Colonial Literature Reflects Puritan Values

I want this colonial literature page to be unlike any other page you may have read in high school, college, or have taught your children.

I don't want it to be some pseudo-intellectual page with many lofty or obscure authors either.

While I will include many authors, so you can provide your child with numerous reading passages, I also will explain why they are included. 

Reading this not-so-diverse colonial literature will reveal how Americans became the way we are and how it happened.

There is a reason why American culture is work-oriented and disdainful of leisure. It has been a blessing and a burden we continue to bear.  

Colonial Literature Timeline

A replica of a house at Plymouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Photo taken by

1588 - A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia  -You will notice the main emphasis of this literature is not building a new life in this new found territory. 

1624History of the Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford - Originally this plantation's goal was to be more communal, but severe hardship, death, and the sloth of some of its members changed that plan. Here are the beginnings of a theocracy that would only last until 1692 with the end of the Salem witch trials. 

1624-The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles by Capt. John Smith  - Had it not been for the severe hand and punishments of Capt. John Smith, these slackers would have perished. Notice the propaganda and persuasive techniques employed in Smith's writings. 

1630- The History of New England by John Winthrop -  This is an excellent colonial literature free e-book that reflects the purposeful settlement of New England. While the Plymouth settlers were courageous, the Bay Colony settlers were wealthy, well prepared, educated, and ambitious. Within six years of their arrival, Harvard University was established. 

1640Bay Psalm Book - This was the first book printed in America by the printer brought by the wealthy settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

1650- The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America by Anne Bradstreet - Be sure to read "To My Dear and Loving Husband" and "Upon the Burning of Our House."  The Puritans emphasis on religious life is clearly seen in this book. 

1682- The Narrative of Mary Rowlandson - Mary Rowlandson's journal about her captivity reflects a more accurate account of the Native Americans than the settlers wanted. 

1706-Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases by Increase Mather - The entire Mather clan was well educated in England and wrote prolifically about witchcraft and the devil's wily ways to deceive unwary sinners. A companion book is the historically accurate  and carefully researched play,     The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The screenplay's adaptation was written and its production was supervised by Arthur Miller and remains true to the play. 

1741- Sermons of Jonathan Edwards - His most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, strongly reflects the Puritan outlook that is still ever present in the United States today. 

History or Literature?

I taught English in the publics for 25 years and American literature for 17 of those. Since American literature begins with colonial literature and usually  the History of the Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, inevitably one student always asked, "Why are we reading this? Isn't this history?"  

The student, of course, was right. And here lies the critical thinking lesson:

Why are there only journals, diaries, religious materials, and histories in colonial literature? 

Why does literature begin in New England and not with the earlier Spanish settlements in the South and West or even the English settlers in Virginia? I believe that you will find the answer is that ideas of freedom, self-reliance, and independence began with the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth Plantation.

A strong understanding of the terms settlers, explorers, and adventurers evoke precise definitions of people with different motives and goals in colonial America. 

Even Native Americans who migrated to North America many years prior to the English settlers in Massachusetts did not leave a large body of literature reflecting their visions or goals for the land mass on which they lived. 

To what idea of America am I referring? 

Americans: Hard-Working, Religious, and Independent

Not all the people who arrived on American shores shared the same values, but the people who shaped the values that have traditionally been labelled as American did. Have your teen read this essay.

Socratic Thinking Applied

It will be easier to get a broad, first-hand overview of the Colonial spirit and its influence from reading samples from all the selections given here. Applying an objective and questioning spirit to the material will improve your teen's reading comprehension as well. To learn more about Socratic questioning, visit this page. 

1. Questions for clarification.    

2. Questions that probe assumptions. 

3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence.             

4. Questions about viewpoints and perspectives.       

5. Questions that probe implications and consequences.           

6. Questions about the question.       

For suggestions on improving reading comprehension, visit this page. 

You can visit the complete junior (11th) English curriculum here. 

To visit the freshman (9th) English pages or the sophomore (10th) English pages, select the links. 

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