Religion in the New World exploded into theland with the colonization of thousands of immigrants. Itplayed an important role in the development of thought inthe West.
Religion was one of the first concepts to sparkthe desires of people from other countries to emigrate tothe new lands. While many religions blossomed on theAmerican shores of the Atlantic, a basic structure held formost of them, being predominantly derived fromPuritanism. Jamestown, the first permanent Englishsettlement, showed the link the new settlers had to Godwhen Sir Thomas Dale said the following in 1610: Be notdismayed at all For scandall cannot doe us wrong, God willnot let us fall. Let England knowe our willingnesse, For thatour work is good; Wee hope to plant a nation Where nonebefore hath stood. (Morison, pg.Order now
89) Originally, whenChristopher Columbus landed on the shores of America enroute to Asia, he was not interested in discovering newlands. Most Europeans at the time were looking for a wayto get at the oldest part of the Old World, the East Indies. An ocean route was sought to the countries that werebelieved to contain riches beyond Europeancomprehension, thus avoiding having to pay hundreds ofmiscellaneous middlemen involved with trade, also makingfor a shorter journey. These motivations were accompaniedby the desire to convert the heathen to Christianity, whichhad been declining since the rise of Islam. By uniting someof the Western Asian countries with Christianity, Europeanshoped to form a formidable team against the Turks andrecover the valuable Holy Land (Morison, p.
55). Columbus was sure that God had sent him to complete thistask and that he was destined to carry the good Christianways to heathen lands. A Spanish settlement was made in1609 named Santa Fe in what is now New Mexico (Curti,p. 167).
Hundreds of thousands of Pueblo Indians werethen converted to Christianity. At the same time, across thecountry, England was establishing its first settlement atJamestown. Originally the English, who colonized alongsidethe French, saw settlements in the New World as strictlytrading posts, but they soon realized the valuableopportunities that lay in the virgin lands of America, such ascotton, tobacco, and several other agricultural productsthat could not be found anywhere else. Many of Englandsproblems could be solved in America, and so colonizationbegan.
When the earliest settlers came, England had theresponsibility to continue the Protestant Church, andprevent the Catholic Church from converting the entireNative American population of North America (Morison,p. 105) A potential Protestant refuge could be based therein the threat of civil wars or a change of religion. The first tosettle in America were Separatists, or Puritans who hadseceded from the Church of England. After having beenexiled to the Netherlands and cast into slavery by theoverpowering and more economically sound Dutch, theSeparatists yearned for a place of their own to live wherethey could worship as they chose, but at the same time findsome financial success.
They intended to locate near themouth of the Hudson River to set up a trading post andfishing settlement. In 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims whobrought Puritanism with them to the New World foundedthe Plymouth Colony. Puritanism was responsible for thecolonization of New England, eventually influencing theexistence of the Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist,Baptist, Unitarian, Quaker, and other Protestant sects inthe United States. Since seventeenth-century English andScottish Puritanism is what mostly influenced thesechurches, it is not surprising that Puritan ways of thinkingand doing have had a vast effect on the American mind andcharacter, precursors of what is referred to as theProtestant Ethic.
The Puritans who lived in the PlymouthColony shared some basic doctrines with the CatholicChurch. They agreed that man existed for the glory of God,and that his first concern in life should be to do Gods will,and by doing this he would be happy. They disagreed withthe Catholic Church, because they disagreed with the formsand ceremonies adopted by the congregations. Confession,Penance, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Confession,and Last Rites were all looked upon as invented by man.
The Puritans therefore considered these ceremonies notHoly. The Puritans (Johnson, p. 1) also rejected theCatholic and Anglican Churchs hierarchy and even theirworship of symbols such as the cross, statues, andstained-glass windows. By 1630, Puritanism ruled NewEngland almost entirely. Massachusetts, Connecticut, andNew Hampshire were some of the colonies that relied onPuritanism.
As Samuel Eliot Morison states, NewEnglanders, however they differed in property andoccupation, had a common belief in the Bible as the guideto life, and a uniform method of land division andsettlement, (Morison, pg. 167). Governments based on theideals of the religion represented in the town were emergingall over the newly shaping country. The great majority ofemigrants to New England were middle-class farmers,tradesmen and artisans. Since Puritanism did not condemnmanual labor as some religions did, and since every man nomatter how poor could vote if he joined the church,independent yeoman farmers quickly became the backboneof the community.
In 1632, in the northern part of Virginia,an Anglican colony, Charles I cut a slice of land for hisfriend, Lord Baltimore. Charles I intended to give LordBaltimore a monopoly of the commerce and fisheriesbetween the latitude of Philadelphia and the south bank ofthe Potomac. The area was named Maryland supposedly inhonor of Queen Henrietta Maria, but really in honor of theVirgin Mary. Lord Baltimore intended to make this land arefuge for English and Irish Roman Catholics, as NewEngland had become a refuge for Puritans.
AlthoughCatholics had been much more severely discriminatedagainst in England than Puritans, far fewer Catholics werewilling to emigrate, thus Maryland never became apredominantly Catholic colony (Morison, p. 133). Otherreligions that sprouted from Puritanism were also beginningto take shape. Education linked with religion was quicklybecoming a parental responsibility. The religious sentimentof the time was basic. The major motive in colonialeducation was religious as well as humane (Morison,p.
114). A popular rhyme of 1647 by Ezekiel Cheever, abeloved schoolmaster who taught for ninety-two years,lightly states: The lads with Honour first and Reason rule;Blowes are but for the refractory fool. But, Oh! first teachthem their great God to fear; That you, like me with joymay meet them here. (Morison, pg. 233) Many Americansettlers also feared that education would not be possible inthe New World since English universities had been closedto Puritans. In 1636, Harvard College opened for thebenefit of the Puritan colonists.
Virginia had severalreligious practices in common with New England. Theearlier laws of Virginia forbade things like card-playing anddice-throwing, owing to the Puritan notion that it wastedprecious time (Morison, p. 136). There was a fine of 50pounds of tobacco for missing church on a Sunday. Avestryman and two churchwardens, who served as themoral policemen, governed each Virginia parish. Thesechurchwardens presided over all cases involving bastardy,adultery, blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, slander,backbiting, and other scandalous offenses (Morison,p.
136). The Anglican Church in Virginia, however,desperately needed ministers, due to the lack of any officialinstitution, like Harvard, with which to train them. By 1672,four out of five Virginia parishes were vacant. AlthoughVirginia and New England had much in common, they alsovaried a great deal. Almost all Englishmen in theseventeenth century were interested in religion, andeveryone who read anything, read works on divinity. Asurprising number of books in private Virginian librarieswere devoted to Puritan theology.
Through all this, afundamental difference between Puritanism in New Englandand Puritanism in Virginia showed through. In the Northerncolonies, it was a positive and prevalent way of life, difficultfor anyone to escape. Puritanism in Virginia, however,simply reflected the average Englishmans desire to supporthonesty and morality, in the absence of the Anglican waysof discipline and authority (Morison, p. 138).
Farther South,in South Carolina, French Protestants were beginning tosettle near Charleston. After the Edict of Nantes wasrepealed in 1685, religious toleration of the Huguenotswent with it. After thousands emigrated from Prussia andEngland, the English colonies welcomed them. Carolinasettlers were eager for Protestant workers who knew howto cultivate olives and vines, and they certainly receivedample fulfillment. These liberty-loving French were basicallyresponsible for securing policies concerning slavery in theSouth, making it a practice that would become widelyaccepted by 1681 (Curti, p. 189).
Newer, more liberalreligions were starting to take shape as well. The Quakerswere a left-wing Puritan sect founded by George Fox inEngland around 1650. Fox differed from the Puritans, whofound authority in the Bible, in that he believed that thedirect word of God lay in the human soul (Curti, p. 147). His followers believed that all men were created equal.
They called themselves the Friends. During the first twoyears of Charles IIs reign, some 3,000 Quakers wereimprisoned because of his opposition to their beliefs. Severe laws opposing Quakers were passed in everycolony except Rhode Island. In New York they weretortured and in Boston they were hanged. Finally, in 1670,they received social recognition.
Even though they hadfinally gained a fair amount of toleration, the Quakersaspired to get away from Englands corrupt society, as thePuritans had done fifty years before. In 1682, William Pennwas left a small fortune by his father. He used this to obtainan impressive proprietary province, which he namedPennsylvania. Quakers went on to create Philadelphia,complete with some of the best hospitals and charitableinstitutions in the English colonies by 1689.
By 1760,Philadelphia had become the principal port of entry forforeigners. The German immigrants belonged mainly tosects which were discriminated against in Europe, such asthe Mennonites, Moravians, German Baptists, PuritanicLutherans, and others. Many of these immigrants settled inthe upper regions of Maryland, Virginia, and NorthCarolina (Curti, p. 178).
By this time, the once-raging firefor Puritanism had all but burned its last ember. Althoughpeople still attended services, they had become moremeetings than church sermons. To combat this lax attitudetowards the one thing that used to cause such an uproar, in1734 some New England Congregationalists andMiddle-colony and Southern Presbyterians began a revivalknown as the Great Awakening. This was the firstimportant religious revival in English colonies; no otherreligious movement had ever created such a stir.
Itstimulated fresh interest in Christianity and caused hundredsof new churches to be founded. Most importantly, theGreat Awakening brought with it the expansion ofChristianity to the American frontier, so that the newlyindependent frontiersmen carried with them the same zealfor religion as the old dependent colonists had. The newerchurches that were established erupted with religiousoutbursts, extremely unlike the old highbrow Harvardministers way of preaching. These new churches werecalled New Light churches, many of which later becameBaptist or Methodist. New England, in 1763, was raciallyhomogeneous, with few blacks, Irish, Scots, or Germans.
Nearly 90 percent of churches were Congregational. Sociallife in the country revolved around each Congregationalchurch, and town governments now gave everyone achance to participate. This lack of variety throughout NewEngland provided unity and several new cities sprang upand prospered along the Eastern Shore. Following theAmerican Revolution, the common side effects of warplagued the country. Moral and religious standards weredeclining.
A general spirit of tolerance and religious libertywas in the air. The Presbyterians gathered often from1785-1788 to form an official faith named the PresbyterianChurch of America. In the Anglican Church, another majorchange was taking place, when Methodists finally brokefree of their mother church in 1784. Until that point, theAnglican Church had enjoyed the monopoly it received ofperforming all marriages in southern colonies and in parts ofNew York.
Finally, the Protestant Episcopal Church wasorganized at a series of conventions between 1784 and1789. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson declared in the VirginiaStatute of Religious Liberty that, No man shall becompelled to frequent or support any religious worship,place or ministry whatsoever. Religion has been a largepart of American life, even from the beginning. Religion wasprobably the most influential force in the founding ofAmerica, creating a sense of unity and purpose among thecolonists and also providing a major reason for colonizationin the first place. Religious doctrines taught each person toconsider himself a significant if sinful unit to whom God hadgiven a particular place and duty, and that he must help hisfellow man. Religion, therefore is an American heritage tobe grateful for and not to be given indignity because itrequired everyone to attend divine worship and maintain astrict code of ethics.Category: History