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Essay/Term paper: Religion in america, 1492-1790

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Humanities

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Religion in the New World exploded into the

land with the colonization of thousands of immigrants. It

played an important role in the development of thought in

the West. Religion was one of the first concepts to spark

the desires of people from other countries to emigrate to

the new lands. While many religions blossomed on the

American shores of the Atlantic, a basic structure held for

most of them, being predominantly derived from

Puritanism. Jamestown, the first permanent English

settlement, showed the link the new settlers had to God

when Sir Thomas Dale said the following in 1610: Be not

dismayed at all For scandall cannot doe us wrong, God will

not let us fall. Let England knowe our willingnesse, For that

our work is good; Wee hope to plant a nation Where none

before hath stood. (Morison, pg. 89) Originally, when

Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of America en

route to Asia, he was not interested in discovering new

lands. Most Europeans at the time were looking for a way

to get at the oldest part of the Old World, the East Indies.

An ocean route was sought to the countries that were

believed to contain riches beyond European

comprehension, thus avoiding having to pay hundreds of

miscellaneous middlemen involved with trade, also making

for a shorter journey. These motivations were accompanied

by the desire to convert the heathen to Christianity, which

had been declining since the rise of Islam. By uniting some

of the Western Asian countries with Christianity, Europeans

hoped to form a formidable team against the Turks and

recover the valuable Holy Land (Morison, p.55).

Columbus was sure that God had sent him to complete this

task and that he was destined to carry the good Christian

ways to heathen lands. A Spanish settlement was made in

1609 named Santa Fe in what is now New Mexico (Curti,

p.167). Hundreds of thousands of Pueblo Indians were

then converted to Christianity. At the same time, across the

country, England was establishing its first settlement at

Jamestown. Originally the English, who colonized alongside

the French, saw settlements in the New World as strictly

trading posts, but they soon realized the valuable

opportunities that lay in the virgin lands of America, such as

cotton, tobacco, and several other agricultural products

that could not be found anywhere else. Many of England"s

problems could be solved in America, and so colonization

began. When the earliest settlers came, England had the

responsibility to continue the Protestant Church, and

prevent the Catholic Church from converting the entire

Native American population of North America (Morison,

p.105) A potential Protestant refuge could be based there

in the threat of civil wars or a change of religion. The first to

settle in America were Separatists, or Puritans who had

seceded from the Church of England. After having been

exiled to the Netherlands and cast into slavery by the

overpowering and more economically sound Dutch, the

Separatists yearned for a place of their own to live where

they could worship as they chose, but at the same time find

some financial success. They intended to locate near the

mouth of the Hudson River to set up a trading post and

fishing settlement. In 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims who

brought Puritanism with them to the New World founded

the Plymouth Colony. Puritanism was responsible for the

colonization of New England, eventually influencing the

existence of the Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist,

Baptist, Unitarian, Quaker, and other Protestant sects in

the United States. Since seventeenth-century English and

Scottish Puritanism is what mostly influenced these

churches, it is not surprising that Puritan ways of thinking

and doing have had a vast effect on the American mind and

character, precursors of what is referred to as the

Protestant Ethic. The Puritans who lived in the Plymouth

Colony shared some basic doctrines with the Catholic

Church. They agreed that man existed for the glory of God,

and that his first concern in life should be to do God"s will,

and by doing this he would be happy. They disagreed with

the Catholic Church, because they disagreed with the forms

and 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 not

Holy. The Puritans (Johnson, p.1) also rejected the

Catholic and Anglican Church"s hierarchy and even their

worship of symbols such as the cross, statues, and

stained-glass windows. By 1630, Puritanism ruled New

England almost entirely. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and

New Hampshire were some of the colonies that relied on

Puritanism. As Samuel Eliot Morison states, "New

Englanders, however they differed in property and

occupation, had a common belief in the Bible as the guide

to life, and a uniform method of land division and

settlement," (Morison, pg.167). Governments based on the

ideals of the religion represented in the town were emerging

all over the newly shaping country. The great majority of

emigrants to New England were middle-class farmers,

tradesmen and artisans. Since Puritanism did not condemn

manual labor as some religions did, and since every man no

matter how poor could vote if he joined the church,

independent yeoman farmers quickly became the backbone

of the community. In 1632, in the northern part of Virginia,

an Anglican colony, Charles I cut a slice of land for his

friend, Lord Baltimore. Charles I intended to give Lord

Baltimore a monopoly of the commerce and fisheries

between the latitude of Philadelphia and the south bank of

the Potomac. The area was named Maryland supposedly in

honor of Queen Henrietta Maria, but really in honor of the

Virgin Mary. Lord Baltimore intended to make this land a

refuge for English and Irish Roman Catholics, as New

England had become a refuge for Puritans. Although

Catholics had been much more severely discriminated

against in England than Puritans, far fewer Catholics were

willing to emigrate, thus Maryland never became a

predominantly Catholic colony (Morison, p.133). Other

religions that sprouted from Puritanism were also beginning

to take shape. Education linked with religion was quickly

becoming a parental responsibility. The religious sentiment

of the time was basic. The major motive in colonial

education was religious as well as humane (Morison,

p.114). A popular rhyme of 1647 by Ezekiel Cheever, a

beloved 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 teach

them their great God to fear; That you, like me with joy

may meet them here. (Morison, pg. 233) Many American

settlers also feared that education would not be possible in

the New World since English universities had been closed

to Puritans. In 1636, Harvard College opened for the

benefit of the Puritan colonists. Virginia had several

religious practices in common with New England. The

earlier laws of Virginia forbade things like card-playing and

dice-throwing, owing to the Puritan notion that it "wasted

precious time" (Morison, p. 136). There was a fine of 50

pounds of tobacco for missing church on a Sunday. A

vestryman and two churchwardens, who served as the

moral policemen, governed each Virginia parish. These

churchwardens 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 official

institution, like Harvard, with which to train them. By 1672,

four out of five Virginia parishes were vacant. Although

Virginia and New England had much in common, they also

varied a great deal. Almost all Englishmen in the

seventeenth century were interested in religion, and

everyone who read anything, read works on divinity. A

surprising number of books in private Virginian libraries

were devoted to Puritan theology. Through all this, a

fundamental difference between Puritanism in New England

and Puritanism in Virginia showed through. In the Northern

colonies, it was a positive and prevalent way of life, difficult

for anyone to escape. Puritanism in Virginia, however,

simply reflected the average Englishman"s desire to support

honesty and morality, in the absence of the Anglican ways

of discipline and authority (Morison, p.138). Farther South,

in South Carolina, French Protestants were beginning to

settle near Charleston. After the Edict of Nantes was

repealed in 1685, religious toleration of the Huguenots

went with it. After thousands emigrated from Prussia and

England, the English colonies welcomed them. Carolina

settlers were eager for Protestant workers who knew how

to cultivate olives and vines, and they certainly received

ample fulfillment. These liberty-loving French were basically

responsible for securing policies concerning slavery in the

South, making it a practice that would become widely

accepted by 1681 (Curti, p.189). Newer, more liberal

religions were starting to take shape as well. The Quakers

were a left-wing Puritan sect founded by George Fox in

England around 1650. Fox differed from the Puritans, who

found authority in the Bible, in that he believed that the

direct 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 two

years of Charles II"s reign, some 3,000 Quakers were

imprisoned because of his opposition to their beliefs.

Severe laws opposing Quakers were passed in every

colony except Rhode Island. In New York they were

tortured and in Boston they were hanged. Finally, in 1670,

they received social recognition. Even though they had

finally gained a fair amount of toleration, the Quakers

aspired to get away from England"s corrupt society, as the

Puritans had done fifty years before. In 1682, William Penn

was left a small fortune by his father. He used this to obtain

an impressive proprietary province, which he named

Pennsylvania. Quakers went on to create Philadelphia,

complete with some of the best hospitals and charitable

institutions in the English colonies by 1689. By 1760,

Philadelphia had become the principal port of entry for

foreigners. The German immigrants belonged mainly to

sects which were discriminated against in Europe, such as

the Mennonites, Moravians, German Baptists, Puritanic

Lutherans, and others. Many of these immigrants settled in

the upper regions of Maryland, Virginia, and North

Carolina (Curti, p.178). By this time, the once-raging fire

for Puritanism had all but burned its last ember. Although

people still attended services, they had become more

meetings than church sermons. To combat this lax attitude

towards the one thing that used to cause such an uproar, in

1734 some New England Congregationalists and

Middle-colony and Southern Presbyterians began a revival

known as the "Great Awakening". This was the first

important religious revival in English colonies; no other

religious movement had ever created such a stir. It

stimulated fresh interest in Christianity and caused hundreds

of new churches to be founded. Most importantly, the

Great Awakening brought with it the expansion of

Christianity to the American frontier, so that the newly

independent frontiersmen carried with them the same zeal

for religion as the old dependent colonists had. The newer

churches that were established erupted with religious

outbursts, extremely unlike the old highbrow Harvard

ministers" way of preaching. These new churches were

called "New Light" churches, many of which later became

Baptist or Methodist. New England, in 1763, was racially

homogeneous, with few blacks, Irish, Scots, or Germans.

Nearly 90 percent of churches were Congregational. Social

life in the country revolved around each Congregational

church, and town governments now gave everyone a

chance to participate. This lack of variety throughout New

England provided unity and several new cities sprang up

and prospered along the Eastern Shore. Following the

American Revolution, the common side effects of war

plagued the country. Moral and religious standards were

declining. A general spirit of tolerance and religious liberty

was in the air. The Presbyterians gathered often from

1785-1788 to form an official faith named the Presbyterian

Church of America. In the Anglican Church, another major

change was taking place, when Methodists finally broke

free of their mother church in 1784. Until that point, the

Anglican Church had enjoyed the monopoly it received of

performing all marriages in southern colonies and in parts of

New York. Finally, the Protestant Episcopal Church was

organized at a series of conventions between 1784 and

1789. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson declared in the Virginia

Statute of Religious Liberty that, "No man shall be

compelled to frequent or support any religious worship,

place or ministry whatsoever." Religion has been a large

part of American life, even from the beginning. Religion was

probably the most influential force in the founding of

America, creating a sense of unity and purpose among the

colonists and also providing a major reason for colonization

in the first place. Religious doctrines taught each person to

consider himself a significant if sinful unit to whom God had

given a particular place and duty, and that he must help his

fellow man. Religion, therefore is an American heritage to

be grateful for and not to be given indignity because it

required everyone to attend divine worship and maintain a

strict code of ethics.  

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