In the early days of the Puritan colony in Massachusetts Bay, there was a perceived need for strict conformation to social norms. The leaders of the colony viewed this kind of conformation as essential for the colony’s survival in such a remote and rough place in the wilderness. They, therefore, viewed individual expression of any kind as a threat to the colony. The ministers as well as the magistrates declared most types of individual expression as sinful behavior that was punishable by law.
At one point in the early days of the colony, there was a campaign against men wearing their hair long. Ministers used their positions of power and their captive audiences to preach sermons on the sinful nature of men who wore long hair, in an effort to shame their people into conformation. This was necessary because long hair on men was definitely a popular style at the time. It was this way in England and made its way with the colonists to the new world.
Only fourteen years after the Mayflower landed, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared that it was unlawful for any man to wear his hair long enough for it to touch or go past the collar of one’s doublet. They likened long hair on men to the style worn by ruffians and vagabonds. Only a man who wore his hair closely cropped could be considered a safe and Godly person. Even Governor John Endicott weighed in on the issue, declaring that the man who had close-cropped hair was good-mannered and civil, while the long-haired man was uncivilized and a corrupting influence on others.
Like in most eras of human history, it was the younger men who really pushed back against these social restrictions. In this instance, it was the first class of the newly built Harvard University who rebelled the most of anyone in the colony. The rule book for the new students expressly forbade them to wear long hair, or to curl, crisp, part, or powder their hair. Naturally, many students pushed the boundaries of this rule to see how far they could go.
The men in the colony who considered themselves to be godly and duly wore their hair short were committed to it, just as much as the rebels were committed to their side of the argument. One man, Ezekiel Rogers of Ipswich, was committed to the long hair he wore. His uncle, who was wealthy, left him out of his will for this social transgression.
There were some of these cases that made it to court. The Puritan authorities were serious when they said that they did not want men wearing their hair long in the new, “godly city on a hill” colony. You can find out if your male Puritan ancestors were hair rebels in early New England by checking court records there. You will find a few who were fined, jailed, and even whipped over the issue before it became less important to the ministers and magistrates and was forgotten by the local populace.