Puritans in Print: Historiography of Puritans in Literature & Illustration

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From the 1630’s to the 1930’s, the Puritans were stigmatized and chastised in literature as dour, joyless and oppressing. H.L. Menckin’s epigram, “Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” summarizes much of the first 300 years of Puritan historiography. But against the background of the Great War, Depression and Prohibition, the heavens began to open and Puritan society was examined in a new light. In 1930, historian S.E. Morison wrote “My attitude toward seventeenth-century puritanism has passed through scorn and boredom to a warm interest and respect.” How did the literary portrayal of the Puritans change, and how does that change help us understand our national history?


Peter Drummey is the Stephen T. Riley Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He was appointed MHS Librarian in 2004, having joined MHS in 1978. Mr. Drummey serves on the board of Plymouth 400 and is a member of the American Antiquarian Society.