views updated Jun 08 2018


The Separatists were a radical group of Puritans in England during the late sixteenth century. Separatists wanted to separate from the Anglican Church, the official church of England. Frustrated by the slow and, in their opinion, insignificant reforms being made by the Anglican Church, the Separatists set up independent churches outside the established orders.

Separatists believed that God's will was the basis for establishing a church. They based each church they founded on a formal covenant, or agreement, to worship together as members. Each church, or congregation, elected its own officers, who were responsible for the guidance of the church.

Separation from the Church of England was a major violation of law, and those who did so faced persecution. This inspired congregations to leave England to seek religious freedom elsewhere. One separatist group established itself in Holland, but the members were disappointed by the difficulties of both making a good living and preserving their English heritage. Many of them returned to England in 1620 and boarded the Mayflower to sail to the New World. There they established Plymouth Colony , where they could freely practice their religion.

Settlements of other Puritans with similar religious intentions soon followed. Although these Puritans considered themselves part of the Anglican Church, like the radical Separatists they called for reforms to purify its practices. In establishing their own colonies, they accepted the Separatists' congregational form of church government. Eventually, the term Separatists became just another name for Puritans.


views updated May 18 2018

sep·a·ra·tist / ˈsep(ə)rətist/ • n. a person who supports the separation of a particular group of people from a larger body on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or gender: religious separatists.• adj. of or relating to such separation or those supporting it: a separatist rebellion.