Pilgrim or Puritan?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12230

Because they both play baseball, are the Phillies and the Mets the same teams? Are the army and the navy the same because they are military? Learn why the pilgrims and the Puritans are not the same!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Were the pilgrims and the Puritans the same people? Who celebrated Thanksgiving and wore big hats, and who arrested people for not attending church?

When studying early American history, it can be easy to confuse the pilgrims and the Puritans.

Aside from the fact that each word starts with the letter "p," both groups left England for religious reasons and settled in present-day Massachusetts. To review more of the similarities and differences between the pilgrims and the Puritans, read through these facts. Write down any that are new or interesting to you.

Pilgrims Going To Church

Image by George Henry Boughton from The Robert L. Stuart Collection at the New-York Historical Society, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.


  • The pilgrims left England because they practiced a different Christian faith than the Church of England, which was the only legal church in England at the time. They wanted to start their own colony with their own religious practices.
  • About 100 pilgrims left England on a ship called the Mayflower. Initially, they intended to take a second ship, but it leaked as soon as it left the harbor. So, they decided to just use the Mayflower.
  • The Mayflower arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in November, 1620.
  • Before leaving the Mayflower, all the males aboard the ship signed the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Compact was an official agreement that stated everyone would abide by the rules set by the colony and would work together to help the colony succeed.
  • During the first year at Plymouth, more than half the pilgrims died. While they came to North America with farming skills, they had arrived too late. At the end of fall, there was not enough time to plant and harvest crops. They were also not prepared for the freezing Massachusetts winter. Many died from starvation and sickness.
  • After some time at Plymouth, the Wampanoag decided to sign a peace treaty with the pilgrims and teach them how to survive in Massachusetts. They sent one of their own, Squanto, to live with the pilgrims. Squanto had lived in England a few years prior and knew how to speak English. Squanto taught the pilgrims where to plant crops, how to hunt, and how to stay warm during the freezing winters.
  • In November, 1621, those who were still alive were so happy they had survived, they decided to throw a feast to celebrate. Today, we continue this tradition by celebrating Thanksgiving.

The Puritans

Image by Cleveland Trust Company from a mural by Francis Davis Milet, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.


  • The Puritans left England because they were being persecuted by the king in England. This means they were treated poorly. They practiced the same Christian faith as the Church of England, but they thought the Church of England needed to make some changes. They wanted to simplify the church and have it focus more on the Bible. The king was outraged by the Puritans' proposals. He made Puritanism illegal in England and tried to have all the Puritans removed from England.
  • About 1,000 Puritans left England on eleven ships.
  • Their ships arrived at Massachusetts Bay, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1630.
  • After the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts, they established their own government. They named a governor to lead the colony and created a legislature to create and enforce laws. The legislature was composed of men who represented different groups of people within the colony.
  • The Puritans knew how to plant crops. They quickly began planting and storing crops for the winter. Hardly any of the Puritans died during the first year at Massachusetts Bay.
  • The Puritan legislature created a law that everyone living at Massachusetts Bay had to attend Puritan church. Many of the colonists disliked this law. They did not think it was fair to force someone to attend the Puritan church when they left England after being forced to attend the Church of England.
  • Some who stood in opposition to the legislature’s law were exiled, or forced to leave Massachusetts Bay. Others who disagreed with the law left the colony willingly. Those who left formed new colonies throughout New England that allowed for religious freedom.

Now that you have had an opportunity to review a short history of the pilgrims and Puritans side-by-side, take some time to reflect on what you observed. Discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • Do the pilgrims and Puritans share more similarities than differences?
  • How are the pilgrims and Puritans alike?
  • Would you have rather been a pilgrim or a Puritan? Explain your answer.

When you have finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to show what you have learned.

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