SECTIONS: I. America as Refuge - II. 18th Century America
III. American Revolution - IV. Congress of the Confederation - V. State Governments
VI. Federal Government - VII. New Republic
I. America as a Religious Refuge:
The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution
Expelled from Massachusetts in the dead of winter in 1636, former Puritan leader Roger Williams (1603-1683) issued an impassioned plea for freedom of conscience. He wrote, "God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill state; which inforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civill Warre, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls." Williams later founded Rhode Island on the principle of religious freedom. He welcomed people of every shade of religious belief, even some regarded as dangerously misguided, for nothing could change his view that "forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."
Roger Williams, 1644
Rare Book and Special Collections Division,
Library of Congress (19)
Execution of Quakers
Copyprint Nineteenth Century
Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York (20)
Although they were victims of religious persecution in Europe, the Puritans supported the Old
World theory that sanctioned it, the need for uniformity of religion in the state. Once in
control in New England, they sought to break "the very neck of Schism and vile opinions."
The "business" of the first settlers, a Puritan minister recalled in 1681, "was not Toleration,
but [they] were professed enemies of it." Puritans expelled dissenters from their colonies, a
fate that in 1636 befell Roger Williams and in 1638 Anne Hutchinson, America's first major
female religious leader. Those who defied the Puritans by persistently returning to their
jurisdictions risked capital punishment, a penalty imposed on four Quakers between 1659 and
1661. Reflecting on the seventeenth century's intolerance, Thomas Jefferson was unwilling to
concede to Virginians any moral superiority to the Puritans. Beginning in 1659 Virginia
enacted anti-Quaker laws, including the death penalty for refractory Quakers. Jefferson
surmised that "if no capital execution took place here, as did in New England, it was not
owing to the moderation of the church, or the spirit of the legislature."
Intolerance in Virginia
In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson reflected on the religious intolerance in seventeenth-century Virginia, specifically on the anti-Quaker laws passed by the Virginia Assembly from 1659 onward. Jefferson apparently believed that it was no more than an historical accident that Quakers had not been physically punished or even executed in Virginia as they had been in Massachusetts.
New York: M. L. and W. A. Davis, 1801
Rare Book and Special Collections, Library of Congress (21)
JEWS FIND A REFUGE IN AMERICA
|For some decades Jews had flourished in Dutch-held areas of Brazil, but a Portuguese conquest of the area in 1654 confronted them with the prospect of the introduction of the Inquisition, which had already burned a Brazilian Jew at the stake in 1647. A shipload of twenty-three Jewish refugees from Dutch Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam (soon to become New York) in 1654. By the next year, this small community had established religious services in the city. By 1658 Jews had arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, also seeking religious liberty. Small numbers of Jews continued to come to the British North American colonies, settling mainly in the seaport towns. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, Jewish settlers had established several thriving synagogues.||
Designed by Peter Harrison, constructed in 1762, and dedicated in 1763, Touro Synagogue is considered an architectural masterpiece. It is the sole surviving synagogue built in colonial America.
Photograph by Jack Boucher, 1971.
Copyprint, Historic American Buildings Survey,
Prints and Photographs Division,
Library of Congress (22)
A breastplate is an ornamental covering for the Torah, designed in imitation of the breastplate worn by the High Priest, as described in the book of Exodus. Breastplates, similar to the one seen here, were used in colonial synagogues.
Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island (24)
Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island (25)
A youthful William Penn (1644-1718) portrayed in armor suggests that at this point in his career he may have been considering following his father into a military profession. Soon after this portrait was made, Penn became a member of the Society of Friends, one of whose fundamental tenets was the renunciation of force.
Oil on canvas Eighteenth-century copy of a seventeenth-century portrait, possibly by Sir Peter Lely
Historical Society of Pennsylvania (26)
Penn's Frame of Government
England: William Bradford, before 1689
Rare Book and Special Collections Division,
Library of Congress (27)
|The Quakers (or Religious Society of Friends) formed in England in 1652 around a charismatic leader, George Fox (1624-1691). Many scholars today consider Quakers as radical Puritans, because the Quakers carried to extremes many Puritan convictions. They stretched the sober deportment of the Puritans into a glorification of "plainness." Theologically, they expanded the Puritan concept of a church of individuals regenerated by the Holy Spirit to the idea of the indwelling of the Spirit or the "Light of Christ" in every person. Such teaching struck many of the Quakers' contemporaries as dangerous heresy. Quakers were severely persecuted in England for daring to deviate so far from orthodox Christianity. By 1680, 10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England, and 243 had died of torture and mistreatment in the King's jails. This reign of terror impelled Friends to seek refuge in New Jersey in the 1670s, where they soon became well entrenched. In 1681, when Quaker leader William Penn (1644-1718) parlayed a debt owed by Charles II to his father into a charter for the province of Pennsylvania, many more Quakers were prepared to grasp the opportunity to live in a land where they might worship freely. By 1685 as many as 8,000 Quakers had come to Pennsylvania. Although the Quakers may have resembled the Puritans in some religious beliefs and practices, they differed with them over the necessity of compelling religious uniformity in society.|
This undated image depicts a feature of Quaker religious practice that made early Friends so repugnant to other denominations: their insistence on equality for women, including the right--in defiance of the apostle Paul's injunctions--to speak in Meeting for Worship and to preach the Gospel.
Wood engraving from Ernst von Hesse Wartegg, Nord-Amerika, seine Stadt und Naturwunder,
das Land und seine Bewohner in Schilderung. Leipzig: 1888.
General Collections, Library of Congress (28)
Quaker Book of Discipline
Given forth from time to time By the Yearly-Meetings of Friends For Pennsylvania & New Jersey. . . .
Manuscript volume, c. 1682-1763
Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (29)
aan de Commissarissen van de vrye Societeyt
der Handelaars (Amsterdam, 1684).
[Dutch translation of Penn's 1683 letter to the Free Society Traders]
Rare Book and Special Collections,
Library of Congress (30)
THE PENNSYLVANIA GERMANS
This certificate features characteristic Pennsylvania German motifs.
Pennsylvania German fraktur woodcut with watercolor, 1807
Prints and Photographs Division,
Library of Congress (31)
The Narrow Gate
Pennsylvania German fraktur woodcut with watercolor
Early nineteenth century
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (32)
The first group of Germans to settle in Pennsylvania arrived in Philadelphia in 1683 from
Krefeld, Germany, and included Mennonites and possibly some Dutch Quakers. During the
early years of German emigration to Pennsylvania, most of the emigrants were members of
small sects that shared Quaker principles--Mennonites, Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, Moravians,
and some German Baptist groups--and were fleeing religious persecution. Penn and his agents
encouraged German and European emigration to Pennsylvania by circulating promotional
literature touting the economic advantages of Pennsylvania as well as the religious liberty
available there. The appearance in Pennsylvania of so many different religious groups made
the province resemble "an asylum for banished sects." Beginning in the 1720s significantly
larger numbers of German Lutherans and German Reformed arrived in Pennsylvania. Many
were motivated by economic considerations. |
Many of the German sects that emigrated to Pennsylvania brought with them "primitive" Christian practices such as footwashing, seen here being practiced by the women of the Moravian Brethren.
Engraving from David Cranz, Kurze, Zuverlässige Nachricht, von der,
unter den Namen der Böhmisch-Mährischen Brüder Bekannt,
Kirche Unitas fratrum, Halle: 1757
The Library Company of Philadelphia (33)
ROMAN CATHOLICS IN MARYLAND
Although the Stuart kings of England did not hate the Roman
Catholic Church, most of their
subjects did, causing Catholics to be harassed and persecuted in
England throughout the
seventeenth century. Driven by "the sacred duty of finding a refuge
for his Roman Catholic
brethren," George Calvert (1580-1632) obtained a charter from
Charles I in 1632 for the
territory between Pennsylvania and Virginia. This Maryland
charter offered no guidelines on
religion, although it was assumed that Catholics would not be
molested in the new colony.
In 1634 two ships, the Ark and the Dove, brought the first
settlers to Maryland.
Aboard were approximately two hundred people. Among the passengers
were two Catholic
priests who had been forced to board surreptitiously to escape
the reach of English anti-Catholic laws. Upon landing in Maryland the
Catholics, led spiritually by the Jesuits, were
transported by a profound reverence, similar to that experienced by John
Winthrop and the
Puritans when they set foot in New England.
Catholic fortunes fluctuated in Maryland during the rest of the
century, as they became an increasingly smaller minority of the population. After the
Glorious Revolution of 1689 in England, the Church of England was legally established in the
colony and English penal laws, which deprived Catholics of the right to vote, hold office, or
worship publicly, were enforced. Until the American Revolution, Catholics in Maryland were
dissenters in their own country, living at times under a state of siege, but keeping loyal to their
convictions, a faithful remnant, awaiting better times.
Father Andrew White
The "Apostle to Maryland," Father Andrew White (1579-1656), described the celebration of the first mass upon the arrival of the Ark and the Dove, "We celebrated mass for the first time . . . . This had never been done before in this part of the world. After we had completed the sacrifice, we took upon our shoulders a great cross that we had hewn out of a tree, and advancing in order to the appointed place . . . we erected a trophy to Christ the Savior, humbly reciting, on our bended knees, the Litanies of the sacred Cross, with great emotion." This is the only known seventeenth-century image of Father White. The palm trees depicted in the background reveal the artist's ignorance of conditions in Maryland.
Engraving by G.G. Heinsch, 1655, in Mathias Tanner, Societas Jesu apostolorum imitatrix Prague: Typis Universitatis Carolo-Ferdinandeae, 1694
Special Collections Division, Georgetown University Library (39)
Father Andrew White,
from Manuale Sacerdotum, 1610
Special Collections Division, Georgetown University Library. (40)
Silver gilt, glass, metal, c. 1700
Georgetown University Art Collection,
Washington, D.C. (38)
Maryland Act Concerning Religion|
In 1649, Catholics in the Maryland Assembly passed an act stipulating that no Trinitarian Christian "shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested, or discountenanced, for, or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof within this Province." Though this act was not as inclusive as similar ones in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, which brought theists within their purview, it was another in a series of progressive measures taken by early American colonists to emancipate themselves from the European belief in enforced religious uniformity.
Maryland Governour and Council (Proceedings) May 1647- February 1651,
including "An Act Concerning Religion," Manuscript volume
Department of Special Collections, Maryland Archives, Annapolis (35)
Engraving by James Barry (1741-1806), 1793
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (34)
Catholic Church at St. Mary's City, Maryland
c.1670, [interior] - [exterior]
Gouache on paper by Leslie Barker. Copyprint, 1997
Historic St. Mary's City, Maryland (36e-f)
Catholic Religious Medals
Metal, Seventeenth century
Historic St. Mary's City, Maryland (36 a-d)
Virgin Mary at St. Mary's City
Clay, Seventeenth century, Historic St. Mary's City, Maryland (37)
The Book of Common Prayer, which contains the liturgy used by the Church of England, was compiled during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) and revised under Queen Elizabeth I. The prayer book, used in Virginia church services, was published in all shapes and sizes. Here is a page from the large 1662 edition and the same page as it appears in a 1730 shorthand edition, with the order slightly altered. The creator of the shorthand system, James Weston, advised his readers that he had omitted the "Forms of Matrimony . . . at the Desire of the Subscribers, that the Price might be less."
and Administration of the Sacraments,
and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church,
According to the Use of the Church of England . . . .
London: by his Majesty's printers, 1662
The Book of Common Prayer in Short-Hand, According to
Mr. Weston's Excellent Method . . . .
Official Instructions on Religion
Manuscript volume, Eighteenth-century copy
Virginia Miscellaneous Records,
1606-1692 (the Bland Manuscript),
Rare Book and Special Collections,
Library of Congress (43)
|Virginia was settled by businessmen--operating through a joint-stock company, the Virginia Company of London--who wanted to get rich. They also wanted the Church to flourish in their colony and kept it well supplied with ministers. Some early governors sent by the Virginia Company acted in the spirit of crusaders. Sir Thomas Dale (d. 1619) considered himself engaged in "religious warfare" and expected no reward "but from him on whose vineyard I labor whose church with greedy appetite I desire to erect." During Dale's tenure, religion was spread at the point of the sword. Everyone was required to attend church and be catechized by a minister. Those who refused could be executed or sent to the galleys. When a popular assembly, the House of Burgesses, was established in 1619, it enacted religious laws that "were a match for anything to be found in the Puritan societies." Unlike the colonies to the north, where the Church of England was regarded with suspicion throughout the colonial period, Virginia was a bastion of Anglicanism. Her House of Burgesses passed a law in 1632 requiring that there be a "uniformitie throughout this colony both in substance and circumstance to the cannons and constitution of the Church of England." The church in Virginia faced problems unlike those confronted in other colonies--such as enormous parishes, some sixty miles long, and the inability to ordain ministers locally--but it continued to command the loyalty and affection of the colonists. In 1656, a prospective minister was advised that he "would find an assisting, an embracing, a comforting people" in the colony. At the end of the seventeenth century the church in Virginia, according to a recent authority, was prospering; it was "active and growing" and was "well attended by the young and old alike."|
Baptism of Pocahontas
Like the other seventeenth-century British colonies, Virginia aspired to convert the native populations. The Virginia Company's instructions to its governors required them to make conversion one of their objectives. The most famous early convert was Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, head of the Powhatan Confederacy. Pocahontas was baptized by the Reverend Alexander Whitaker before her marriage to John Rolfe in 1614.
Oil study for mural by John Gadsby Chapman, c. 1837-40
Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Educational Trust (44)
The Trustees and Vestry of Bruton Parish Church,
Anglican Religious Credentials
Vellum and metal, 1773
Washington National Cathedral, Rare Book Library (46)