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Six American Colonies Founded for Religious Motives

Five Colonies were established by Puritans in New England: Plymouth (1620); Massachusetts Bay (1630); New Haven (1638); Connecticut (1639); and Rhode Island (1644). In 1662, Connecticut received a charter from the Crown that included in its boundaries the New Haven Colony, which thereafter became part of Connecticut and ceased to exist as a separate Colony. The other two Colonies founded on a religious basis were Maryland (1633) and Pennsylvania (1682).


Plymouth Colony, 1620

The first to emigrate for religious reasons were Puritan Separatists (known to history as the "Pilgrims") who established Plymouth Colony in 1620.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, certain English Puritan groups called Separatists, despairing of reform and unwilling to compromise, formed voluntary congregations. They broke with the Church of England, chose their own pastors by common consent, and lived as religious communities in accordance with their conception of the original church described in the Bible. They were savagely repressed by Elizabeth. Two laymen were hanged in 1583 for selling Separatist tracts; and three Separatists clerics were hanged in 1593. Severe pressure on these groups continued under her successor, James I (1603-1625), who had the Bible translated into the "Authorized King James Version", and swore that he would "harry the Puritans out of the land".

Seeking to escape persecution and the worldly excesses of English society, a small Separatist congregation from the area of Scrooby, England, fled to Holland in 1607. They lived first in Amsterdam and later moved to Leyden where they formed an English Congregational Church. After 13 years of exile in Holland, they decided to emigrate to America and returned to England in July 1620 to make final preparations for the voyage. They sailed from Plymouth on 6 September 1620 aboard the Mayflower with a company of 102 men, women and children to establish the Plymouth Colony.

Two months later, on 11 November 1620, these Pilgrims disembarked on the shore of Cape Cod Bay. After prospecting the coast for the best place to settle permanently, they chose the site of the present city of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Committed as they were to facing all hardships together, they drew up the historic Mayflower Compact, signed by the forty-one adult males of the company, by which they agreed to the principle of self-government by the majority. They were ill-prepared to face the wilderness and the rigors of the New England winter. By the following spring, half the company had died, yet when the Mayflower set sail for England on 5 April 1621, not one of the survivors elected to return in her. [16] [17] [18]


Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630

Under King Charles I (1625-1649) pressure for religious conformity worsened, even for English Puritans who were not Separatists and had remained nominally in the Church of England. When the restrictions became intolerable, a company of 900 to 1000 Puritans decided to emigrate. They sailed in 17 ships to new England in 1630 to establish Massachusetts Bay Colony, a "Godly Commonwealth" based on Puritan doctrine. The Colony included Boston and six or seven nearby towns. Because the Massachusetts Bay Charter was transferred to America with the colonists, the Colony became practically independent of England and was thus able to develop a distinctively American form of representative government. Colonial New England was set on a course significantly influenced by Puritan values which included piety, hard work and learning.

Harvard College and Medical School

More than 100 graduates of Oxford and Cambridge came to Massachusetts in this Puritan migration. Among them was John Harvard (1607-1638) who received an A. B.. degree in 1631 and an M. A.. degree in 1635 from the Puritan Emanuel College of Cambridge University and shortly after his graduation was ordained as a dissenting minister. He arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 and settled in Charlestown where he occasionally served as a minister. In poor health from tuberculosis, he made his will in 1636 two years before his death and bequeathed half his small estate of 1,700 pounds, and his well-chosen library of 260 volumes, to a new school founded on 28 October 1636 in Newtown (Cambridge), by the General Court of Massachusetts.

A contemporary of John Harvard among the colonists described how this new school received the name of Harvard College:

After God had carried us safe to New England, and wee had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, rear'd convenient places for God's worship and setled the civill Government: One of the next things wee longed for and looked after was to advance Learning, and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust. And as we were thinking and consulting how to effect this great Work it pleased God to stir up the heart of Mr. Harvard (a godly Gentleman and a lover of Learning, there living amongst us) to give the one halfe of his Estate .... towards the erecting of a Colledge, and all his Library; after him another gave 300 pounds. Others after them cast in more, and the publique land of the State added the rest; the College was, by common consent, appointed to be at Cambridge (a place very pleasant and accommodate) and is called (according to the name of the first founder) Harvard College. [19]

In 1782, the Harvard Corporation voted to establish a Medical School. Dr. John Warren was asked to draw up a plan for medical studies and was elected Professor of Anatomy and Surgery. By this action, Harvard founded the third American medical school. The second medical school was the Medical Department of King's College in New York, opened in 1767, later to become the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Drs. William Shippen, Jr. and Benjamin Rush (faculty members from America's first medical school established in 1765 by the College of Philadelphia) assisted Dr. Warren in the work of organization. [20]

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