Colonialism, good, bad, or indifferent, doubtlessly has had a huge influence on history and culture throughout the world. British colonialism, with its complicated patterns of post-Reformation religious differences, painted quite the picture, especially in North America.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 25, “The Thirteen Colonies” Loc. 4267-4557.
Gonzalez, as do many, compares the Spanish colonialism of the 17th century with the British moves in the 18th century. The comparisons and contrasts are very complicated (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4280). The British colonies, after finding no source of immediate wealth, turned to agricultural exports (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4288). Except in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the climate of religious freedom was not remarkable. The capture of land from relatively nomadic peoples resulted in as much displacement and death as would an invasion of an area of permanent towns (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4295).
After two failed attempts at settlement in Virginia in the 1580s, a permanent settlement was created at Jamestown in 1607 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4302). The Jamestown settlement was not aligned with Puritanism (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4318). The Church of England took little action to evangelize slaves held in Virginia (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4326). Allegiance to the Anglican Church was primarily among the growing aristocracy, while others tended toward the dissident sects (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4333). Much the same pattern was found in the Carolinas and Georgia (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4350).
New England saw a vibrant Puritan influence (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4355). The Mayflower settlers, followed by the Massachusetts Bay Company settlers, were Puritans, though some were more loyal to the Church of England than others (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4371). Gonzalez describes several instances of English control being rather remote, such that the colonies could largely govern themselves (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4378). The challenges inherent in a Christian community were of great importance, particularly in the question of the efficacy of baptism (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4385). Gonzalez discusses the Salem witch trials of 1692 briefly, concluding that the limited role of women in society may have been a significant root problem behind the accusations of witchcraft (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4408). Along with evangelism of the native populations, many of the Indians were concerned about invasive settlement practices. This led to warfare in the late 1600s (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4422).
Out of a desire for religious freedom and governmental non-interference in religion, Roger Williams and others left Massachusetts, eventually settling in Rhode Island (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4438). The religious pluralism tended in some situations to individualistic and non-Christian interpretations of various religious beliefs (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4453). This was especially prevalent among Baptists.
Maryland was a primarily Catholic colony from its founding in 1634, though the Catholics were never in the majority. Protestants eventually took control (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4476). The Mid-Atlantic colonies tended to have some pluralism (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4499).
Gonzalez observes the Great Awakening of the 18th century as a time of preaching which was often met with strongly emotional conversions (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4514). Significant preachers of this movement were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. While the responses were often strongly emotive, the preaching was generally careful exposition of texts, conducted by orthodox Calvinists (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4529). The general fervor led many to a desire for confessors’ baptism. It also drove settlement and preaching to the West, as people desired to spread the Gospel. Finally, Gonzalez says, the movement tended to unify the American colonies, setting the stage for a move to one national government (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 4542).
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