The Religious Landscape of the Thirteen Original Colonies in Early 1700s America

Map: The Original Thirteen Colonies in America in the Early 1700s

By 1732, the original thirteen colonies had formed in North America: Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia. The Puritans’ Congregational Church was the established state church in New England.  The Anglican Church was the established state church in the southern colonies.  The tolerant middle colonies had a Christian pluralism, though often unharmonious, of various Christian denominations.

Acceptance of religious tolerance and freedom of belief grew and spread in the colonies in the 1700s. This was partly due to the Bible-based arguments of early tolerance supporters, including Roger Williams, William Penn, and John Locke, and the formation of the more tolerant colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware. 

The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening of the 1740s soon after also greatly encouraged individual freedom of belief (and will be discussed in the next blog series). Though most colonists in the early 1700s—about 85% of 500,000 inhabitants in North America—lived in colonies with an official state church (the Congregational or Anglican Church), state churches gradually granted more tolerance for other denominations.

Many colonists, including future Founders Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams, began to view freedom of belief as more important than religious conformity. As a result, they also started to see politics differently. As religious tolerance became more widespread, observes author and journalist Jon Meacham in American Gospel, so did the support and acceptance of more democratic ideas. “For people who chose their own spiritual path,” Meacham writes, “wondered why they could not choose their own political path as well.”

The Political Impact of Religion in America’s Thirteen Colonies

Indeed, the American colonies became increasingly tolerant and democratic. Rooted in Bible-based, Judeo-Christian thought by its earliest supporters in America, the principles of freedom of belief, religious tolerance, and separation of church and civil government would later become more widely accepted and practiced principles in American thought and law. Religious freedom for all and separation of church and state would eventually be successfully implemented, secured, and fully realized by the American Founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Additional Reading/Handout:  Why Religious Freedom Became an Unalienable Right & First Freedom in America by Angela E. Kamrath, American Heritage Education Foundation.  Paper available to download from member resources, americanheritage.org.

Related posts/videos:
1. An Introduction to Popular Sovereignty
2. Challenges in the Early Puritan Colonies: The Dilemma of Religious Laws and Dissent
3.  The Two Kingdoms Doctrine : Religious Reformers Recognize the Civil and Spiritual Kingdom
4.  The First Experiments in Freedom of Belief & Religious Tolerance in America
5.  Roger Williams: His Quest for Religious Purity and Founding of Rhode Island
6.  Roger Williams:  First Call for Separation of Church and State in America 
7.  William Penn and His “Holy Experiment” in Religious Tolerance
8.  Early Americans supported Religious Tolerance based on God as Judge of Conscience
9.  Early Americans opposed Religious Persecution as contrary to the Biblical Teachings of Christ.
10.  Early Americans argued Religious Coercion opposes Order of Nature
11.  Early Americans Believed Religious Coercion Opposes Reason
12.  Early Americans Supported Religious Tolerance within Civil Peace and Order
13.  Philosopher John Locke & His Letters Concerning Toleration

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Activity:  The Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 4, Part 2, Activity 10:  Mapping Out the American Colonies:  The 13 Original Colonies, p. 163-164.  MS-HS.

Mapping Out the American Colonies:  The 13 Original Colonies

Purpose/Objective:  Students learn about the founding, characteristics, and geography of the 13 original colonies in America.

Suggested Readings:
1) Chapter 4 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text.  Students read sections Introduction, 4.2, 4.4, 4.5, 4.16-4.19, 4.22, p. 124.
2) Paper/handout titled Why Religious Freedom Became an Unalienable Right & First Freedom in America by Angela E. Kamrath (AHEF).  Paper available to download from member resources, americanheritage.org.
3) Related articles/Videos (see above)
4) Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for the Cause of Conscience, 1644.
5) William Penn, A Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Debated and Defended by the Authority of Reason, Scripture, and Antiquity, 1670.
6) John Locke, Letters Concerning Toleration, 1689, 1690, 1692.

Map Activity and Timeline:
After students do assigned reading and additional research on the 13 original colonies in the 1600s and 1700s, have students complete maps (continued from Unit 3, Part 2) of the 13 colonies in the early 1700s, just prior to the Great Awakening and American Revolution.  Students may indicate information about each colony’s founding and characteristics (including its religious affiliation, state church establishment, level of religious tolerance, etc).  Students may use colors or color-coding on their maps.  Students might include colony information on any accompanying, color-coded descriptive timeline that appears/hangs next to/below the map.  Students consider how early Americans’ ideas, beliefs, arguments, and actions influenced the formation of these colonies.  Teachers should inform students of information expected to appear on the completed maps and timelines.  Students may present their maps and timelines in class.  Students or small groups may be assigned to research and present to the class some of the history and religious/tolerance/state church influences in a particular colony.

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