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Religion in Early North America

The development of early colonization in North America would not have been prominent or innovative without the influential role religion played in early colonization. The responsibilities of religion in the New England colonies were different, as well as similar, socially and politically to the colonies of the Chesapeake. The motivation behind the Chesapeake colonists and the New Englanders contrasted on a large scale. The immigrants of the Chesapeake arrived in the area for the sole purpose of seeking fortune and gaining wealth.

Therefore, the drive for money created a society based on prospering financially. On the other hand, the New Englanders sought religious freedom. Thus, their society was centered on living a strong faith-based life, as opposed to an economic gain. Due to these ideals held by two different groups of people, it led them to contrasting societies. An example of this would be the idea that in the Chesapeake area, wealth determined one’s social standing. In order to obtain wealth in this area acquiring more land for the cultivation of tobacco, lumber, or any other cash crop was necessary.

Now, the ajority of the population was planters and the establishment of large plantations increased rapidly. With much land to spare, in 1618 the Headright System was created in Jamestown, Virginia. The Headright System gave 50 acres of land to any immigrant who settled in Virginia or any person that paid for the passage of another immigrant to Virginia. This law contributed to making the society and area of the Chesapeake largely rural while New England was more urban, consisting of many small towns and villages. Another social difference religion played in these early colonies was the founding of Maryland.

This Chesapeake colony was granted by King Charles l, who was Anglican. It seemed the Church of England would be its official church although many of Maryland’s first settlers were Catholic. Protestant immigrants quickly outnumbered the early Catholic settlers. Thus, Protestant beliefs, behaviors and traditions became dominant and deemed the Catholics ineffectual. In 1649 the Maryland Toleration Act was a law written by an assembly of Protestants that allowed freedom of worship for Catholics in Maryland. Because of this, religion in the Chesapeake was not very severe.

In contrast, the New England colonists were very religious-based and they applied strict norms to their society. Societies in the New England and the Chesapeake contrasted in population. There was much emphasis on indentured servitude in the Chesapeake colonies which repelled the immigration of women to this area. Combined with the high mortality rate from diseases such as malaria and dysentery that were contracted throughout the colony, the severe labor imposed upon the servants resulted in a significant decreased population. As for the New England colonies, disease was less of a problem.

The cold winters limited travel and the small farming communities limited the spread of diseases. Because of this, death rates dwindled and life expectancy rose. Decreased mortality rates and the immigration of entire families distinctly separated the role socially, but politically as well. In 1620 the Mayflower ship was on its way to Virginia to settle at the new world. The men were aware that the only way for success in their new colony was a uniform and organized government. Majority of the crew sailing to the new world were Christians, so when the document was written, they ased its civil body for their community upon Christian beliefs.

Church attendance was mandatory for all residents of the colony and membership was restricted to those who received God’s grace through personal conversion. Also, government rights and privileges such as voting and holding office were offered to full citizen adult males. There was no relation between church and state, like in the colonies of New England. During the mid-seventeenth century the Congregational church in the New England colonies, particularly Massachusetts, faced a problem with membership nd government and the line between church and state was very blurred and indistinct.

Because of their rule of only allowing fully converted people, or “saints” to be involved in church affairs, activities and government, participation was limited. So in 1662 the Half-Way Covenant was created which, besides its initial purpose, loosened membership rules and strengthened the church’s position in the community. This act gave way to the only possibility someone who is not a saint could partake within the church, as well as the government. Eventually, separation of church and state gradually became apparent.

The Massachusetts’s royal charter in 1691 made property ownership the qualification for voting rather than church membership. Slowly, the church started to descend from being the center of society. In both regions, whether directly or indirectly the church was an important institution. The New Englanders purposely sought religion as a norm, but although those in the Chesapeake did not, they still gained religion as a part of their community. Although early colonization in North America prospered, it would not have been as novel without the influential role religion played in its development socially and politically.

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