John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay, assumed that he could transfer the principles of nationhood found in ancient Israel to the Massachusetts Bay Company with no need for explanation. This led the Puritans to interpret Scripture in an ultimately pretentious way that gave their own state and society the exalted status of a New Israel. Old Testament law was directly, if not exclusively, incorporated into the legal systems of New England. The Massachusetts “Body of Liberties” of 1641 stated that “if any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.” Death was also prescribed for witchcraft, blasphemy, murder, sodomy, homosexuality, adultery, and kidnapping. Old Testament texts were copied directly into the New England law books. The most notorious cases of major miscarriage of justice in New England were the Salem witchcraft executions. (
The Puritans viewed themselves as God’s special people, replacing national Israel. Nowhere do the dangers of this assumption become more clear than in the Puritans’ treatment of the native Americans. Since the Puritans considered themselves God’s chosen people, they concluded that they had the right to take the land from the heathen Indians. The American Indians were the “new Canaanites” in America’s “Promised Land.” The fruit of Puritan theology was brutal. They saw their mission as convert these “Canaanites” to Christianity; failing that, it was acceptable to slaughter them in the name of Christ.
For example, the Puritan massacres of the Pequot Indian tribe on May 26, 1637, and again on July 14, 1637, were deemed by the Puritans to be directed by God — Captain John Mason declared, “God laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven …