Pilgrims’ Progress

A hidden-away museum about the New England Puritans

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hought the Puritans were long gone? Think again, ye doubter. At the edge of the Boston Common is a little-known museum to Congregationalism, the Protestant denomination founded during the English Reformation to emphasize the independence of local churches from hierarchical control, and brought to New England by the Puritans, where it took deep root and had broad influence during the colonial era. The Congregational Library has on permanent exhibit a piece of Plymouth Rock and the clerk’s desk used in Scrooby, England by William Brewster, the leader of the Pilgrims. There are also portraits of Lyman Beecher, George Whitefield, Jonathan Mayhew (who preached “no taxation without representation”), Nathaniel Emmons, and Samuel Hopkins, and a copy of a portrait of Cotton Mather under a Tiffany ceiling in the reading room.

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Under Puritan law, sexual problems—if, for example, a groom proved impotent—would cause the courts to nullify a marriage. In practice, this was more commonly enforced against the bride.

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