Colonial Religion


The American colonies had houses of worship, but what the people learned in those church services depended on where they lived.

The Anglicans were already established in most of the colonies and were even part of the group of people that were “victimized” by the Puritans.

However, after the dispersement of the Puritans, the number of other religions in the colonies began to increase.

Baptists appeared in a majority of the colonies, Roman Catholics and Protestants organized in Maryland and even some German religions surfaced in a few of the colonies.

Later came the Lutherans, who formed in the German communities in Pennsylvania, and the Presbyterians, who even had an appearance in the Massachusetts Proposals of 1705.

Religious diversity had become a dominant part of colonial life.  The colonies were a patchwork of religiously diverse communities and, as a result, the population of America increased quickly.

People from all over the world wanted the freedom that was found in America and they began to move their homelands to America.

Groups such as the Scotch-Irish were among the first to begin that emigration to America.

As a result, religious persecution was beginning to diminish and religious freedom began to replace it.
The mid-Atlantic region, unlike either New England or the South, drew many of its initial settlers from European states that had been deeply disrupted by the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars that followed in its wake.

Historians conventionally note that early New England’s religious character was shaped primarily by English Puritans, and the religious character of the South by English Anglicans.

But no two-word phrase can capture the essence of those who set the mold for Middle Colony religious culture.

Religious patterns in New York followed the ethnic configuration of the colony, with geography often facilitating the colonists’ impulse to form separate enclaves.

Wherever the Dutch settled, as in the Hudson River Valley, the Dutch Reformed Church predominated.

An example is the west-bank town of Kingston, where the Reformed congregation met in a large stone church while the few Anglicans made do with a “mean log-house.” German reformed and Lutherans spread out along the Mohawk River west of Albany.

Suffolk County at the eastern end of Long Island, settled by migrating New Englanders, was the stronghold of Congregationalists.

French Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, established their own town at New Rochelle in Westchester County, for decades keeping local records in French.

The colonists were typically inattentive, uninterested, and bored during church services, according to the ministers, who complained that the people were sleeping, whispering, ogling the fashionably dressed women, walking about and coming and going, or at best looking out the windows or staring blankly into space.

The lack of towns means the church had to serve scattered settlements, while the acute shortage of trained ministers meant that piety was hard to practice outside the home.

Some ministers solved this problem by encouraging parishioners to become devout at home, using the Book of Common Prayer for private prayer and devotion.

This allowed devout Anglicans to lead an active and sincere religious life apart from the unsatisfactory formal church services.

However, the stress on private devotion weakened the need for a bishop or a large institutional church of the sort Blair wanted.