Religion In America, 1492-1790

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