When King James son, Charles I came into power, a ruler that was strongly anti-Puritan and enforced conformity to the Church of England, Puritans began making plans to escape the persecution in England for the new world where they hoped to build new colonies to practice their faiths. Two of these groups, one to land at Plymouth and another to arrive at Massachusetts Bay, were prime examples of Puritans seeking to find a new life outside of England (or more specifically, the Church of England.
Not surprisingly, religious beliefs are one area where both colonies share a few similarities, but exhibit greater differences. Both groups left England because of their dissatisfaction in the Church; however Plymouths inhabitants held a more extreme mindset than the Massachusetts Bay colonists. After a stint in Holland, where they first tried to live in accordance with their beliefs, they went on to America and came to be known as Separatists, due to their belief that the Church of England was hopelessly corrupt and they wanted no part of it.
The Separatists sought to withdraw entirely from the Church, where they could start new, better protect their childrens relationships with God, and preserve their community the way they saw fit. Bradford, governor of Plymouth, and author of History of Plymouth Plantation writes about the religious turmoil and division of beliefs he experienced: The one side labored to have the right worship of God & discipline of Christ established in the Church, according to simplicity of gospel, without the mixture of mens inventions.
Bradford continues on for many pages, describing the persecution reformers experienced and how strongly he felt that the men involved with protecting the ways of the Church of England were being influenced by the devil. Massachusetts Bay colonists, on the other hand, still believed the Church of England had hope for reformation and they set out to provide an example in the new world to show what that reformation could look like. In this ideal community, colonists would form separate congregations (groups who worship together) and devote themselves to Puritan doctrines.
Guided by ministers and members of the elect, they would live in harmony and glorify God. John Winthrop, the Governor of Massachusetts bay, speaks of this desire througout his written account; ¦They (a fishing ship) brought us news of the Scots entering into England, and the calling of a parliament, and the hope of a thorough reformation, etc, whereupon some among us began to think of returning back to England (Winthrop 19) His statement, although seemingly offhand, shows a continued interest in reforming the Church of England and his colony being the living proof of how that change can happen.
Both Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth showed similarities and differences in more secular ways, also. Plymouth was a profoundly smaller community, starting with only 102 individuals made up of working class families. They were not wealthy, and hardly had the funding for an expedition to America, so they made an arrangement with the Virginia Company. They made a joint stock company, where English investors would provide the capital and the colonists would provide the labor for the next 7 years.
Similarly, Massachusetts Bay also was involved with joint stock company the Massachusetts Bay Company, where they too were granted a charter to settle in the new world and the company chose John Winthrop as governor. Massachusetts Bay Company was located in the colony, unlike Plymouth, where the Virginia Company was located in England. Massachusetts Bay colonists were larger in number when they settled, approximately 1200 immigrants came within months of each other, and they were generally wealthier and more educated than the Plymouth colonists.
As we would expect, both colonies encountered Indians as they were trying to survive in their new surroundings, and these encounters were uneasy. Plymouth colony was in terrible shape, in the first winter they lost half their company and were weakened, sick, and starving. The colonists were able to forge a treaty with the Indians, after a few small skirmishes, and were eventually assisted by the native population. Squanto, an English speaking Wampanoag indian, served as a guide on how to survive and sustain by planting corn and fishing.
Bradford writes ¦they (as many were able) began to plant ther corne, in which servise Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both y manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it. (Bradford 100). The colonists existed in relative peace with the Indians, likely also because they were such a small community and posed little threat. Massachusetts Bay, on the other hand, was a much larger group and had difficulty keeping the peace with local Indians. At first, they didnt encounter many, due in part to an epidemic that had nearly wiped out the local Indian population.
Eventually, however, as Massachusetts Bay began to grow and become more established, they needed to expand their territory. This expansion caused more tension between Indians and the Puritans, eventually leading to warfare. William Bradford described the destruction by fire of the Pequots major village, in which at least 300 Indians were burned to death: Those that escaped from the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run threw with their rapiers¦.
It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fier, and the streams of blood quenching the same. Both colonies shared similar characteristics and experienced similar distresses. They each dealt with various ailments, hunger, death, tensions with Indian relations and landownership, but with all their shared experiences they were still very different groups. Plymouth, smaller and less educated, funded by the Virginia Company located in England, tried to separate themselves from the Church of England altogether.
They survived with the help of Indians, but never really thrived and eventually were absorbed by the much larger Massachusetts Bay colony. Massachusetts Bay was created and inhabited by individuals with overall greater wealth and knowledge, supported by the locally based Massachusetts Bay Company. They set out to be an example of how England, religiously, should behave. As they expanded, they fought with the local Indian population, eventually driving them out of the lands the growing English population needed to settle.