A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada

By Mark A. Noll | Go to book overview

PART I
BEGINNINGS

ALMOST AS SOON AS THERE WERE EUROPEAN SETTLERS IN NORTH AMERICA, there were also several varieties of Christianity. Despite popular impressions, the English Puritans did not arrive first. Even in the territory that would become the United States, the Puritans were preceded by their near, but not very dear, fellow Englishmen, the state-church Episcopalians. Representatives of Holland’s Reformed Church were also fairly well established in New Amsterdam (later New York) before the main body of Puritans first glimpsed Boston in 1630. Soon German-speaking believers of many types joined English Quakers in William Penn’s Pennsylvania, Swedish Lutherans were in Delaware, and Presbyterians from Scotland and the north of Ireland had established a foothold on Long Island, in New Jersey, and in Pennsylvania.

Even before any British Protestants had appeared on the scene, however, there was already a substantial Catholic presence in the New World. From Spain, Catholic priests had come to convert the Native Americans of the great Southwest. In what is now Canada and along the Mississippi River, Catholic missionaries from France were pursuing their work among Indians before missions by English Protestants had even made a start.

The early pluralism was also cultural. Before there were English Puritans in Massachusetts and almost as soon as there were Catholic missionaries in the Southwest, black-skinned immigrants from Africa had arrived in Virginia. Although the twenty Africans off-loaded in Virginia by a Dutch trader in 1619 were not slaves in a strict sense, slavery had already become an essential building block of European expansion in the New World. From the first Portuguese explorations in West Africa to the later and more numerous colonies planted in the Western hemisphere by the Spanish, the French, the Dutch, and the English, human bondage was a central reality — socially,

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