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A History Of American Christianity by Leonard Woolsey Bacon


THE chronological order would require us at this point to turn to the Dutch settlements on the Hudson River; but the close relations of Virginia with its neighbor colonies of Maryland and the Carolinas are a reason for taking up the brief history of these settlements in advance of their turn.

The occupation of Maryland dates from the year 1634. The period of bold and half-desperate adventure in making plantations along the coast was past. To men of sanguine temper and sufficient fortune and influence at court, it was now a matter of very promising and not too risky speculation. To George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, one of the most interesting characters at the court of James I., the business had peculiar fascination. He was in both the New England Company and the Virginia Company, and after the charter of the latter was revoked he was one of the Provisional Council for the government of Virginia. Nothing daunted by the ill luck of these companies, he tried colonizing on his account in 1620, in what was represented to him as the genial soil and climate of Newfoundland. Sending good money after bad, he was glad to get out of this venture at the end of nine years with a loss of thirty thousand pounds. In 1629 he sent home his children, and with a lady and servants and forty of his surviving colonists sailed for Jamestown, where his reception at the hands of the council and of his old Oxford fellow-student, Governor Pott, was not cordial. He could hardly have expected that it would be. He was a recent convert to the Roman Catholic Church, with a convert's zeal for proselyting, and he was of the court party. Thus he was in antagonism to the Puritan colony both in politics and in religion. A formidable disturbing element he and his company would have been in the already unquiet community. The authorities of the colony were equal to the emergency. In answer to his lordship's announcement of his purpose |to plant and dwell,| they gave him welcome to do so on the same terms with themselves, and proceeded to tender him the oath of supremacy, the taking of which was flatly against his Roman principles. Baltimore suggested a mitigated form of the oath, which he was willing to take; but the authorities |could not imagine that so much latitude was left for them to decline from the prescribed form|; and his lordship sailed back to England, leaving in Virginia, in token of his intention to return, his servants and |his lady,| who, by the way, was not the lawful wife of this conscientious and religious gentleman.

Returned to London, he at once set in motion the powerful influences at his command to secure a charter for a tract of land south of the James River, and when this was defeated by the energetic opposition of the friends of Virginia, he succeeded in securing a grant of land north and east of the Potomac, with a charter bestowing on him and his heirs |the most ample rights and privileges ever conferred by a sovereign of England.| The protest of Virginia that it was an invasion of the former grant to that colony was unavailing. The free-handed generosity with which the Stuarts were in the habit of giving away what did not belong to them rarely allowed itself to be embarrassed by the fear of giving the same thing twice over to different parties.

The first Lord Baltimore died three months before the charter of Maryland received the great seal, but his son Cecilius took up the business with energy and great liberality of investment. The cost of fitting out the first emigration was estimated at not less than forty thousand pounds. The company consisted of |three hundred laboring men, well provided in all things,| headed by Leonard and George Calvert, brothers of the lord proprietor, |with very near twenty other gentlemen of very good fashion.| Two earnest Jesuit priests were quietly added to the expedition as it passed the Isle of Wight, but in general it was a Protestant emigration under Catholic patronage. It was stipulated in the charter that all liege subjects of the English king might freely transport themselves and their families to Maryland. To discriminate against any religious body in England would have been for the proprietor to limit his hope of rapid colonization and revenue and to embroil himself with political enemies at home. His own and his father's intimate acquaintance with failure in the planting of Virginia and of Newfoundland had taught him what not to do in such enterprises. If the proprietor meant to succeed (and he did mean to) he was shut up without alternative to the policy of impartial non-interference with religious differences among his colonists, and the promotion of mutual forbearance among sects. Lord Baltimore may not have been a profound political philosopher nor a prophet of the coming era of religious liberty, but he was an adroit courtier, like his father before him, and he was a man of practical good sense engaged in an enormous land speculation in which his whole fortune was embarked, and he was not in the least disposed to allow his religious predilections to interfere with business. Nothing would have brought speedier ruin to his enterprise than to have it suspected, as his enemies were always ready to allege, that it was governed in the interest of the Roman Catholic Church. Such a suspicion he took the most effective means of averting. He kept his promises to his colonists in this matter in good faith, and had his reward in the notable prosperity of his colony.

The two priests of the first Maryland company began their work with characteristic earnestness and diligence. Finding no immediate access to the Indians, they gave the more constant attention to their own countrymen, both Catholic and Protestant, and were soon able to give thanks that by God's blessing on their labors almost all the Protestants of that year's arrival had been converted, besides many others. In 1640 the first-fruits of their mission work among the savages were gathered in; the chief of an Indian village on the Potomac nearly opposite Mount Vernon, and his wife and child, were baptized with solemn pomp, in which the governor and secretary of the colony took part.

The first start of the Maryland colony was of a sort to give promise of feuds and border strifes with the neighbor colony of Virginia, and the promise was abundantly fulfilled. The conflict over boundary questions came to bloody collisions by land and sea. It is needless to say that religious differences were at once drawn into the dispute. The vigorous proselytism of the Jesuit fathers, the only Christian ministers in the colony, under the patronage of the lord proprietor was of course reported to London by the Virginians; and in December, 1641, the House of Commons, then on the brink of open rupture with the king, presented a remonstrance to Charles at Hampton Court, complaining that he had permitted |another state, molded within this state, independent in government, contrary in interest and affection, secretly corrupting the ignorant or negligent professors of religion, and clearly uniting themselves against such.| Lord Baltimore, perceiving that his property rights were coming into jeopardy, wrote to the too zealous priests, warning them that they were under English law and were not to expect from him |any more or other privileges, exemptions, or immunities for their lands, persons, or goods than is allowed by his Majesty or officers to like persons in England.| He annulled the grants of land made to the missionaries by certain Indian chiefs, which they affected to hold as the property of their order, and confirmed for his colony the law of mortmain. In his not unreasonable anxiety for the tenure of his estate, he went further still; he had the Jesuits removed from the charge of the missions, to be replaced by seculars, and only receded from this severe measure when the Jesuit order acceded to his terms. The pious and venerable Father White records in his journal that |occasion of suffering has not been wanting from those from whom rather it was proper to expect aid and protection, who, too intent upon their own affairs, have not feared to violate the immunities of the church. But the zeal of the Calverts for religious liberty and equality was manifested not only by curbing the Jesuits, but by encouraging their most strenuous opponents. It was in the year 1643, when the strength of Puritanism both in England and in New England was proved, that the Calverts made overtures, although in vain, to secure an immigration from Massachusetts. A few years later the opportunity occurred of strengthening their own colony with an accession of Puritans, and at the same time of weakening Virginia. The sturdy and prosperous Puritan colony on the Nansemond River were driven by the churlish behavior of Governor Berkeley to seek a more congenial residence, and were induced to settle on the Severn at a place which they called Providence, but which was destined, under the name of Annapolis, to become the capital of the future State. It was manifestly not merely a coincidence that Lord Baltimore appointed a Protestant governor, William Stone, and commended to the Maryland Assembly, in 1649, the enacting of |an Act concerning Religion,| drawn upon the lines of the Ordinance of Toleration adopted by the Puritan House of Commons at the height of its authority, in 1647. How potent was the influence of this transplanted Nansemond church is largely shown in the eventful civil history of the colony. When, in 1655, the lord proprietor's governor was so imprudent as to set an armed force in the field, under the colors of Lord Baltimore, in opposition to the parliamentary commissioners, it was the planters of the Severn who marched under the flag of the commonwealth of England, and put them to rout, and executed some of their leaders for treason. When at last articles of agreement were signed between the commissioners and Lord Baltimore, one of the conditions exacted from his lordship was a pledge that he would never consent to the repeal of the Act of Toleration adopted in 1649 under the influence of the Puritan colony and its pastor, Thomas Harrison.

In the turbulence of the colony during and after the civil wars of England, there becomes more and more manifest a growing spirit of fanaticism, especially in the form of antipopery crusading. While Jacobite intrigues or wars with France were in progress it was easy for demagogues to cast upon the Catholics the suspicion of disloyalty and of complicity with the public enemy. The numerical unimportance of the Catholics of Maryland was insufficient to guard them from such suspicions; for it had soon become obvious that the colony of the Catholic lord was to be anything but a Catholic colony. The Jesuit mission had languished; the progress of settlement, and what there had been of religious life and teaching, had brought no strength to the Catholic cause. In 1676 a Church of England minister, John Yeo, writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury of the craving lack of ministers, excepting among the Catholics and the Quakers, |not doubting but his Grace may so prevail with Lord Baltimore that a maintenance for a Protestant ministry may be established.| The Bishop of London, echoing this complaint, speaks of the |total want of ministers and divine worship, except among those of the Romish belief, who, 'tis conjectured, does not amount to one of a hundred of the people.| To which his lordship replies that all sects are tolerated and protected, but that it would be impossible to induce the Assembly to consent to a law that shall oblige any sect to maintain other ministers than its own. The bishop's figures were doubtless at fault; but Lord Baltimore himself writes that the nonconformists outnumber the Catholics and those of the Church of England together about three to one, and that the churchmen are much more numerous than the Catholics.

After the Revolution of 1688 it is not strange that a like movement was set on foot in Maryland. The |beneficent despotism| of the Calverts, notwithstanding every concession on their part, was ended for the time by the efforts of an |Association for the Defense of the Protestant Religion,| and Maryland became a royal colony. Under the new regime it was easier to inflict annoyances and disabilities on the petty minority of the Roman Catholics than to confer the privileges of an established church on the hardly more considerable minority of Episcopalians. The Church of England became in name the official church of the colony, but two parties so remotely unlike as the Catholics and the Quakers combined successfully to defeat more serious encroachments on religious liberty. The attempt to maintain the church of a small minority by taxes extorted by a foreign government from the whole people had the same effect in Maryland as in Ireland: it tended to make both church and government odious. The efforts of Dr. Thomas Bray, commissary of the Bishop of London, a man of true apostolic fervor, accomplished little in withstanding the downward tendency of the provincial establishment. The demoralized and undisciplined clergy resisted the attempt of the provincial government to abate the scandal of their lives, and the people resisted the attempt to introduce a bishop. The body thus set before the people as the official representative of the religion of Christ |was perhaps as contemptible an ecclesiastical organization as history can show,| having |all the vices of the Virginian church, without one of its safeguards or redeeming qualities.| The most hopeful sign in the morning sky of the eighteenth century was to be found in the growth of the Society of Friends and the swelling of the current of the Scotch-Irish immigration. And yet we shall have proof that the life-work of Commissary Bray, although he went back discouraged from his labors in Maryland and although this colony took little direct benefit from his efforts in England, was destined to have great results in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ in America; for he was the founder of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

The Carolinas, North and South, had been the scene of the earliest attempts at Protestant colonization in America. The Huguenot enterprise at Beaufort, on Port Royal harbor, was planted in 1562 under the auspices of Coligny, and came to a speedy and unhappy end. The costly and disastrous experiment of Sir Walter Raleigh was begun in 1584 on Roanoke Island, and lasted not many months. But the actual occupation of the region was late and slow. When, after the Restoration, Charles II. took up the idea of paying his political debts with free and easy cessions of American lands, Clarendon, Albemarle, and Shaftesbury were among the first and luckiest in the scramble. When the representatives of themselves and their partners arrived in Carolina in 1670, bringing with them that pompous and preposterous anachronism, the |Fundamental Constitutions,| contrived by the combined wisdom of Shaftesbury and John Locke to impose a feudal government upon an immense domain of wilderness, they found the ground already occupied with a scanty and curiously mixed population, which had taken on a simple form of polity and was growing into a state. The region adjoining Virginia was peopled by Puritans from the Nansemond country, vexed with the paltry persecutions of Governor Berkeley, and later by fugitives from the bloody revenge which he delighted to inflict on those who had been involved in the righteous rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon. These had been joined by insolvent debtors not a few. Adventurers from New England settled on the Cape Fear River for a lumber trade, and kept the various plantations in communication with the rest of the world by their coasting craft plying to Boston. Dissatisfied companies from Barbadoes seeking a less torrid climate next arrived. Thus the region was settled in the first instance at second hand from older colonies. To these came settlers direct from England, such emigrants as the proprietors could persuade to the undertaking, and such as were impelled by the evil state of England in the last days of the Stuarts, or drawn by the promise of religious liberty.

South Carolina, on the other hand, was settled direct from Europe, first by cargoes of emigrants shipped on speculation by the great real-estate |operators| who had at heart not only the creation of a gorgeous aristocracy in the West, but also the realization of fat dividends on their heavy ventures. Members of the dominant politico-religious party in England were attracted to a country in which they were still to be regarded before the law as of the |only true and orthodox| church; and religious dissenters gladly accepted the offer of toleration and freedom, even without the assurance of equality. One of the most notable contributions to the new colony was a company of dissenters from Somersetshire, led by Joseph Blake, brother to Cromwell's illustrious admiral. Among these were some of the earliest American Baptists; and there is clear evidence of connection between their arrival and the coming, in 1684, of a Baptist church from the Massachusetts Colony, under the pastorate of William Screven. This planting was destined to have an important influence both on the religious and on the civil history of the colony. Very early there came two ship-loads of Dutch Calvinists from New York, dissatisfied with the domineering of their English victors. But more important than the rest was that sudden outflow of French Huguenots, representing not only religious fidelity and devotion, but all those personal and social virtues that most strengthen the foundations of a state, which set westward upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. This, with the later influx of the Scotch-Irish, profoundly marked the character of South Carolina. The great names in her history are generally either French or Scotch.

It ought to have been plain to the proprietors, in their monstrous conceit of political wisdom, that communities so constituted should have been the last on which to impose the uniformity of an established church. John Locke did see this, but was overruled. The Church of England was established in name, but for long years had only this shadow of existence. We need not, however, infer from the absence of organized church and official clergy among the rude and turbulent pioneers of North Carolina that the kingdom of God was not among them, even from the beginning. But not until the year 1672 do we find manifestation of it such as history can recognize. In that year came William Edmundson, |the voice of one crying in the wilderness,| bringing his testimony of the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. The honest man, who had not thought it reasonable in the Christians of Massachusetts to be offended at one's sitting in the steeple-house with his hat on, found it an evidence that |they had little or no religion| when the rough woodsmen of Carolina beguiled the silent moments of the Friends' devotions by smoking their pipes; and yet he declares that he found them |a tender people.| Converts were won to the society, and a quarterly meeting was established. Within a few months followed George Fox, uttering his deep convictions in a voice of singular persuasiveness and power, that reached the hearts of both high and low. And he too declared that he had found the people |generally tender and open,| and rejoiced to have made among them |a little entrance for truth.| The church of Christ had been begun. As yet there had been neither baptism nor sacramental supper; these outward and visible signs were absent; but inward and spiritual grace was there, and the thing signified is greater than the sign. The influence diffused itself like leaven. Within a decade the society was extended through both the Carolinas and became the principal form of organized Christianity. It was reckoned in 1710 to include one seventh of the population of North Carolina.

The attempt of a foreign proprietary government to establish by law the church of an inconsiderable and not preeminently respectable minority had little effect except to exasperate and alienate the settlers. Down to the end of the seventeenth century the official church in North Carolina gave no sign of life. In South Carolina almost twenty years passed before it was represented by a single clergyman. The first manifestation of church life seems to have been in the meetings on the banks of the Cooper and the Santee, in which the French refugees worshiped their fathers' God with the psalms of Marot and Beza.

But with the eighteenth century begins a better era for the English church in the Carolinas. The story of the founding and the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, taken in connection with its antecedents and its results, belongs to this history, not only as showing the influence of European Christianity upon America, but also as indicating the reaction of America upon Europe.

In an important sense the organization of religious societies which is characteristic of modern Christendom is of American origin. The labors of John Eliot among the Indians of New England stirred so deep an interest in the hearts of English Christians that in 1649 an ordinance was passed by the Long Parliament creating a corporation to be called |The President and Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England|; and a general collection made under Cromwell's direction produced nearly twelve thousand pounds, from the income of which missionaries were maintained among some of the Northern tribes of Indians. With the downfall of the Commonwealth the corporation became defunct; but through the influence of the saintly Richard Baxter, whose tender interest in the work of Eliot is witnessed by a touching passage in his writings, the charter was revived in 1662, with Robert Boyle for president and patron. It was largely through his generosity that Eliot was enabled to publish his Indian Bible. This society, |The New England Company,| as it is called, is still extant -- the oldest of Protestant missionary societies.

It is to that Dr. Thomas Bray who returned in 1700 to England from his thankless and discouraging work as commissary in Maryland of the Bishop of London, that the Church of England owes a large debt of gratitude for having taken away the reproach of her barrenness. Already his zeal had laid the foundations on which was reared the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. In 1701 he had the satisfaction of attending the first meeting of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which for nearly three quarters of a century, sometimes in the spirit of a narrow sectarianism, but not seldom in a more excellent way, devoted its main strength to missions in the American colonies. Its missionaries, men of a far different character from the miserable incumbents of parishes in Maryland and Virginia, were among the first preachers of the gospel in the Carolinas. Within the years 1702-40 there served under the commission of this society in North Carolina nine missionaries, in South Carolina thirty-five.

But the zeal of these good men was sorely encumbered with the armor of Saul. Too much favorable legislation and patronizing from a foreign proprietary government, too arrogant a tome of superiority on the part of official friends, attempts to enforce conformity by imposing disabilities on other sects -- these were among the chief occasions of the continual collision between the people and the colonial governments, which culminated in the struggle for independence. By the time that struggle began the established church in the Carolinas was ready to vanish away.

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