History 12 Reading Guide

Early Utopian Visions and Experiments


  • John Winthrop, “A Modell of Christian Charity” (1630), reprinted in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 3rd. series, vol. 7 (Boston, 1838):31-48.  From Hanover Historical Texts Project, http://history.hanover.edu/texts/winthmod.html (1996).


  • Donald F. Durnbaugh, “Communitarian Societies in Colonial America” in Pitzer, America’s Communal Utopias, 14-36.

Further reading:

  • W. Thomas Mainwaring, “Communal Ideals, Worldly Concerns, and the Moravians of North Carolina, 1753-1772,” Communal Societies 6 (1986), 138-162.
  • Ernest J. Green, “The Labadists of Colonial Maryland (1683-1722),” Communal Societies 8 (1988), 104-121.


Note: Prior to the Puritans’ departure from England in 1630, John Winthrop was chosen governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His fellow passengers on board the Arabella were, along with Winthrop, the first contingent of that colony. But the Puritans were not setting up a utopian community, and they had no intention of establishing a “community of goods” (communal sharing of property). Winthrop was their governor, but he was neither their founder nor their absolute “leader.” He could not require them to follow different laws than the laws of England, nor could he alter the basic structures and functions of their community. But he could offer them a model (or a vision) of mutual relationships and responsibilities, based on what he saw as their shared goal to create a cohesive community that would be guided by their religious convictions as Puritans.

With respect to their faith, the Puritans were indeed Christians. But they viewed themselves as Puritans, and in their case, as non-separating Congregationalists, defined in relation to the Church of England (they had not separated from the national church, but they viewed their Congregations as “independent,” with the right to choose their own ministers and determine the proper membership of the congregation, and therefore as complete in and of themselves). So historically it is important to view them as they viewed themselves, and not simply to generalize about them as “Christians.”

As you read John Winthrop’s sermon, in preparation for the short essay (see Instructions for writing the short essays), you might consider some of these questions as a way of helping you understand the model of community that Winthrop presented to his fellow passengers:

  • On what model or models of "community" did Winthrop base his "modell of Christian charity"?  
  • According to Winthrop, were the Puritans. who had “escaped” the corrupt world of England and Europe, intentionally establishing “separate” and “isolated” communities in the wilderness, or did they intend to maintain connection with the larger society?
  • To what extent did Winthrop present his model as communal? To what extent did he attempt to preserve and safeguard the Puritans’  “Errand” in the wilderness? To what extent did his model also serve his interests and concerns as governor?
  • Does Pitzer’s concept of “developmental communalism” offer insight into this endeavor?

Donald Durnbaugh argues:  “At the very heart of the American experience was a firm dedication to communal values.” John Winthrop’s vision for Puritan New England was matched by a variety of communal endeavors, with roots in European radical pietism, “for which true community meant more than willingness to give in times of need.”

  • What common threads does he trace in these communal ventures? What set each of the communities apart from the others?
  • How did European radical pietism compare and contrast with English Puritanism?
  • For radical German pietists in the 17th century, was North American the "utopia"—the place where utopia might be planted?