Our Founding




For a thousand years following Rome's decline in 300 AD, Western Europe languished in a period of lack and want we call the Dark Ages.  The light began to shine in this darkness as the Renaissance, a time of learning, exploration and economic change took hold, first in the emerging nations of Italy, France and Germany, eventually reaching Spain, Portugal and England. As the exploration of this period focused on attempts to reach China by way of the tip of Africa, the thoughts of a certain Italian sailor ran in a different direction. After overcoming much resistance, Christopher Columbus sailed west from Spain on August 3, 1492 reaching an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492.  This island he christened San Salvador or “Holy Savior,” a name well suited for its discoverer whose own name Christopher means “Christ Bearer.” In his journal, he described his success in the following words.
It was the lord who put into my mind (I could feel his hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. All who had heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me.  
There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures…1

Spain wasted little time in taking advantage of this opportunity.  By 1540 Francisco Coronado had led an expedition from Mexico City through a vast area known today as parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas while Hernando de Soto traversed parts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana discovering the Mississippi River in 1541 as he went. 

While Spain achieved a position of dominance in the New World, major events occurring in Europe would soon alter her position.  The first of these appeared in the challenge to the dominance of Rome by Martin Luther in 1517 that initiated the Reformation.   The second event came in 1534 when England’s King Henry VIII did likewise by declaring himself supreme head of the Church of England. Spain’s active opposition to the changes caused by the Reformation began to erode its own power and wealth.

Setting England on the path to becoming a reformed nation precipitated an inevitable confrontation with Spain that occurred during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  Suspecting Spain's intentions to invade England, she began building a fleet of warships for her defense as a precautionary move. When King Philip II of Spain dispatched the Spanish Armada of 130 ships against England in 1588 it failed, as half of its ships perished, sinking Spain‘s prestige and power as well.  

England’s emergence as the dominant naval power in control of the world’s sea-lanes opened the way for Jamestown to become the first English settlement on the North American continent in 1607, only 19 years following the defeat of the Armada. The Pilgrim settlement of Plymouth in 1620 and the founding of Boston by the Puritans in 1630 quickly followed.  The great American colonial period had begun.


On an isolated stretch of English shoreline, the last members of a group of families hurriedly crowded into the small boat set to bring them to the ship secretly hired to transport them to Holland. Once aboard, the air of quiet tension gave way to the cheerful sounds of celebration at having escaped undetected.  This scene occurred repeatedly during the years 1607-1608 as these religious fugitives known as “Separatists” fled English persecution out of a desire to separate from the Church of England in order to worship God according to their conscience.  Today we know them as Pilgrims.  After settling in Holland, they soon realized that the restrictions and burdens laid on them hindered their ability to thrive and to fulfill their longing to share their faith.   In 1619, they prepared to return to England in order to journey beyond, across the Atlantic, to settle in the American wilderness.    The first contingent of Pilgrims consisting of 35 of their church membership, sailed from England aboard the Mayflower in September 1620, accompanied by 66 non-members referred to as “strangers.”   After two months of agonizing seasickness brought on by a succession of storms, the damaged Mayflower reached Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. The future governor of the colony, William Bradford, described their condition on arrival in his history of the Plymouth settlement:
But here I cannot but make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people’s present condition; and so I think will the reader, too, when he considers it well.  Having thus passed the vast ocean, and that sea of troubles before while they were making their preparations, they now had no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain and refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, or houses--much less towns--to repair to. 2

Despite the immediate situation, they became absorbed in the preparation of an agreement that would constitute the foundation of the colony’s government, the Mayflower Compact.  It reads in part:

In the name of God, Amen.  We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James…having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation…3

“This poor people’s present condition” grew worse throughout the winter, as half of them died before the following spring.  Those who survived however determined to endure, so much so, that the Mayflower upon its departure for England in April 1621 sailed without a single surviving Pilgrim aboard. The colony once established and prospering carried forward their vision, again recorded by Governor Bradford:

…they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making someway towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work. 4

The first of the “others” referred to consisted of yet another church congregation, soon arrived from England.


The Puritans, who desired to remain part of the Church of England and to purify it of its remaining ties to Rome, followed the Pilgrims to Massachusetts. With their Massachusetts Bay Company Charter in hand, they arrived in the summer of 1630 with close to 1,000 settlers aboard a fleet of ships and founded Boston along with other nearby settlements.  They shared the beliefs of the Pilgrims and likewise desired to establish a community of their own in which they could freely practice them.  A difference between the two settlements did exist in that the Puritans, a more cohesive group, possessed a strong leadership that oversaw a structured way of life under a “government both civil and ecclesiastical” as they had all agreed. Traits enabling them to experience explosive growth in their colony included their renowned work ethic, honesty, industry and self-reliance.  Between 1630 and 1642, 25,000 Puritans consisting of 4,000 families settled in New England, a period referred to as the “Great Migration.”

Out of the original Puritan colony came Thomas Hooker the founder of Connecticut and Roger Williams the founder of Rhode Island. Later, other scattered settlements in the areas developed into New Hampshire and Main.  In 1643, delegates from these new colonies and settlements along with the Pilgrims of Plymouth met in Boston and formed the New England Confederation, America’s first voluntary union.  Their constitution read in part “Whereas we all came into these parts of America with the same end and aim, namely, to advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel thereof with purities and peace,…” 5

In keeping with the goal to be “a city upon a hill,” an example to the world, as expressed by their Governor John Winthrop, they placed a great importance on education.  Six years following their initial arrival, they founded Harvard College with the purpose to “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life…to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning.” 6 In 1642, the colony required that all parents insure that their children learn to read.  In 1647, Massachusetts enacted a law requiring that all towns of 50 families hire a teacher and that towns of 100 families establish a Latin grammar school. 

One is able to grasp their faithful commitment and adherence to this vision by contemplating the long history of Harvard University and the succeeding universities that followed its example. The impact on our heritage of the Puritan’s “city upon a hill” appears in part in the numerous influential statesmen, educators, physicians, and preachers, trained by these institutions. 

© 2019 Majesty Publications


1. Book of Prophesies. August J. King. "Columbus --A Layman Christ-bearer to Uncharted Isles." The Presbyterian Layman, October, 1971, quoted by William J. Federer in America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. (Coppell, Tx: Fame Publishing, 1994), 113. n. 81. 
2. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1650, rendered into Modern English by Harold Paget, 1909, and republished under title, Bradford's History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650, (San Antonio, Tx.: Mantle Ministries, 1988), P. 64
3. Ibid., 75-76
4. Ibid., 21
5. May 19, 1643. B.F. Morris, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864) p. 56. quoted by William J. Federer in America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. (Coppell, Tx: Fame Publishing, 1994), 466. n.16. 
6. 1623. Old South Leaflets. Peter G. Mode, Sourcebook and Biographical Guide for American Church History (Menasha, WI: George Banta Publishing Co., 1921), pp. 74-75. quoted by William J. Federer in America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. (Coppell, Tx: Fame Publishing, 1994), 281. n. 27.