17th & 18th Centuries
17th & 18th Century Essays
Divining America is made possible by grants from the Lilly Endowment and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
1644. From a description of New Amsterdam by a Jesuit priest.
No religion is publicly exercised but the Calvinist, and orders are to admit none but Calvinists, but this is not observed, for there are, besides Calvinists, in the Colony Catholics, English Puritans, Lutherans, Anabaptists, here called Muistes &c.
1657. From the statement of the residents of Flushing, New York, in resistance to Governor Stuyvesant’s order to refuse entry to Quakers.
Right Honorable [Gov. Stuyvesant],
You have been pleased to send up unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of those people called Quakers because they are supposed to be by some, seducers of the people. … We desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand and fall to his own Master. Wee are bounde by the Law to Doe good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith. …
The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks, and Egyptians, as they are considered the sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour saith it is impossible but that offenses will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title he appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Savior saith this is the law and the prophets.
Therefore, if any of these said persons come in love unto us, wee cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences. And in this we are true subjects both of Church and State, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing.
1663. From a letter from the Dutch West India Company to Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New York, on the commercial benefits of religious toleration.
Your last letter informed us that you had banished from the province and sent hither by ship a certain Quaker, John Bowne by name; although we heartily desire, that these and other sectarians remained away from there, yet as they do not, we doubt very much, whether we can proceed against them rigorously without diminishing the population and stopping immigration, which must be favored at a so tender stage of the country’s existence. You may therefore shut your eyes, at least not force people’s consciences, but allow every one to have his own belief, as long as he behaves quietly and legally, gives no offence to his neighbors and does not oppose the government.
1698. From a description of Pennsylvania by colonist Gabriel Thomas.
…the Place is free for all Persuasions, in a Sober and Civil way; for the Church of England and the Quakers bear equal Share in the Government. They live Friendly and Well together; there is no Persecution for Religion, nor ever like to be; …
c. 1750. From a report by an Anglican missionary in Pennsylvania.
[Only about five hundred Anglicans live in Lancaster County, and] the rest are German Lutherans, Calvinists, Mennonites, New Born, Dunkers, Presbyterians, Seceders, New Lights, Convenanters, Mountain Men, Brownists, Independents, Papists, Quakers, Jews, etc. Amidst such a swarm of sectaries, all indulged and favored by the Government, it is no wonder that the national Church [the Church of England] should be borne down.
1750. From a description of Pennsylvania by a German immigrant.
For there are many doctrines of faith and sects in Pennsylvania which cannot all be enumerated, because many a one will not confess to what faith he belongs. Besides, there are many hundreds of adult persons who have not been and do not even wish to be baptized. There are many who think nothing of the sacraments and the Holy Bible, nor even of God and his word. Many do not even believe that there is a true God and devil, a heaven and a hell, salvation and damnation, a resurrection of the dead, a judgment and an eternal life; they believe that all one can see is natural. For in Pennsylvania every one may not only believe what he will, but he may even say it freely and openly.
Consequently, when young persons, not yet grounded in religion, come to serve for many years with such free-thinkers and infidels, and are not sent to any church or school by such people, especially when they live far from any school or church. Thus it happens that such innocent souls come to no true divine recognition, and grow up like heathens and Indians. …
Coming to speak of Pennsylvania again, that colony possesses great liberties above all other English colonies, inasmuch as all religious sects are tolerated there. We find there Lutherans, Reformed, Catholics, Quakers, Mennonists or Anabaptists, Herrnhuters or Moravian Brethren, Pietists, Seventh Day Baptists, Dunkers, Presbyterians, Newborn, Freemasons, Separatists, Freethinkers, Jews, Mohammedans, Pagans, Negroes and Indians. The Evangelicals and Reformed, however, are in the majority. But there are many hundred unbaptized souls.
1769. From a letter of a Pennsylvania Schwenkfelder describing a funeral attended by members of “many diverse religious opinions.”
Here we mingled like fish at sea, but peacably. He who would let it be noticed that he was inimical to another because of religion, would be regarded as a fool, although one frankly tells another his mind. A Mennonite preacher is my real neighbor; I do not wish for a better; on the other side stands a large, stone, Catholic church. The present Jesuit father here is a native of Vienna, … he confides more in me than in any of the bosom-children. When he encounters a difficulty he comes to me. These men have learned to adjust themselves perfectly to the time. Furthermore, the Lutherans and Reformed have their churches here. … On Sundays we meet each other crisscross. That does not signify anything.
1789. From a letter of George Washington, 1789, on interdenominational cooperation in the Middle Colonies.
…it would ill become me to conceal the joy I have felt in perceiving the fraternal affection which appears to increase every day among the friends of genuine religion. It affords edifying prospects, indeed, to see Christians of different denominations dwell together in more charity, and conduct themselves, in respect to each other, with a more Christian-like spirit than ever they have done in any former age, or in any other nation.