US History/Colonial Religion

Great AwakeningEdit

The Great Awakening was a period of religious revivalism in America. Historians view the Great Awakening in 4 distinct stages. The first stage started in New England in the 1730s and lasted roughly thirty years.[1] "Orthodox Calvinists sought to combat Enlightenment rationalism, which denied innate human depravity. Simultaneously, the economic and political uncertainty accompanying King George's War made colonist receptive to evangelists' spiritual messages"[2] During the first Great Awakening, pastors changed their styles of preaching by seeking to evoke emotion from the audience, rather than simply reading sermons.


The Mennonites are a religious group which immigrated to America from Europe. Some came in 1683 to settle in Pennsylvania. The Mennonites left Germany because of persecution for refusing to perform military service on the basis of religious grounds. Later groups of Mennonites came to the US and Canada from Switzerland, Prussia, the Ukraine, and Russia. The Mennonites were very conservative. They had their own own hymns and Psalters. The group used shunning as a form of discipline.


John and Charles Wesley are credited with creating Methodism in the 18th century. John Wesley was a cleric for the Church of England. He and his brother led groups of Christians throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. These groups were part of what is called the Wesleyan Movement. These small groups came to form what is known as Methodism. Methodists focused on bible study and living a life free of amusement and luxury. They were called Methodists because of their methodical approach to religious study. Methodism started out as a society and follower of the Church of England, but not a church itself.

Methodism in Colonial AmericaEdit

Methodism spread to America in the late 1760's. Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore were both preachers appointed by John Wesley, that traveled to the new world in 1769 to start American Methodist societies. Pilmore started working in Philadelphia, while Boardman worked in New York to spread Methodism. Pilmore was more effective spreading the cause in Philadelphia and even traveled into the south to preach and promote the society. Others traveled across the Atlantic as well; Robert Williams and John King came to America without being appointed by Wesley. Francis Asbury and Richard Wright arrived in 1771. Francis Asbury went onto become a very prominent leader in American Methodism. George Shadford and Thomas Rankin came to America in 1773.[3] Methodism spread along the east coast leading up to the American Revolution.


The Moravians arrived with John and Charles Wesley in America in 1735. The group left Moravia and Bohemia due to harsh persecution for their religious beliefs and practices. The Moravians wished to serve as Christian Missionaries for the different ethnic groups in America. They first settled in Georgia, then moved to Pennsylvania, and also North Carolina. The Moravians were deeply involved with music. They practiced hymn singing daily, and some even wrote instrumental music.

John Antes was the first American born Moravian composer. Antes was born in 1740 in Pennsylvania. He composed several religious anthems. The anthems were more complex than hymns, with the intentions of a trained choir or soloist performing them, rather than the congregation.


The Jews first came to America in 1654 and were already dealing with anti-semitism. These were Sephardic Jews who came from Recife, Brazil and landed in New Amsterdam (now New York City). The governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, did not want the Jews on his land. To make sure they would get off his land he tried to have his employers turn against them. He wrote a letter to the DUtch West India Company and stated that the Jews threatened to "infect and trouble this new colony." In retaliation, the Jews wrote a letter to the company explaining that they respected the Dutch and were even citizens of their homeland for many centuries before. Ironically, some of the company were Dutch Jews, so the company ruled that the Jews could stay- just as long as they took care of their own poor and not expect the Christians to give them charity.

Also, during the colonial period, the Jews settled along the East Coast and in several southern colonies. There were established communities of Jews in Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Newport, Rhode Island. The oldest synagogue to this day was built by the Sephardi Jews from the community in Newport. The Synagogue is named the Touro Synagogue and it was declared sacred in 1763. They also built the Jeshuat Israel congregation.

The Jewish people found it hard to maintain their religion with such a small number of people. More Jews did come to America and all of them learned English and found their places in American society. A woman by the name of Rebecca Samuel even wrote to her parents explaining that "Jewishness is pushed aside here. There are here [in Petersburg, Virgina] ten or twelve Jews, and they are not worthy of being called Jews.. You can believe me that I crave to see a synagogue to which I can go." Jews found it hard to practice their religion without standing out amongst the Christians. This was because they were afraid of persecution like in Europe.

They were very restricted when they came to the U.S. In some colonies, they could not vote, hold public office, or own property. But they did have religious freedom and had a better chance of earning a good income than when they were living in Europe.


Catholicism first comes to the colonies in the form of the "Maryland Experiment" when King Charles I issued a generous charter to Lord Cecil Calvert, a prominent Catholic convert from Anglicanism, for the colony of Maryland. In the new colony religious tolerance, for Christians only, was preserved by Calvert until 1654 when Puritans from Virginia overthrew Calvert's rule, Calvert did however manage to regain control of the colony 4 years later. In 1689 the "Glorious Revolution of William and Mary ignited a new anti-Catholic revolt in Meryland, and the Calvert's rule was ended for good. In 1692 the famous Religious Toleration Act officially ended, and the assembly of Maryland established the Church of England as the official state religion supported by tax levies[4]. Even though no Catholic was known to have lived in the Massachusetts Bay in the first 20 years, or more, of the colony's existence this did not deter the Puritan government from passing an anti-priest law in May of 1647, which threatened, with death,"all and every Jesuit, seminary priest, missionary, or other spiritual or ecclesiastical person made or ordained by any authority, power or jurisdiction, derived, challenged or pretended, from the Pope or See of Rome. When Georgia, the 13th colony, was established in 1732 by a charter granted by King George II, it's guarantee of religious freedom was promised to all future settlers of the colony, "except papists" (Let None Dare Call it Liberty. Horvat, Marian T. Ph.D.) Restrictions were immediately restrictions were imposed on Catholics for public worship. and it was a punishable offense for a priest to say Mass. Catholics were denied the right to vote or otherwise participate in the government of the colony that their ancestors had founded (Let None Dare Call it Liberty. Horvat, Marian T. Ph.D.). Neither the Dutch nor English were pleased when, in 1672, the Duke of York converted to Catholicism. The Duke's appointment of Irish-born Catholic, Colonel Thomas Dongan, as governor of the colony of New York was followed by the passage of a charter of liberties and privileges for Catholics. Proceeding the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 Jacob Leisler, a staunch anti-Catholic, began to spread rumors of "Papist" plots, and false stories of impending French and Native American attacks upon the English colonies in which Leisler accused Native Americans, the French, and American Catholics of being aligned with one and other. By the end of 1688 Leisler had overthrown Dongan, and thken the post of lieutenant governor for himself, he then orders the arrest of all "papists", abolished the franchise for Catholics, and suspended all Catholic public office holders. [4][5] References


  1. Norwood, Frederick A. The Story of American Methodism
  2. A People and A Nation
  3. Norwood, Fredrick A. The Story of American Methodism
  4. An Ugly Little Secret, Andrew M. Greely. 1928
  5. Let None Dare Call it Liberty: The Catholic Church in Colonial America. Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

Judaism- Stone, Amy. Jewish Americans. Milwaukee: World Almanac Library, 2007. Print.

Last modified on 31 January 2012, at 03:34