E/MS Unit II

Lesson B: Religious Intolerance in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts

Key Questions

  1. What were the early settlers' religious goals?
  2. How did the Puritans treat people who had different religious views than they did?
  3. Why were Puritans so intolerant of religious practices that were different from their own?

Primary Sources

Document E/MS II-3: Setting an Example for the World: Excerpts from John Winthrop’s Speech "A Modell of Christian Charity," 1630

Document E/MS II-3: Setting an Example for the World: Excerpts from John Winthrop’s Speech "A Modell of Christian Charity," 1630

John Winthrop wrote and delivered this speech to his fellow passengers on board the ship Arabella, which arrived in Salem in June 1630.

Note: The spelling has been modernized.

We are a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ…we ought to [consider] ourselves knit together by this bond of love… It is by mutual consent, to seek out a place [where we will live together] under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical. In such cases as this, the care of the public must oversway all private respects… The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord;…that ourselves and posterity may be the better preserved from the common corruptions of this evil world to serve the Lord…

We must bear one another’s burdens. We must not look only to our own things, but also on the things of our brethren….

We are entered into a Covenant with Him [God] for this work…. The Lord has given us leave to draw our own articles….We have [asked] Him [for His] blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place [New England] we desire, then he has ratified this covenant…and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it…

[The only way to do the work of the Lord], and to provide for our posterity, is… 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 delight in each other; make other’s 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 [group]….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….

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us…

From Winthrop Society website, http://www.winthropsociety.org/doc_charity.php

Document E/MS II-4: "We Sentence You to Depart": Comments on Roger Williams’s Views

Document E/MS II-4: "We Sentence You to Depart": Comments on Roger Williams’s Views

In October 1635, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to convince Roger Williams that his beliefs were wrong. When he refused to change his opinions, the court ordered him to leave the colony.

From the records of the General Court:

Whereas, Mr. Roger Williams, one of the elders of the Church of Salem, hath broached and divulged divers new and dangerous opinions against the authority of magistrates and . . . it is therefore ordered, that the said Mr. Williams shall depart out of this jurisdiction within six weeks now ensuing.

Roger Williams’s “dangerous opinions” included the belief

“That we have not our land by patent from the King, but that the natives are the true owners of it, and that we ought to repent of such a receiving of it by patent [and] that the civil magistrate's power extends only to the bodies and goods, and outward state of men. . . “

Because winter was approaching when the General Court banished Roger Williams, he was allowed to stay in Salem until the spring. Despite instructions that he not preach, Williams held meetings in his home. The governor and his assistants notified Williams that he should come to Boston so they could ship him back to England. He said he would not, so the authorities went “to apprehend him and carry him aboard the ship, but when they came at his house they found he had been gone three days before, but whither they could not learn.”

In his 1644 work, The Bloudy tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Roger Williams wrote:

God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state, which uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war…and of hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls….true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom…either of Jew or Gentile.

He also wrote:

Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.


  1. Why was Roger Williams called before the magistrates?
  2. What did the authorities try to do first?
  3. After they banished Williams, what happened?
  4. What were some of Roger Williams’s beliefs?
  5. Why did the Massachusetts authorities consider Williams so dangerous that he should be banished from the colony?
Document E/MS II-5: Catholics Keep Out: Massachusetts Law of 1637

Document E/MS II-5: Catholics Keep Out: Massachusetts Law of 1637

In 1637 the Massachusetts General Court passed a set of laws including this one barring Catholic priests from the colony.

This court, taking into consideration, the great wars, combustions and divisions which are this day in Europe; and that the same are observed to be raised and fomented chiefly by the secret underminings and solicitations of those of the Jesuitical order, men brought up and devoted to the religion and Court of Rome, which has occasioned diverse states to expel them their territories; for prevention whereof among ourselves, it is ordered and enacted by the Authority of this Court.

That no Jesuit, or spiritual or ecclesiastical person ordained by the authority of the Pope or the Sea of Rome shall henceforth at any time repair to, or come within this jurisdiction; And if any person shall give just cause of suspicion that he is one of such society or order he shall be brought before some of the magistrates, and if he cannot free himself of such suspicion he shall be committed to prison or bound over to the next Court of assistants, to be tried or proceeded with by banishment as the Court shall see cause: and if any person so banished shall be taken a second time within this jurisdiction upon lawful trial and conviction he shall be put to death. Provided this law shall not extend to any such Jesuit, spiritual or ecclesiastical person as shall be cast upon our shores, by ship wreck or other accident, so as he continue no longer than till he have opportunity of passage for his departure…


  1. To whom did this law apply?
  2. Why did Massachusetts officials believe it was necessary?
  3. What did the law say would happen the first time someone broke it?
  4. What would happen the second time?
  5. What exception was written into the law?
Document E/MS II-6: "She Troubles the Peace": Excerpts from "The Examination of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson at the Court at Newtown," 1637

Document E/MS II-6: "She Troubles the Peace": Excerpts from "The Examination of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson at the Court at Newtown," 1637

The men who governed the Massachusetts Bay Colony kept excellent records. The following excerpts are from original court records that have been preserved for almost 370 years.

Mr. [John] Winthrop, Governor: Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; ...you have spoken divers things, as we have been informed, very prejudicial to the honour of the churches and ministers thereof, and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and notwithstanding that was cried down you have continued the same.

Governor: Why do you keep such a meeting at your house as you do every week upon a set day?

Mrs. Hutchinson: It is lawful for me to do so, as it is all your practices, and can you find a warrant for yourself and condemn me for the same thing?… it was in practice before I came. Therefore I was not the first.

Deputy Governor, Thomas Dudley: ...About three years ago we were all in peace. Mrs. Hutchinson, from that time she came hath made a disturbance, and some that came over with her in the ship did inform me what she was as soon as she was landed. I being then in place dealt with the pastor and teacher of Boston and desired them to enquire of her, and then I was satisfied that she held nothing different from us. But within half a year after, she had vented divers of her strange opinions and had made parties in the country... But now it appears by this woman's meeting that Mrs. Hutchinson hath so forestalled the minds of many by their resort to her meeting that now she hath a potent party in the country. Now if all these things have endangered us as from that foundation...why, we must take away the foundation and the building will fall.

Mrs. Hutchinson: If you please to give me leave I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true. Being much troubled to see the falseness of the constitution of the Church of England, I had like to have turned Separatist... I bless the Lord, he hath let me see which was the clear ministry and which the wrong. ... Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be truth I must commit myself unto the Lord.

Online at Anne Hutchinson website.


  1. What were the authorities accusing Mrs. Hutchinson of doing?
  2. Where did the illegal or troublesome behavior take place?
  3. Why did they believe this behavior was wrong?
  4. How did Anne Hutchinson answer the accusations made against her?
Document E/MS II-7: Mary Dyer Shall Hang: Nineteenth-century Painting of Mary Dyer Walking to the Gallows

Document E/MS II-7: Mary Dyer Shall Hang: Nineteenth-century Painting of Mary Dyer Walking to the Gallows

After reading the background essay for the Mass Moment “Quakers Outlawed in Plymouth,” answer these questions:

  1. What was the Puritans’ attitude toward Quakers? Why?
  2. What actions did Puritans take to try to prevent Quakers from becoming part of their communities?
  3. What did Mary Dyer do and how did Puritan authorities respond?

Now look at the painting done about 200 years after Dyer was hanged and answer the following questions:

  1. Describe the appearance of Mary Dyer.
  2. Describe the appearance of the crowd.
  3. Decide whether you agree with how the artist shows them? If not, why not?

Image credit:

Mary Dyer being led to execution on the Boston Common, 1 June 1660
Color engraving.
Copyprint Nineteenth Century

Library of Congress


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