Before long, the Pilgrims were eclipsed by the far larger and more important immigration of Non-Separatist Puritans, who started the Massachusetts Bay colony.
Harassment by the Church of England, a hostile Charles I, and an economic recession led the Non-Separatist Puritans to decide to settle in North America. Puritan merchants bought the defunct Virginia Company of Plymouth's charter in 1628 and received royal permission to found a colony in the Mas'sachusetts area north of Plymouth Plantation. Between 1630 and 1640, more than twenty thousand Puri'tan men, women, and children took part in the “Great Migration” to their new home.
The Puritans brought a high level of religious idealism to their first colony, which their leader John Winthrop described as “a city upon a hill”—a model of piety for all. Almost overnight, they founded a half dozen towns, setting up churches on the Congregationalist pattern under the Reverend John Cotton. These churches ran their own affairs, taxed the community to finance operations, and hired and fired ministers. Although church attendance was compulsory, not everyone was deemed worthy of membership. The New England Way was a rigorous examination of a person's spiritual beliefs to identify “saints,” or those qualified to be a church member. This intimidating test ultimately served to limit church membership and forced the next generation to modify procedures. Education was a high priority in Puritan society because literacy was essential to Bible study. Laws were passed calling for the creation of grammar schools to teach reading and writing, and Harvard College was founded in 1636 to train the clergy.
The narrow views of the Puritan leaders regarding religious conformity provoked opposition. Roger Williams argued for the separation of church and state, and the right of privacy in religious belief, and against compulsory church service. Banished from Massachusetts Bay in 1635, he went south to Narragansett Bay and founded the Providence settlement. In 1644, Williams received royal permission to start the colony of Rhode Island, a haven for other religious dissenters.
Anne Hutchinson was another critic of clerical authority. Puritan leaders called her and her supporters Antinomians—individuals opposed to the rule of law. As a woman, she was also seen as a challenger to the traditionally male-dominated society. Tried for sedition, Hutchinson was also exiled as a danger to the colony. She lived in Rhode Island for a time and then moved to New Netherland, where she was killed in 1643 during a conflict between settlers and Indians.
Massachusetts Bay was a theocratic society, or a society in which the lines between church and state were blurred. Church membership, for example, was required for men to vote for elected local officials. The intent of many of the colony's laws was regulation of personal behavior based on Puritan values. Single men and women could not live on their own. Disrespectful servants, errant husbands, and disobedient wives were subject to civil penalties, and rebellious children could even be put to death. The laws also provided a degree of protection for women by punishing abusive men and compelling fathers to support their children.
// Puritan efforts to maintain an intensely ideal religious community did not endure past the first generation. Their restrictive membership requirements in place made it difficult for the Puritan churches to maintain themselves.
In 1662, the Half-Way Covenant was adopted to address the problem. It allowed the church members' baptized children who would not give testimony to achieve sainthood (and thereby church membership) a “half-way” membership in the congregation. This change in the rules meant that the children's children could receive baptism after all. Without sainthood, however, they could neither vote on church matters nor take communion. Change was also imposed from outside. Massachusetts's 1691 royal charter made property ownership rather than church membership the qualification for voting and provided for the toleration of religious dissenters. The New England Way was breaking down, and a consequence was the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 and 1693.
Belief in witches and demonic possession was common in the seventeenth century, and many people, mainly middle-aged women, were accused of witchcraft throughout New England. What made the events in Salem Village unique was the extent of the hysteria, which led to the imprisonment of more than one hundred men and women and the execution of twenty. Historians attribute the outbreak to several factors—rivalries between families, a clash of values between a small farming community like Salem Village and the more cosmopolitan commercial center of Salem, and the ties between many of the accused with Anglicans, Quakers, and Baptists, whom the Puritans considered heretics.