Puritan descendants in New England?

There’s an idea going around the Internet that the liberal/progressive politics of New England are attributable to the fact that the people there are the descendants of the old Puritan colonists.

This strikes me as incorrect. I’ve long noticed the frequency in New England, even in some rural areas, of surnames which are Irish, French, Italian or Portuguese, when one might expect English surnames to far outnumber them.

Statistics indicate that people of English (presumably Colonial-stock) descent are in a minority in much of New England. The Census records from back in 2000 for the state of Vermont showed that the percentage of people of English descent was 18.4%, followed closely by Irish at 16.4 percent, followed by German and French(Canadian). Obviously in the last couple of decades, mass immigration and the shifting of native-born populations (urban people moving to suburbs or rural areas due to ‘ethnic cleansing’ and other causes) has changed the makeup of many parts of America.

A relevant fact: the scarcity of old-stock ‘Yankee’ Congressmen.

As for New England in general, of the top ten European ancestries in that region, Irish was at the head of the list, with 21.1%. English ancestry was fourth, with a mere 13.7%. Other ethnicities in the top ten included French, Italian, Portuguese, (as I expected) and in the tenth spot, Russian — which I didn’t expect.

13.7% is just not a very significant number.

Yet we have people insisting that the descendants of the old Puritans inhabit New England, and it’s they who are to blame for the politics of that area, including the recent violence at a speech by Charles Murray at a college in Vermont. Why are some people on the right so determined to blame the Puritan influence from centuries ago?

A more plausible explanation, and a simpler one,  would be that as New England received a lot of immigration, starting in the early to mid-19th century, from more ‘diverse’ countries, countries which did not share the English idea of liberty or representative government. Many of the immigrants, who arrived in the Ellis Island era, brought more socialistic ideas. Generally the ethnic groups named in the lists above are groups who tend to have ‘liberal’ beliefs and tend to vote heavily Democratic.

The idea that somehow there is a lingering ‘Puritan’ spirit in New England that explains the politics of that region is absurd. Do the ghosts of the old Puritans haunt the place? Does New England have ‘magic dirt’ that transformed the later ethnic immigrants into leftists?

If we want to find ‘flesh-and-blood’ descendants of those Puritans, we’d have better luck finding them in Utah, for instance, which has the highest percentage of English-descended Americans of any state, according to some information. Many of those people in Utah are in fact direct descendants of colonial stock Puritans; many are descended from Mormons who migrated there in the 19th century.

Actually there is probably a greater percentage of Americans of English descent in parts of the South; that area was spared from mass immigration for a good while. And the South is not known for its liberal politics; quite the contrary.

And no, the Puritans were not of a different ethnicity than the English colonists of the South. This idea that the two groups are different peoples is silly, and I doubt that DNA tests would show any such divide. A case could be made that some of the aristocratic colonists, such as the ‘FFV’, or First Families of Virginia, tended to have more Norman ancestry, but otherwise there is no big genetic gulf between the Northern colonists and the Southern, despite the urban legend to that effect.

Playing ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-Anglo-Saxon’, whether Puritan or otherwise, is so trite, so lazy, and so politically correct. Look instead to the Ellis Island-era immigrant stock in New England to explain the culture and politics there.

17 thoughts on “Puritan descendants in New England?

  1. As a descendant of old stock, and aristocratic, “Elder” colonists from New England, you have left out a very important and large group. We left Hartford for Vermont and New Hampshire; but after the Revolution we moved en masse to New York State and stayed there ( 1789 ). We’ve been in plain sight all this time. A few did go to Utah with the Mormons, or Michigan and Ohio, but many stayed, and have always lived quietly in New York. We also have close relatives in Nova Scotia. It appears that many of us are of old Norman stock, but also a many are of Huguenot lineage, and as more and more DNA is collected it will become apparent that the Northern and Southern lineages are the same families. I know my ancestors ran packet ships up and down the American coast and there seem to be some very interesting passengers over the years, who were obviously fugitives from from one or another regime changes. There is much to be added to the American foundation story.

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  2. ok..that is well…sort of weird. In my vicinity the family I married into..Hanscombs who went on the winthrop fleet , who were supposed to go on the mayflower , are very real and alive and all over new england…and other places. Thonas Hanscombe had thousands of descendants. My husband is a direct great (X _7) grandson of Thomas Hanscombe…and every generation of Hanscombes in his line had a Thomas ,by back tracing we find out all of the Thomas’ are his grandfathers. And also theres alot of hanscombs were we live. Very much alive. My daughters friend from high school had ancestors from the mayflower. All over newengland and maine , and also canada. New Brunswick.

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  3. This is one of the greater posts of Old Inheritance. If we know Methodism as a close derivative of Anglicanism– the Wesleyan variety pregnant with a heavy dose– then even the creature of Mormonism can be disentangled and seen closer to the WASP ethnic church than commonly believed. It’s far from an ideal situation, but perhaps someday American Anglicans will perceive a need for a ‘mission to mormonism’ , not unlike George Keith conducted with Pennsylvania Quakers. See here regarding a relationship between Methodism and Mormonism. Regardless, Mormonism is eclectic: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2746&context=etd
    and here for the SPG missionary work of George Keith and his “Keithites’ (who were American Quakers that rediscovered ‘catholicism’): https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/ecc/emforum/projects/brieflives/george_keith/
    Maybe this approach would work better in Mormon spill-over regions apart from Utah?

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  4. It may be, that back to the point of the article, that the current New England stock are the beneficiaries of the multiple faiths and true religion practiced in daily life that evolved in colonial New England. My ancestors also came via Winthrop Fleet and Mayflower, and also had their own ships. One great misunderstanding is that Quakers weren’t here from the beginning. Yes, they were, with the Winthrop Fleet and perhaps on the Mayflower. People kept their religious beliefs hidden until they got their feet onshore, thus the mass exit from Gov. Winthrop’s colony 3 years after landing to Connecticut. They were not “Puritans” as you think of them. They were very liberal Quakers who escaped, with other dissenters such as Congregationlist Sabbatarians, and exited out ASAP. They practiced a mix of socialism “ye Commons” and capitalism mixed with a healthy dose of appointing Overseers for the Poor. Every town had at least two. Individual evaluation of residents’ situations were adopted, funds established for housing, adoption of children, care for the sick and poor. Relative who didn’t step up to the plate were fined. This mix is the bedrock upon which America was built, not a dehumanizing federal government who seek to criminalize the elderly, sick and disabled with a one size fits no one idea of what “society” is supposed to look like. Driven into the cities for work, we have no gardens anymore, no abundance, no way to raise stock or hunt, and otherwise provide clean and fit food and water for ourselves. Energy companies seek to compound the miseries of the poor, bleeding people for high prices. Corporations have stolen not only the Indians treaty lands, but the soldiers lands who fought in all the wars this country ever fought and provided these patriots with a horrific “healthcare system”. Every federal government promise has been broken a thousand times to the people, and the corporatocracy continues to push for tyranny, creating a society where one insane leader will dictate to the underclass of poor. Sounds like Merry Old England, doesnt’ it???

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    1. HI westbankgallery,
      Thanks for your comments, and I defer to your knowledge about the Quaker colonists, I think I wrote rather carelessly. I think I meant that the organized colonies of Quakers were later; I realize that there were individual Quakers and families also who came with the early colonists. I have a few Quaker ancestors here and there, and I think there was one Quaker family in our family tree who went to Virginia very early on. So thanks for correcting my careless misstatements.

      I agree with you that when we look at what our ancestors established here and what it has become over the centuries it is very disheartening. It does seem as though we’ve been on a downward spiral for a long time. I can’t imagine that our colonial ancestors would be pleased to see the state of the country they established, and after all their hardships and sacrifices to found this country.

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    2. Yes, it brings tears to my eyes at times to remember all that was sacrificed to build a new country where people could live in their own communities, vote on their own affairs, worship their own religion only to see the utter ignorance of our history being rewritten by political and religious hacks and the effect that ignorance has had on this once great country. The Friends believed in universal education, and as far as their resources could extend, practiced it. A country who has managed to hijack education to be accessible only for the rich, or to enslave the working class in debt would have been their nightmare. As pacifists, a country whose economy is built on war would have appalled them as well. Capitalism, abusing every decent and common sense effort to preserve our beautiful nation would have been met with disbelieif. In the end, a great split happened between the Quakers themselves; being descended from the Hicksite Quakers of New York, who believed many of the urban Quakers had fallen under the spell of capitalism and vast financial acquisition and power (versus leading a life more in keeping with simplicity and helping others) would grieve at what came at such a cost to so many. There are no more shores to escape to.

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    3. I think the problem was lack of selective factors causing a decline in stock quality and an assumption that good times were the norm. The disestablishment of Puritan state churches and the Episcopal contempt for mainstream Yankees was also a calamity.

      I am unsure about Mormons being Puritans. Did not most most “English” Mormons come from north west England. Most Puritans from the east. More investigations are in order.

      I think the great ideological disagreements among Anglo-Saxons must be part genetic.

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  5. For what it’s worth I share an ancestor with Joseph Smith. Smith was a descendant of Zaccheus Gould(as am I), so I don’t know about his followers, but Smith was a Puritan descendant most definitely. Several US Presidents, many Republican and Democrat have Puritan lineage too. Barack Obama, the Bushes, FDR, Pierce, the Adams….quite a few could link back the the Winthrop fleet.
    I would expect Puritan ancestors to fall more in line with what is known as WASP culture, which is predominately Conservative, not liberal. Although I believe that in the changing nature of our country there are many of us who are fiscal conservatives and social liberals at this time. That falls more in line with original Puritan values.

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    1. Sarah, I apologize for the late reply. It seems your post was still ‘pending’, and though my reply is slow in coming I wanted to acknowledge your comment.
      When you say Joseph Smith was your ancestor I take it that is the Joseph Smith who was the prophet of Mormonism and was succeeded by Brigham Young?
      You mention Zacchaeus Gould; I know I have some Goulds among my Massachusetts ancestors; I will have to look up that line.
      It’s frustrating to hear all the negative opinions about WASPs and especially the original Puritans. Everyone thinks of Puritans as rigid and prudish/priggish (very socially conservative) and yet at the same time they think Puritans were the first far-leftists.
      As for Puritan ancestry amongst Presidents, that’s usually how these various presidents were connected to each other. Another example is Calvin Coolidge, who was a good president in my opinion — a credit to his Puritan ancestors. My kind of President.

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    1. they also would have been RLDS instead of Bringhamite. Maybe more liberal, but they would have been a bit closer to a regular Protestant identity. By 31.45 min the segment in question moves on to other subjects, fyi.

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  6. I am just really disappointed at how New English demographics have changed and the resulting mess. Anglos have been so ignorant and distracted.

    Captain Marryat in his “Diary in America” talks about the differences between the north and south really well.
    People interested in the Antebellum era should read it. Modern works just aren’t well written.

    Northerners were very bourgeois in a fairly cool environment. The south was aristocratic, hot and enervated.

    Most Yankees were not keen on Mormons that is for sure. I think the Mormons ,Catholics,alien stocks and Southerners leaned towards FDR’s New deal communism when Yankees opposed. The Yankees were swamped and taxed so bad.

    Nice day to all

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    1. I would like to start reading Charles Chauncy. Wikipedia says that he was an important leader in the northern colonies. The political “liberty love” “founding Fathers” have had their legacy inflated to overshadow religious conservative colonial clergy who really deserve praise. Who had such a strong English Protestant identity.

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    2. Hi Puritan, so sorry for being slow in replying; comments are not showing up sometimes on my dash, so I don’t see them as I expected to. Anyway, have you started reading Chauncy? I know little about him; he was said to be very erudite, and taught for years at Harvard.
      When you mentioned demographics, do you mean New England or ‘old’ England? I suppose the same thing is happening in both places” displacement or replacement, whichever word is used; they both apply.

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    3. I would comment more but I don’t want to fill up the “recent comments” sidebar all myself.

      I meant New England demographics of course. I like the old countryside over urbanity. State English Puritan Churches over the polyglot Protestantism , Popism and now “Total world culture Mongrelism”.

      Yes this could apply to Old England.

      There were multiple prominent Charles Chauncy’s. I meant the latter. I tried reading one of his books online however it was very old format. All the s’s are f’s. With my health problems I am just too dumb to take in in like I used to. I am sure you would love him. Of all the influencers of his time he best represented conservative Old Puritan New England in the American Revolution. He is almost totally ignored by modern historians. What he was and his prominence refutes that America was about “liberty” for all.

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