Religious Pluralism in the Southern Colonies

Religious pluralism evolved as more people settled in the Southern colonies.
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Religious pluralism was not the ideal of the first settlers in America's Northern and Middle colonies nor was it the premise upon which four of the five Southern colonies were founded. Maryland was chartered as a religious refuge for Roman Catholics. The Anglican Church initially was the official church of Virginia and the Carolinas. However, the need for additional settlers to populate the colonies and protect them from intruders soon outweighed the desire for religious exclusivism.

1 Maryland

The colony of Maryland was founded by George Calvert, First Lord Baltimore, specifically as a safe haven for Catholics fleeing anti-Catholic England. However, Calvert knew Catholics alone would not be able to support the colony. For what probably were entrepreneurial and well as spiritual motives, Calvert also extended a promise of religious freedom to Protestants wishing to settle in Maryland. Settlers came to include Puritans who were persecuted in Virginia as well as Anglicans escaping intolerance in Massachusetts. In time, Protestants outnumbered Catholics in the colony and Catholicism was eventually outlawed.

2 Virginia

Virginia's first settlers were English Anglicans who came to the colonies seeking material wealth. Although the Church of England was the only church officially recognized in the colony, the settlers' survival in the New World and their successful establishment of tobacco crops were higher priorities than building churches. The lack of ministers eventually weakened the Anglican church's authority. In the early 1700s, the need for more settlers led Virginia's governor to invite Presbyterians, Pennsylvania Dutch and other Protestants to settle Virginia's western section. Rather than a show of support for religious pluralism, it was the hope of Virginia's government that these non-Anglican settlers would warn colonists of invasion by the Indians or French.

3 The Carolinas

In the late 1700s fewer than 9,000 people lived in what would later become the colonies of North and South Carolina. Anglican was the official religion of both colonies, but the area was too sparsely settled to organize the church. In an attempt to increase the population, the Carolinas' English proprietors promised religious freedom to anyone who agreed to settle there. A 1770 letter written by South Carolina's governor spoke favorably of the diversity of Protestant faiths occupying the colony and records show the churches sometimes borrowed ministers from each other. The promise of religious freedom also brought French Huguenots and German Palatines to the Trent River area of North Carolina.

4 Georgia

The colony of Georgia was created for two reasons: to serve as a settlement for English debtors and to act as a buffer between the American colonies and Spanish settlements in Florida. Because populating Georgia was a necessity, religious pluralism was encouraged in the colony from its founding in 1732. Its Royal Charter did not recognize the Church of England as the colony's official church and granted religious liberty to all except Roman Catholics. Settlers included Jews and Presbyterians as well as Anglicans.

Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.