with them....
  • Third, when He makes a country, though not altogether void of inhabitants, yet void in that place where they reside. Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the sons of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it nor ask their leaves....


  1. Sourcing: Who was John Cotton? Who was he speaking to in this sermon? Why is he speaking about settling in a new land?
  2. Contextualization: In this sermon, who are the ‘inhabitants’ in the new land? Who are the ‘foreign people?’
  3. Close reading: What does Cotton say that God will do for the foreign people when they arrive in the new land?

Section Question:

  1. Corroboration: Considering information from both Winthrop’s sermon and Cotton’s speech, were the Puritans selfish or selfless? What is the evidence for your answer?