The 13 Colonies for Kids - Colonial Religions
One of the biggest frustrations some colonists had with life in England was the lack of religious freedom. A relatively new state church had been organized under Elizabeth I. It was a sort of compromise church, created to stop the fighting between Catholics and Protestants. Queen Elizabeth kept things like choral music, but changed things like allowing priests to marry. It was illegal not to follow the dictates of the new state church. If you refused, you could be persecuted, arrested, and even go to prison.
Some people decided it was time to leave England and seek religious freedom and separation of church and state in the New World.
Religion was a central part of daily life in the colonies. Many Christian denominations were represented including the Quakers, the Pilgrims, and the Puritans.
The Middle Colonies: The Middle Colonies were composed of what is today the states of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
The Quakers - the "Friends": The Quakers believed in religious freedom. Quaker meetings were quiet places. There was not a lot of discussion usually. People sat peacefully, thinking about things. Both Quaker men and women could speak up if they believed God wanted them to share a thought or an idea. But mostly, they each communicated with God, each with their own thoughts, in silence. They had no ministers. Quakers believed (and still believe) that religion is action not words. The Quakers were the first in the colonies to condemn slavery. Besides Quakers, the Middle Colonies had Catholics, Lutherans, a few Jews, and others. The Middle Colonies were the only colonies with religious freedom.
New England Colonies: The New England colonies were composed of the colonies of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
The Pilgrims - in search of religion freedom: A small group of people, the Pilgrims, arrived in the New World from England on a rented ship named the Mayflower. They landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, on a cold day in December 1620. Back in England, everyone had to belong to the Church of England. The Pilgrims did not want to belong to the Church of England. They were seeking religious freedom. They believed in the power of prayer. They believed that people should pray every day and give thanks for all they had. They were great believers in keeping their word with others and with God.
The Puritans - practiced religious intolerance: A large group, the Puritans, arrived about ten years after the Pilgrims. The Puritans wanted a place to practice their religious beliefs. They met in meeting houses. In contrast with other colonies, there was a meetinghouse in every New England town. Except for Rhode Island, New England colonists were mostly Puritans. They were very stern and serious about their religion and beliefs. If anyone disagreed with them, or questioned them, they believed that person was controlled by the devil. Some of their important beliefs included:
Everything should be done in moderation
Everyone should be able to read and understand the teachings of the Bible, not just priests
Sunday, the Sabbath, should only be spent reading the scriptures and thinking about God
Human being were sinners with no hope of entering Heaven, except for the Puritans, who were a people apart (and superior) from other people, and even then, a Puritan could only enter Heaven if they lived their entire life as God would wish
Morally, the Puritans believed their role in life was to be a chosen people whose job for God was to create a New Jerusalem.
The Southern Colonies: The Southern Colonies were composed of what is today the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
There was no religious freedom in the Southern Colonies. Maryland was originally founded as a safe haven for Catholics. When Puritan numbers increased, and took over Maryland, they made it against the law to be Catholic. The Puritans made the Church of England, by law, the only acceptable church in Maryland. Virginia created laws that said everyone had to be Anglican. The Anglican religion has features of the Catholic religion and the Protestant religion. There were many Baptists in Virginia, but Virginia said it was against the law to be anything except Anglican. Baptists preachers were frequently arrested. In the Southern Colonies, mobs attacked people who did not attend the right church. The right church depended upon who was in charge. In the Southern Colonies, churches had steeples and bells. They were not "Friends" houses or meeting houses, they looked like churches.