Puritans played a very important role in Harvard history as well as in American history.
In the 16th and 17th century, a series of religious reforms took place in England Finally,
the Church of England was established as the Established Church.
People did not have religious freedom.
Those people who did not agree with the Church of England were regarded as Separatists and were persecuted.
To escape religious persecution, many people fled from England to other countries.
Many Puritans chose to go to the New World.
In 1620, a ship named Mayflower left England.
It transported the English Separatists, better known as Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts, the United States.
There were 102 passengers, more than one third of whom were Puritans.
During the following decade, the number of Puritans grew.
Then in 1628 these Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Many Puritans had received classic style of higher education in Oxford University and Cambridge University in England.
They wanted to pass on to their descendants this kind of education.
Besides, these colonists saw colleges as an effective way to disperse religious belief.
Therefore, in 1636 the first and oldest institution of higher learning in the United States was established by vote of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony,
140 years earlier than the foundation of the United States.
The institution was initially named “New College” or “the College at New Towne"（or “Cambridge College”).
The town where the college located was named Cambridge, because many Puritans had studied in Cambridge University.
The name of the town demonstrated that many people still cherished their memory of life in England.
Although they had been persecuted in England, many people still saw England as their motherland.
The college followed the style of English universities as well.
Then in 1639 the college was renamed Harvard College after a benefactor called John Harvard who was a clergyman.
Therefore, in a sense, Harvard University was the product of religious activities.