Religious practice officially commenced in North America in 1620, when a group of Separatists alighted in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Although Jamestown Virginia, established ten years earlier, equaled the first English site in North America, the Separatist's settlement comprised the first religious element. Believing that the Anglican church was corrupted beyond redemption, the Separatists had isolated themselves from it and then fled to Holland to escape the ensuing persecution. Unfortunately, the Separatists soon became unsatisfied with Holland's low moral standards. They wished for a completely fresh start and so they started anew in a new world.
To the Separatists, Christianity constituted a fundamental element of life. Their strong biblical foundation generated a society with laws that strictly followed Biblical principles. Furthermore, their religious fervor incited them to smother all signs of religious dissent. These austere measures may seem appalling at first, but they are justified when one recalls the Separatist's intentions. The reason the Separatists absconded from England was so that they could create an ideal and unified church. John Winthrop aptly stated the Separatist's goals when he said “wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill,” (Hutson, 7). In the light of this concept it is easy to understand the Separatist's reasoning. In essence, a city upon a hill can not be filled with dissenters.
Since the aforementioned religious tactics forced Separatist dissenters to leave the Plymouth community, it follows that these same rules would ban other denominations from the settlement and compel them to institute separate colonies in the New World. Some such people were the Quakers, and Catholics.
The Quakers were a religious sect whose unpopular beliefs caused them to be persecuted throughout Europe. They finally acquired religious sanctuary in North America, creating a new colony, (the colony of Pennsylvania,) as the Separatists had done before them. Because of their previous persecution, the Quakers appreciated the importance of religious tolerance. As a result of this belief, William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, and a Quaker, wrote religious tolerance into the Pennsylvania charter. This does not imply that the Quakers sanctioned immorality in their colony, rather they allowed other denominations to practice Christianity without harassment. However, Penn's laws set the stage for the separation of church and state over 50 years later.
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Generally speaking, the Great Awakening was the next significant religious event that transpired in the colonies. Scholars celebrate the Great Awakening as the instrument that rekindled the religious devotion of colonial Christians. However, the Great Awakening was not all that it has been represented to be. Contrary to popular belief that religion was fading in the colonies...