The New World was first established because a group of people in England did not agree with the religious and political ways of life advocated. Different religious groups left England to pursue more religious freedom in America. As they moved to the New World, the three different regions of the North American colonies greatly impacted not only their lifestyles but also the extent of religious freedom allowed prior to 1700.
The first arrivers in the northern colonies were Puritans who came to America because they didn’t agree with the Anglican Church. These early colonist yearned for a place where they could indulge in religious freedom as opposed to the extreme contrast to the strict religious persecutions they experienced in England. But the Puritans had very strict rules regarding membership into the Protestant Church and religion was viewed very strictly. The Puritans believed that they were “a city upon a hill” and were to be a model of a holy society for humankind. Thus they were very rigid in thought and were also very prejudiced against other religions.
This group who had come seeking religious freedom soon became the most religiously intolerant group in the Americas. Quakers, who denied the authority of the Puritan clergy, were persecuted with fines and banishment. Sometimes they were even hanged. Dissenters like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were banished and Rhode Island was established by Williams as the first colony to have complete freedom of religion. In his “sewer” colony, Jew, Catholics, and Quakers were all sheltered and treated equally.
The Middle Colonies was an extremely religiously mixed region because of the amount of diverse people who settled there. The first to settle the region were the Dutch, in New Netherlands which would later become New York after the English took control. The Dutch practiced the Dutch Reform Church which was basically a branch of Lutheran. South of the Dutch were the Swedes practicing their own branch of Lutheran known as the Swedish Reform Church. They were later defeated and absorbed by the New Netherland colonists.
But the English regarded the Dutch as the Dutch regarded the Swedes; as intruders and in 1664, Charles II granted his brother, the Duke of York, a squadron that defeated the Dutch. Although the English were now in control of the region and brought with them the Anglican Church, they did not seek to enforce it because the Dutch made up almost half of the population. Then the establishment of Pennsylvania allowed German, French, Dutch, and English colonists entry into the New World under William Penn’s broad view of religious tolerance. With so many ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse groups in the region, there can be nothing but immense religious toleration.
The Southern Colonies, were the earliest colonies to be settled, but didn’t strive for the religious haven the New England Colonies desired. The only settlers in the South were from the Church of England so that was the predominant faith. But because the south’s economy was based on agriculture and farming on large plantations and most things were business-oriented, there were few towns which meant few churches. Poor white farmers with small land areas did not have the money or resources to build churches and the large plantation owners did not have churches on their plantations so they basically did whatever they wanted. Religious tolerance was not high but the dominant religion itself was not rigidly enforced. In the midst of such religious indifference, the evangelist religions were born.
Although immigrants to the New World all came with intentions of pursuing religious freedom never experienced in their native countries, the regional differences and religious views soon spread them far apart from each other. The New Englanders were mostly Puritans who believed in tight communities and so they remained as they were, fervent worshippers of God and intolerant of other religions. The Middle Colonies, with its wide range of races and the fact that it was established for business and trade ventures, dealt with immense religious diversity and thus immense religious tolerance. The South, preoccupied with the large-scale planting of tobacco had no time to enforce the Anglican Church. Such diverse thoughts of religious tolerance in the three regions that made up America before 1700 greatly impacts the America that we know today.