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Pilgrims v. Puritans: An Epic Showdown

Happy Thanksgiving! (almost). I hope you all are ready for the holiday where it is acceptable to gain 10 pounds all in one meal. I know I am. I thought it would be a good time to discuss the holiday of Thanksgiving. Sure, you’ve all heard the same story since first grade: the pilgrims sailed to America from England on a ship called the Mayflower, they landed at Plymouth Rock, struggled to survive, and were saved by the Indians! (the name Squanto ring a bell?). The Indians gave the Pilgrims food and they all celebrated with a big dinner and this dinner tradition has existed ever since. Well, like everything else, it is a bit more complicated than that. Did you know there was another group that sailed to America from England called the Puritans? When people talk about the Pilgrims they actually might be referring to the Puritans without even realizing it. But not to fear, I am here to clear up any confusion!

Let’s first begin with the Puritans. Who were they and where did they come from? Well, like the Pilgrims, the Puritans came from England. In 1630, the Puritans sailed to America. At this time in England, slavery started becoming a big part of the economy and the Puritans did not believe in slavery, so they packed their bags and sailed away. The Puritans were Protestants. They were so religious and so hardcore Protestant that other Protestants in England thought they were a little crazy. When the Puritans landed in America, they landed in Massachusetts. You can thank the Puritans for the formation of New England because the New England colonies eventually grew out of just this one colony of Puritans. No one else came to this region from England, so if you are following along, that means this colony procreated with each other into what would become the New England colonies.

Now for the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims actually came from England to America a little earlier than the Puritans. The Pilgrims did indeed sail on a ship called the Mayflower in 1620. They landed on Plymouth Rock in present-day Massachusetts. They were radically religious Protestants and like the Puritans, they came to America for religious freedom. The Pilgrims believed that the Church of England was not religious enough. England did not really like the Pilgrims either. The holiday of Thanksgiving comes from the Pilgrims and the shared meal they had with the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate gratitude and friendship (the Indians helped to save the Pilgrims from starvation).

One of the defining differences between the Puritans and the Pilgrims was that while the Puritans were still affiliated with the Church of England, the Pilgrims considered themselves separated from it. Also, there were 102 Pilgrims while thousands of Puritans flocked to the New World after the first group arrived in 1630. A large part of this migration was due to the fact that after 1933, King Charles I of England appointed William Laud as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. William Laud was on the side of nonconformity in the church and soon started to preach this. The Puritans, who were conformists, did not like this, and more and more of them migrated to America.

So was there an epic showdown between the Puritans and the Pilgrims? Well, not really. Both groups were technically Puritans but Pilgrims were a group within the Puritans that became an even more radically religious group. So when you mention Pilgrims, you are technically referring to the Puritans. And why is this all important? Because history is important, of course! Well, and also its fun to look smart in front of family and friends around the Thanksgiving Day table among talking about politics, sports, and your cousin’s new baby. Happy Thanksgiving!

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