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Early colonists in North America fleeing religious persecution

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Initial post: 19 Aug 2010 07:34:01 BDT
VCBF (Val) says:
There is a generally held view that many of the early colonists to North America were escaping from religious persecution at home in Europe.

Which groups would you think this applied to?

(This came up in a book discussion, but I thought it might interest people on the history forum.)

Posted on 19 Aug 2010 10:49:02 BDT
In his typically provocative fashion Gore Vidal said that the Puritans went to America not because they were persecuted but because they had lost the right to persecute others. Despite the general impression they weren't the first settlers; the colony in Virginia (where the Puritans were headed) was founded as a business venture, religion didn't come into it. Later numerous groups did emigrate to the American colonies to find religious freedom. Amongst them were Protestants from Bohemia during the Thirty Years War. Maryland was founded as a haven for English Catholics and named after Henrietta Maria, Charles I's Catholic wife. I am sure others know plenty more examples.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 15:35:58 BDT
Dreamer says:
I thought they were just trying to get rich quick and have a chance to own their own land since all the land in europe belonged to wealthy aristocrats.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 19:04:11 BDT
gille liath says:
I think that's a bit unkind. They wanted their own land, certainly, and to avoid having the authorities looking over their shoulders all the time. I sympathise! The 'get rich quick' part came later.

How far it was a religious thing I don't know - I suspect it wasn't a primary reason for people to become colonists. If it had been, for example, I think you would expect far more Catholics to have gone. They were the ones the ones really being persecuted, not the Puritans.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 19:25:56 BDT
Withnail says:
I thought the Puritans were Dissenters. As Dissenters they would have faced the same persecution as Catholics at the time.

Interestingly - much of what we think of as Hillbillies are of Ulster Scots ancestory i.e. the same people as the Protestants in North of Ireland

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 19:38:55 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Aug 2010 19:40:28 BDT
gille liath says:
I don't think that's correct - Catholicism was under specific penalties and restrictions, including summary execution for priests, whereas Puritans were just being asked to share the same form of worship as the rest of the church they nominally belonged to.

Interesting? To an Ulster Prod, perhaps. ;)

Not like you to cite genetic identity in that fashion! 'The same people'? Shurely not...

Posted on 19 Aug 2010 19:50:20 BDT
monica says:
Dunno, but Roger Williams made Rhode Island a refuge for those facing religious persecution by the colonists.

The Ulster-Scot connection has always been interesting to me because of its influence upon the language & music of Appalachia. . .

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 20:01:00 BDT
Withnail says:
Point taken re genetics.

Prefer the term Ulster Prod Atheist.

However 2 quick things - It was a William and Mary law that gave rights to dissenting Protestants.

Maryland was set up as a colony for Catholics fleeing persecution in England. (according to Wikipedia)

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2010 22:56:19 BDT
VCBF (Val) says:
'Maryland was set up as a colony for Catholics fleeing persecution in England. (according to Wikipedia'.... and Geoffrey Cryer). I think this example is clearer cut than most, the colony was set up with a specific purpose, whereas a lot of the others had mixed origins.
Thank you Geoffrey for getting this discussion moving and the Gore Vidal quote (I had heard it but didn't realise it was him).

The Mayflower Puritans settled in 1620, before they had freedom to worship as they wished in England, so although they were not actively persecuted, they were seeking religious freedom. Some of those colonists were Dutch, however, who could not really claim that justification. Most of them probably did not have purely commercial motives.
A lot of English Puritans would not have agreed with the restoration of the monarchy and there was more emigration then. Is that religion or politics? Is it why the USA is a republic?

In the early French colonies the settlers had to be Catholic, so were the French Protestants fleeing from persecution or towards it?

Monica: Nice insight, do you want to elaborate?

Posted on 20 Aug 2010 10:58:35 BDT
The Puritans were dissenters but their status fluctuated throughout the 17th century; they were at various times subject to legal restrictions - John Bunyan wrote A Pilgrim's Progress in Bedford Prison, aresult of his preaching. In the reign of William and Mary all Trinitarian Protestants were granted freedom of worship.

When considering the 17th and early 18th century it is pointless to try and separate politics from religion; there was no difference. The US Constitution did however try to separate church from state, arguments about this continue to this day.

The French Protestants moved principally to England (and then on to Ireland), Germany, The Netherlands and South Africa. Any who went to the Americas would have gone to Protestant colonies.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Aug 2010 11:01:14 BDT
Withnail says:
Oops - knew I had read it somewhere about Maryland!

Posted on 22 Aug 2010 23:14:54 BDT
Churchill was quite rude about the Mayflower crowd in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, presenting them as a collection of religious loons who spent most of the time arguing, so much so that they would have starved to death has not the Native Americans helped them when their crops failed.

Many English people returned to England from places like Virginia to participate in the English Civil War, mainly on the Republican side. I read this in the Memoirs of Colonel Harrison by his wife Lucy Harrison. I think it is in the introduction.

One of the main problems the US has always had is to promote its politics and constitution internationally. People don't look to the US as a model of government or visit Washington monuments for inspiration in their local struggles. The only country I know that modelled its constitution on that of the US was then North Vietnam. And much good did it do them.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Aug 2010 23:16:26 BDT
Ku says:
Robin Williams had a funny take on this.

"The Puritans. Guys so uptight even the British threw them out."

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Sep 2010 09:14:41 BDT
Since Geoffrey Cryer refuses to answer your question, I shall. The colonists who reached Massachusetts in 1620 were certainly Puritans. They had decided that English society was insufficiently "pure". Dutch society, more tolerant to their religious beliefs, had also proved too tolerant to the beliefs of others, for their taste, so they headed west and founded the colony in Massachusetts. The Dutch repelled and re-located Huguenots in the same way. Not only did the Dutch permit Huguenot settlements in the hinterland of New Amsterdam (New York), but Huguenots were essential to the Dutch colonisation of the African Cape. That's why so many Afrikaners have French names (Legrange, et c.) and, possibly, why Afrikaans evolved into a different language from Dutch.

Some Scottish Presbyterians also emigrated to the colonies, to start a new life, but I don't think they were fleeing persecution. If anyone believes otherwise, he/she should have a look at a street-map of Dundee and check out all the sectarian churches. Those Scottish emigrants simply thought they were putting behind them their previous sinful associations, much as the Puritans had before them.

Posted on 5 Sep 2010 10:53:03 BDT
I didn't 'refuse' to answer the question. I gave an answer and anyone who wasn't happy with it was free to ask for clarification or more information. I would have happily responded.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Sep 2010 11:59:54 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 5 Sep 2010 12:03:23 BDT]
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This discussion

Discussion in:  history discussion forum
Participants:  9
Total posts:  16
Initial post:  19 Aug 2010
Latest post:  5 Sep 2010

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