Protestants discontented with the Church of England formed the earliest religious settlements in North America. Soon, the colonies became a focal point for religious immigration as separatist Puritans and others established themselves in what were to become the 13 colonies. The non-separatist Anglicans became entrenched in Virginia. The rest of the colonies developed diverse religious settlements such as Quaker communities in Pennsylvania, Catholics in Maryland and Jews in New Amsterdam.
Those Puritans who separated from the Church of England were known as separatists, and a group of separatist Puritans known as Pilgrims founded Plymouth Plantation in Cape Cod Bay in 1620. Although it was not the first English colony in North America, Plymouth Colony was the first religious settlement. Within a decade, at least 20,000 separatist Puritans and non-separatist Congregationalists left England for the American colonies, primarily in Massachusetts and New England. In 1691, Plymouth joined the larger Massachusetts colony.
The Dutch West India Company formed the New Netherlands colony in 1621. A few years later, its major settlement became established at New Amsterdam. By 1640, New Amsterdam, later known as New York, had become a focal point for international trade. Because of its international flavor, New Amsterdam developed into a sanctuary for religious tolerance and cultural diversity. For example, in 1654, the first Jewish settlement in North America situated itself in New Amsterdam after fleeing New Holland, or Brazil. Also in the 1650s, German and Scandinavian Lutheran immigrants began arriving and settling in New Amsterdam.
In the 1680s, Quakers fleeing religious persecution in England began to settle in a colony created by William Penn (1644-1718), known as Pennsylvania. Within a decade, thousands of Quakers had immigrated to North America. Pennsylvania soon became a home for German religious communities as well. Contemporaneous with the founding of the English Quaker settlements, German groups such as the Mennonites and Moravians, who were affiliated with the Quakers, also founded communities in Pennsylvania. In the early 18th century, German Lutherans and Calvinists likewise settled in Pennsylvania.
After the Protestant Reformation, many Roman Catholics in England no longer felt welcome, and many contemplated immigrating to North America. The colony of Maryland was founded by George Calvert (1580-1632) as a refuge for English Catholics. The first group arrived in Maryland in 1634, but the settlements did not thrive. By 1689, religious persecution had become forbidden in England. However, the Church of England quickly established itself as the religious authority in New England and Maryland, and the fledgling Catholic settlements became subject to further persecution.
While those Anglicans discontented with the Church of England formed their colonies in New England, the non-separatist Anglicans formed a large and powerful colony in Virginia. An exception in New England was the colony of Rhode Island, formed by Roger Williams (1603-1683) in 1636. Williams used Rhode Island as a refuge for those fleeing religious persecution in other colonies. Like New Amsterdam, tolerance was the norm, and a diversity of religious settlements formed in Rhode Island. Non-Puritan religious settlements were also founded in New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia and the Carolinas. These included Baptists, Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed and others.
- Facing History and Ourselves: Religion in Colonial America
- Scholastic: Plymouth Colony
- Library of Congress: I. America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century Part 2
- Library of Congress: I. America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century Part 1
- University of Notre Dame Department of Special Collections: A Brief Outline of Dutch History and the Province of New Netherland
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images