SEPARATISTS, PURITAN. The Separatists, or Independents, were radical Puritans who, in the late sixteenth century, advocated a thorough reform within the Church of England. Dissatisfied with the slow pace of official reform, they set up churches outside the established order. Robert Browne gathered the first Separatist church at Norfolk, England, in 1581; later Separatists were dubbed "Brownists," but the groups did not constitute an organized movement. In the main Separatists proposed a congregational or independent form of church polity, wherein each church was to be autonomous, founded upon a formal covenant, electing its own officers, and restricting the membership to "visible saints." In England during the 1640s, the minority wing of the Puritan party maintained congregationalism against the majority in the Westminster Assembly and the Parliament, and were known as Independents, but the multitude of sects that arose out of the disorders of the time also took unto themselves the title of Independents, so that the term came to be a vague designation for opponents of Presbyterianism. Orthodox New England Puritans, although practicing a congregational discipline, always denied that they were either Separatists or Independents.
Cooper, James F. Tenacious of their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Miller, Perry. Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 1630–1650. Boston: Beacon Press. 1959.
See alsoBrownists ; Church of England in the Colonies ; Puritans and Puritanism .