This table shows every known divorce among the Massachusetts Puritans 1639-1692. There are 40 divorces listed and the columns give the record location and page, the date, the names of the individuals, the cause of the divorce, the court (the jurisdiction), and the decree (the final judgment)

Did the Puritans Divorce, or Did They Have a Utopian Society?


The first known divorce in America was on December 3, 1639, when Elizabeth Luxford discovered her husband James Luxford already had another wife and went to the court for justice. The magistrates were not pleased with James. They granted Elizabeth the divorce, took James’s property, gave it to Elizabeth, and— “Next, the court turned its wrath on the deceitful Luxford. Not content with levying a fine of £100 on the bigamist, it sentenced him to ‘be set in the stocks an hour upon the market day after the lecture,’ and to be banished to England ‘by the first opportunity.’”


There weren't a lot of divorces in Puritan society, but we do have records of forty of them.


Notice the causes the Puritans listed for the divorce:

  • Another wife

  • desertion

  • adultery

  • remarriage

  • long absence

  • deficiency

  • cruelty

  • bad condition of wife

  • cruelty of husband

  • disease and impotence of husband

  • desertion, failure to provide

  • bigamy

  • incest

  • affinity (meaning consanguinity, too closely related)

The Puritans rejected the Roman Catholic and Anglican view of marriage as a sacrament and therefore unbreakable. They considered Roman Catholic views to be a “popish invention, with no basis in the Gospels.” They saw marriage as a civil matter, not a religious one. According to the New England Historical Society, “In 1620, [Plymouth Plantation] leaders decided marriage belonged to the courts, not to the church. Therefore, they concluded, the courts could grant a Puritan divorce.” They often granted alimony to the wife if she was the innocent party.


John Calvin's Influence on the Puritan View of Marriage

The famous Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) was angry at men who abused their wives. He thought those cruel husbands should divorce and let their tyrannized wives go free.


Here's how John Calvin translated Malachi 2:16 in his Geneva Bible

If thou hatest her[a]put her away, saith the Lord God of Israel, yet he covereth [b]the injury under his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore keep yourselves in your spirit, and transgress not.

So Calvin interprets it to say "If you hate your wife, divorce her," says the Lord God of Israel..."


His commentary on Malachi 2, gives this interpretation to Malachi 2:16 (the so-called God-Hates-Divorce verse).

Here John Calvin is talking directly to abusive husbands who try to hide their bullying behavior from God and others.

"What else is this," he says, "but to cover by a cloak your violence, or at least to excuse it? for ye do not openly manifest it: but God is not deceived, nor can his eye be dazzled by such a disguise: though then your iniquity is covered by a cloak, it is not yet hid from God; nay, it is thus doubled, because ye exercise your cruelty at home; for it would be better for robbers to remain in the wood and there to kill strangers, than to entice guests to their houses and to kill them there and to plunder them under the pretext of hospitality. This is the way in which you act; for ye destroy the bond of marriage, and ye afterwards deceive your miserable wives, and yet ye force them by your tyranny to continue at your houses, and thus ye torment your miserable wives, who might have enjoyed their freedom, if divorce had been granted them."


Treachery Behind Closed Doors When A Person Ought to Feel Safe

Notice how Calvin says it's one thing for a robber to kill a traveler in a forest out in the open, where that person knows there is danger. But it's especially treacherous for a robber to offer hospitality and invite a guest into their home and then kill and pillage them. And yet this is what cruel men do to their wives. They pretend to honor the marriage bond, but instead they torment their wife under her own roof, secretly, hidden under a cloak, in the one place that ought to be safe. John Calvin says, God sees it, and he isn't dazzled by clever concealment. In fact, the concealment makes it twice as bad. It would be better to let the tormented wife go and enjoy her freedom.

Link to two Reformed pastors discussing this quote, and why they believe abuse victims have valid grounds for divorce AND links to other pastors and Calvinist pastors/theologians today who believe that abuse is grounds for divorce.



Table: This table of every known Massachusetts Puritan divorce was published in the book, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, Vol 2, by George Elliot Howard, 1904. University of Chicago, p. 333.

Puritan view of marriage: “The Puritan Divorce Allows Escape From the Chain of Matrimony,” New England Historical Society (2019), accessed 8/17/19,

Luxford divorce: Glenda Riley, Divorce: An American Tradition (Oxford: Oxford Press, 1991), 12. Male adultery wasn’t accepted as grounds for divorce in Massachusetts until the late 1700s. In a farming society, female adultery was considered much worse because a child could make a claim to inherit the land. Regarding impotence, in virtually all ancient agrarian societies, even in Jewish society prior to Christ, the inability to bear children was a serious problem. Men were responsible for having at least two children.

Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Allies and people helpers are also welcome. Just click the link and ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS.



Start Here

Physical and Emotional Abuse & Infidelity

God Allows Divorce to Protect Victims

Does God Hate Divorce? No, Most English Bible Translations Don’t Say That


How to Find a Good Supportive Church


Divorce Saves Lives: The Surprising (Wonderful!) Truth About Divorce Nobody Told You

Will I Ever Find Love Again? Dating After Divorce: Good News

Finding Happiness and Health After Divorce


Thriving After Divorce: These Christians Tell their Stories

Self-Doubt, Second-Guessing Ourselves, and Gaslighting

Children and Divorce: Researchers Give Hope


High Conflict Divorce and Parenting

Recommended Reading List and Free Resources for Christians and Other People of Faith


Common Myths






GET THE BOOK! The Life-Saving Divorce is about divorces for very serious reasons: a pattern of sexual immorality, physical abuse, chronic emotional abuse, life-altering addictions, abandonment, or severe neglect. This book will give you hope for your future, and optimism about your children. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



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