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Not So Puritans
They aren’t the people you think they were—especially if you paid attention to your history books in elementary school. Yes, the puritans got down… and more than you think.


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Behind closed doors, the pilgrims weren't so pure.


We think of the Pilgrims as a group of people who came over on a boat named the Mayflower, landed at a place called Plymouth Rock and established a colony with religious value in what we call New England. And for the most part, it’s true. But like most of American history, some things are skewed; public perception and stereotypes (today) of the Pilgrims have always been of a people who were killjoys, prudish, nosy busybodies with a terrible fashion sense. Remember what you learned about the Indians? Some say it’s a different story.

Not so much. In fact, the name puritan was actually a label given to them by their enemies. According to Francis J. Bremer, chair of the history department at Millersville University of Pennsylvania says the puritans "never claimed to be ‘pure.’ In fact, they acknowledged that they were sinners unworthy of the love and grace they believed God had chosen to bestow upon them. They never claimed perfection and acknowledged that they would continue to sin, though less often than before they were given God's grace. A few colonists (puritans as well as non-puritans) transgressed and found themselves in stocks or pillories or wearing badges of dishonor such as the scarlet letter, but the overwhelming majority accepted the norms the society established."

Much like the society of today, scholars talk about a "perimeter fence" that any given society erects to help define what is acceptable inside the community and what is not acceptable and thrown outside the community or aptly put, over the fence. So it’s not to say that the pilgrims were beer guzzling sex maniacs, but rather a society of people with boundaries.

"Essentially, they believed that nature and natural impulses were given by God for man’s use," says Bremer. "Use was encouraged, abuse was sinful. Thus, drinking was normal. There was no Coca-Cola bottler. Tea and coffee were not yet popular in England, milk before pasteurization and water before sewage treatment carried health risks, so beer, ale, and stout were the beverages of choice, but drunkenness was a sin. Sexual drives were given to us by God to bring married couples closer together as a means of enhancing their relationship. Puritans talked of the 'duty to desire' and drew comparisons between the love of husband for wife and the love Christ had for the saints. But the appropriate use of sexuality was only within the bounds of marriage. Thus, fornication, adultery, bestiality, sodomy, etc. were sins that had to be punished."

So this Thanksgiving let everyone know that the pilgrims of 1617 were much more fun than the stereotypes that are bestowed upon them—even if their clothes really were that bad—and leave the G-rated version for the birds. Just make sure you’re at the adult table where little ones don’t overhear and try to reenact anything at school on Monday.


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