Profits and Piety: Merchant Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Open Access
Capri, Nicholas L
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • A. Gregg Roeber, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kathryn Salzer, Honors Advisor
  • Puritan
  • Protestant Ethic
  • Weber
  • Capri
  • Massachusetts Bay
  • Colonial America
  • Winthrop
  • Keayne
  • Ward
  • Allerton
  • Goodhue
  • Breen
Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism has been applied to many areas of study, including the Puritans of New England. Many scholars have argued that it was the ascetic and devout Protestantism of the Puritans that led to the rise of capitalism in the New World, yet recently this narrative has come under increased scrutiny. The current study has sought to demonstrate that the rise of capitalism in the Massachusetts Bay Colony came not as a result of the work of the religiously orthodox Puritans who regarded their settlement to be a ‘city on a hill,’ but rather as a result of the lives and careers of merchant proto-capitalists. These merchants, or “prominent men of affairs,” established Boston as a major trading port on the international market, inhabiting a trade that – in the Bay Colony – was dominated exclusively by men. These men possessed links across the transatlantic world, had high views of their own decision-making abilities, and were often religiously unorthodox. Relying upon studies of the development of European and transatlantic capitalism, studies of other New World colonies, the Antinomian Crisis of 1636, and writings of individual merchants, this paper argues for a deeper understanding of the complexities of the early-modern world economy and the rise of merchant capitalism in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.