Tri-City Ledger -

By Dewey Bondurant
Special to the Ledger 

Christianity during the Colonial era in America

 

February 20, 2020



Beginning early in the seventeenth century, settlers from Spain, France, Sweden, Holland, and England claimed land and formed colonies along the eastern coast of North America, and the struggle for control of this land continued for well over a hundred years. By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, there were thirteen operational American colonies with independent governments and constitutions.

The first permanent settlement was the English colony at Jamestown, in 1607, in what is now Virginia. Similar to the other colonial charters, the First Charter of Virginia emphasized the Christian character of their purpose: “We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their desires for the furtherance of so noble a work, which may, by the providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian religion to such people, as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.

In 1620, The Pilgrims followed and set up a colony at Plymouth, in what is now Massachusetts. The purpose of the Pilgrims was to establish a political commonwealth governed by biblical standard. The Mayflower Compact, their initial governing document, clearly stated that what they had undertaken was for “the glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith.” William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth, said, “The colonists cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations for the propagations and advance of the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world.

In June 1630, Governor John Winthrop landed in Massachusetts Bay with 700 people in 11 ships, thus beginning the Great Migration, which lasted sixteen years and saw more than 20,000 Puritans sail for New England. The Puritans so believed the New World would be a place to escape the corruptions in their own church-state homeland; they called their Massachusetts Bay Colony a Zion in wilderness and a city upon a hill.

Winthrop also organized the first American experiment in federation in 1643, the New England Confederation, stating that the aim of the colonists of New Plymouth, New Haven, Massachusetts, and Connecticut was to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the liberties of the gospel thereof in purities and peace.

In 1638, a colony was established in New Haven, in what is now Connecticut, by the Reverend John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton. A year later, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, often called the world’s first written constitution, was adopted. It reads in part: “For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of His Divine Providence so to order and dispose of things that we the inhabitants and residents; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the Word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people at all seasons as occasion shall require.

Other English colonies sprang up all along the Atlantic coast, from Maine in the north to Georgia in the south. Swedish and Dutch colonies took shape in and around what is now New York. As more and more people arrived in the New World, more and more disputes arose over territory. Many wars were fought in the 1600s and 1700s. Eventually, the two countries with the largest presence were England and France.

The two nations fought for control of North America in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). England won the war and took control of Canada, as well as keeping control of all the English colonies. By this time, the thirteen English colonies were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

When these colonial settlers arrived in America, the influence of the Bible on their lives came with them. For many, their Christian faith was as much a part of who they were as their brave spirit, and it touched all they touched. This stands out boldly as one sees the goal of government based on Scripture being affirmed over and over by individual colonies, such as in the Rhode Island Charter of 1683, which begins: “We submit our person, lives, and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given us His Holy Word.

From the first colony at Jamestown to Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges granted to William Penn in 1701, where all persons who profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world shall be capable to serve this government in any capacity, both legislatively and executively. The Bible was used as the rule of life in the colonies. Every evidence indicates the profound effect God’s Word had on early Americans.

 
 

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