Colonial Period
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Time Period
1607  - 1763
Description
Virginia became the first British colony in 1607, when 100 members of the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement along the James River. Jamestown prospered by growing and exporting tobacco. In 1619, the first African slaves were imported to cultivate the tobacco crops.

The Pilgrims, a group of English religious separatists who preceded the Puritans in Massachusetts by a decade, landed on a ship named the Mayflower in 1620 -- and the expansion of Colonial America began in earnest. The Pilgrims’ quest was deliverance "from the hand of the oppressor," said William Bradford, a Mayflower passenger and the colony’s first governor.

The colony of Georgia, the last of the 13 original colonies, was founded in 1732. By the mid-1700s, the non-indigenous population of Colonial America had exploded to more than two million settlers.
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Narrative
Virginia became the first British colony in 1607, when 100 members of the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement along the James River. Jamestown prospered by growing and exporting tobacco. In 1619, the first African slaves were imported to cultivate the tobacco crops.

The Pilgrims, a group of English religious separatists who preceded the Puritans in Massachusetts by a decade, landed on a ship named the Mayflower in 1620 -- and the expansion of Colonial America began in earnest. The Pilgrims’ quest was deliverance "from the hand of the oppressor," said William Bradford, a Mayflower passenger and the colony’s first governor.

The colony of Georgia, the last of the 13 original colonies, was founded in 1732. By the mid-1700s, the non-indigenous population of Colonial America had exploded to more than two million settlers.

The Colonial Religious Landscape

During the Colonial Period, larger Protestant groups dominated the religious landscape of the American colonies. Of the recorded 3,228 congregations in 1776, the year with the earliest available data on church membership, Congregationalists (20.7 percent), Presbyterian (18.2 percent), Baptist (15.4 percent), and Episcopalian (15.3) congregations composed the largest majority of religious congregations. During this time period, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and -- to a lesser extent --Presbyterians and Quakers had disproportionate access to economic and political power, with Catholics, Jews, and Protestant sects often at the bottom of the social ladder.

The historical records reveal some surprising findings that counter popular notions of colonial religion. For example, the national church membership was actually low in colonial America, with a national adherence rate of only 17 percent in 1776, an estimate that increased substantially in the 19th and 20th century.

Moreover, some of the main religious groups that founded specific colonies did not even compose the religious majority of their founded area. For example, although Pennsylvania was founded as a Quaker colony, there were twice as many Presbyterians as Quakers in Pennsylvania in the latter half of the 18th century. Likewise, Maryland was founded as a safe haven for Catholics, and although there were more Catholics in the colony compared to other colonies, it was still an overwhelmingly Protestant state.
Photographs

First Muster, Massachusetts Bay Colony- Courtesy the National Guard Bureau

Cultivating tobacco at Jamestown- Wikimedia Commons

The First Thanksgiving- Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4961

Treaty of William Penn with the Indians- Wikimedia Commons

Map of the British Colonies in North America- New York Public Library Digital Collections
Book/Journal Source(s)
Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark, 2005. The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. New brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Pyle, Ralph E. and James D. Davidson, 2003. The Origins of Religious Stratification in Colonial America. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42 (1): 57-75.
Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke, 1988. American Religion in 1776: A Statistical Portrait. Sociological Analysis 49(1): 39-51.
Web Source(s)
http://www.history.com/topics/thirteen-colonies
The History Channel, "The 13 Colonies"
http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/christopher-columbus
The History Channel, "Christopher Columbus"
http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/156605.William_Bradford
Goodreads, "William Bradford Quotes"
Web Page Contributor
Sandi Dolbee
Affliated with: Former Religion and Ethics Editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune
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