Puritan Social Customs

Updated July 18, 2017

To say that religion was the most important part of puritan society is an understatement. Faith was the foundation, framework and form of all things puritan, playing a part in every dimension of the puritan social order. Occupations, family life, social discipline and education were all religiously motivated in early puritan New England.


Puritan religion had its roots in Calvinistic Protestantism, of the Church of England variety. According to Kay Kizer of the University of Notre Dame, "Puritans stripped away the traditional trappings and formalities of Christianity which had been slowly building throughout the previous 1500 years. Theirs was an attempt to "purify" the church and their own lives." Puritans measured all human actions against the Bible, considered the true words of God Himself.


Puritan families learnt farming out of necessity. It wasn't the only occupation held; fishing (in coastal communities) and trading were common sources of sustenance and income as well. The "protestant work ethic" applies well to puritan society. Margo Todd, author of the book "Christian Humanism and the Puritan Social Order," notes the many historians who "concluded that puritans were indeed proponents of a ruthlessly capitalist ethic."


Kay Kizer of the University of Notre Dame puts it well: "Any deviations from the normal way of Puritan life met with strict disapproval and discipline. Since the church elders were also political leaders, any church infraction was also a social one. There was no margin for error." This stringent social discipline, plus strikingly strict social piety led to the great tragedies of the Salem Witch Trials.


Puritans were precise, purposeful and dedicated in their efforts at education, inextricably linking education and religion. Highly educated preachers derived knowledge from the words of scripture, but puritans expected the laity to be educated as well. Pulpits were the first educational venue, homes and schools second. Puritans formed schools very shortly after arriving in New England, forming the first American college, Harvard University, in 1636. Parents, teachers and preachers took seriously their responsibility to educate children about the world and puritan beliefs. Puritans designed education for the further "purification" of the community as a whole.


Puritans held their faith to such high esteem, that they made subscription to the puritan form of Christianity the determinant for social membership. Puritans banned from the community those early pioneers who espoused other forms of Christianity unless they converted. Through this exclusivity, the puritan social order created cohesiveness. Each member of each town had the same religion, hence similar ethical expectations, and worldly and otherworldly objectives

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About the Author

Rhiannon Kutzer has written for nonprofit organizations since 2003. She apprenticed with the U.S. Department of Labor as a disabilities support services provider, and owned a nutrition coaching company. Kutzer writes primarily about religious issues at eHow and Answerbag. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in humanities from the University of Wyoming, where she specialized in religion and philosophy.