The new world was a blank slate for religious practices. Many from Europe who were persecuted came to the new world for a place to practice as they saw fit. Some decided to keep a European mindset and persecuted others for not conforming to their religion. All religions played a role in shaping the country as we know it today.
The effects of religion on the American Colonies
With the discovery of the Americas there was a blank slate for people of all nations to have a chance to start fresh. War and religious persecution was spreading throughout Europe. Many people were tired of being punished for what they believed in and risked death to find freedom.
In Europe the Roman Catholic Church ruled with an iron fist. It was known for greed and intolerance of other religions. If their religion was not practiced the way they saw as correct you could be called a heretic and could be punished, have your property and possessions taken or even be killed. There were many who disagreed with the church's policies but did not openly express their ideas for fear of the punishment by the church.
In Germany the Protestant Reformation began with a monk named Martian Luther's posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. Martian protested the church's sale of indulgences and corruption. The church claimed that if you paid them enough that you were able to buy your way into heaven.
Later on the English reformation was when King Henry the VII broke off from the Roman Catholic Church to start the Church of England. The King was unable to bare a male heir to the thrown with his first wife so he breaks off from the roman church because the pope would not allow him to divorce to remarry.
After King Henry's death his daughter Queen Mary makes a deal with the church and makes herself the rightful ruler. She restores the catholic religion as the primary religion and puts to death many Protestants.
Mary was unable to have kids and died of cancer her sister becomes Queen Elizabeth and reverses the change in religions. This time period was a very violent time for the English many were put to death.
King James I wanted to spread Protestantism he gave a charter to the Virginia Company. Jamestown Virginia was the first permanent European colony. This was due to Spain's exploration of the new world converting the natives American's to the Roman Catholic Church and also as a commercial venture. The settlers built a small church to worship in out of a sail from a ship. Church services became mandatory if you missed church you would be punished.
The second successful European colony was Plymouth Massachusetts. Pilgrims from the Netherlands did not come to America because of intolerance. The Pilgrims left England because of persecution and found Holland as a safe haven but they started to merge with the locals fearing identity loss they leave for the new world on the Mayflower. They arrive in an area that was visited by the English earlier and call the colony Plymouth. Almost half of the travelers die from scurvy. They make contact with the local Wampanoag Indians. An Indian who speaks broken English welcomes them. After meeting more of them they make a treaty with the locals and we have the first thanksgiving. The Indians and Settlers begin to trade food and furs and other goods. The colonists had church and government separate. They exiled non puritans.
A group of puritans fund a venture to the new world for business reasons. Some who agree to travel to America make an agreement with the stockholders so that when they arrive they will be in charge of the colony also that if the other stockholders don't come that they will agree to sell their stock to the settlers. The agreement gave the puritans control of the colonies and so they decided to create a theocracy. The puritans were very strict religious people and intolerant of other religions in there colonies. Laws are enacted to make sure parents teach their children to read so that they are able to read the bible and become good puritans. Puritans create the first college in America Harvard.
Thomas Hooker was a minister in Massachusetts. He disagreed with a few of the rules of the puritans in the colony. Forced to leave the colony he starts his own colony. Joined by others he establishes the Connecticut Colony. Hooker's belief was that the people in the government should not have full control so in Connecticut the leaders must be elected by the people.
Roger Williams exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony because of disagreement with the church's intolerance of other religions. Williams meets the Narragansett Indians. The Indians sell him land he and some of his followers settle this location with religious freedom as their goal. Providence is the home of the first Baptist church in America. Many religions find freedom in providence Jews, Baptists and Quakers. This Colony has better relations with the Indians. They purchased property from the Indians, not just taking it as the other Europeans did. They say that the natives are the true land owners so it should be purchased from them. Also Williams did not try to convert the Indians.
Gorge Calvert came to America and settled in Newfoundland but because of the climate he was interested in spreading Christianity in southern America. With a land grant he settles an area in the location of Maryland but dies before the charter is passed he leaves the land to his son Caecillius. Maryland passed an act guaranteeing religious toleration of people of all Christian faiths.
William Penn a Quaker was a wealthy Englishmen. He is the son of an admiral he had a good education and converted to a Quaker. At that time the Quakers were being persecuted so people were surprised to find this out. Penn's father lent Charles II 16,000 Pounds. Penn asks the king for some land in the New World which he gives him. Penn wanted to protect the other Quakers. The charter for the land was named in honor of Penn's father. William Markham was Penn's cousin he goes to America to take control. The Great Law was the colonies laws based on the beliefs of the Quakers. It guaranteed liberty of conscience (The freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others' viewpoints). Philadelphia became the center of intellectual and commercial life. The English brought slaves into Pennsylvania but the Quakers were against slavery. Pennsylvania enacted the gradual abolition act which was the first emancipation law in the United States.
The United States brought together many different cultures. Some brought the same practices they were attempting to escape in Europe but others brought with them tolerance and acceptance of other religions and ideas. The diversity in America is what makes us great. With the differences in ideas and cultures bring to the table new ways of thought and freedom. America's ability to overcome roadblocks to freedom is the reason it was as successful as was.
- Brinkley, A. (2006). The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People, Volume I (5 ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.
- History of Jamestown -- Jamestown Rediscovery. (n.d.). Home -- Preservation Virginia. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.preservationvirginia.org/rediscovery/page.php?page_id=6
- Mass Moments: Roger Williams Banished. (n.d.). Mass Moments: Angelina Grimke Addresses Legislature. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=292
- The Pilgrim Society. (n.d.). The Pilgrim Society. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://www.pilgrimhall.org
- media. (n.d.). Freedom of thought - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 21, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_of_conscience