The Puritans were a group of English Protestants who emerged in the mid-to-late 1500's and eventually rose to become affiliated with one of the darkest and most troublesome periods in American history. To this day, many people still associate the Puritan name with witchcraft, violence and the harm that can occur when hysteria spirals out of control.
The name "Puritan" was originally assigned to people that were considered extreme Protestants, and it refers to those who wished to distinguish themselves from the Church of England out of a desire to "purify" themselves from all similarities to the Catholic Church. There were two distinct types of Puritans: the "Separating" Puritans and the "Non-Separating" Puritans. The "Separating" Puritans believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must separate themselves from it. The "Non-Separating" Puritans believed in reforming the Church of England. As a more radical group, the "Separating" Puritans were considered severe in their beliefs, and they sought to form their own independent congregations. .
The Puritan ideas were largely modeled after the teachings of John Calvin, who was a French pastor during the 1500's and was also one of the leaders in Protestant Reformation. The most important Puritan beliefs included the establishment of a theocratic government, the idea of predestination, and total depravity. A theocracy is the combination of church and state or religion and politics, and it contrasts to what we have in present day America, which is a separation of church and state. Predestination is the idea that all features of salvation are determined by God, including those who will be saved by God. These saved individuals were called "elect" by the Puritans, who also believed that everybody was predetermined to eventually go to heaven or hell.