Your option was Church of England or nothing, and being an agnostic or atheist was heretical. Heretics were all too regularly burned at the stake.
So when a group of folks wanted to "purify" the Church of England by focusing on reading the Bible and doing good rather than supporting a centralized church, they had limited choices. They could try to reform from inside the church (and keep their heads down!) or they could leave England.
Puritans established a society built on their own religion. The Bible didn't have trial by jury? Well then, neither would New Haven Colony. A sea-captain came home from sea after a few months and greeted his wife with a kiss –– and the Colony government (known as "The Town") stuck them both into stocks for their shameful display of fleshy affection.
The Puritans forbade religious diversity. The Massachusetts Bay Colony put Quakers to death. Quakers! Tortured and hanged, including the Quaker martyr Mary Dyer. Puritans even banned the celebration of Christmas.
To be fair, I should note that some Colonies were formed with the spirit of tolerance built right in, like the Rhode Island Colony. Founder Roger Williams not only believed in religious freedom (with no tax dollars!) and he felt that taking land from the Natives without paying for it was not quite morally right. Heartening news, that.
So meanwhile, back in Merry Olde England, the religious conflict deepened and developed into the English Civil War, 1642-1652. Oliver "Bad Haircut" Cromwell lead the Roundheads against the Royalists of King Charles I.
Cromwell won; Charles was beheaded. There was a short-lived British Republic.
Republican rule in England meant that fewer Puritans felt the need to move West. Some early Colonial settlers even shipped back to England in the 1640's and 1650's.
Here are a few of the resources I used in researching this blog:
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