Redefining Freedom & Ignoring History

Newtown Presbyterian Church

This is where I come to post the things that will get me in trouble on Facebook. :) Today’s topic: redefining freedom & ignoring history.

Someone mentioned a lineage group that I might be interested in for women with ancestors in New England, and I probably should not have laughed at the description to “perpetuate the ideals and spirit of the indomitable men and women of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts who laid the foundations of our nation’s civil and religious freedom.” Ahem.

Let’s talk about that “foundation of…religious freedom” from the New England colonies because I’m pretty sure that the foundation isn’t anything like what we consider freedom today. I’m not a historian, but as I recall, those early settlers largely came here for their religious freedom, but not to celebrate or recognize anyone else’s religious freedom. In fact, the New England states were some of the most fierce in trying to force people to a particular religion or into funding religion with taxes whether you wanted to or not. From the Library of Congress:

Religious taxes were laid on all citizens, each of whom was given the option of designating his share to the church of his choice. Such laws took effect in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire…

In other words, it reminds me of many New England states now – you’re free to live in the way they tell you to live. The New England states, with the exception of Rhode Island, even had official religions into the 19th century. The Congregational Church was the established religion by the government of Massachusetts until 1833, New Hampshire until 1819, and Connecticut until 1818.

Not even Vermont, rated as the least religious state in the union now, had any sort of foundation of what we would call freedom of religion since only men who would “profess the protestant religion” could serve office. In fact, that was pretty much a given across New England even though other states were already cutting back, like Pennsylvania which only asked that you believe in some form of God. From what I’ve read, it’s actually the Southern states that pushed for the separation of church and state that would actually give us something closer to the foundation of the freedom to worship or not worship that we know today.

So, while I have no issue with the particular lineage society, I really, really hope that they aren’t making any significant effort to truly “perpetuate” religious freedom as our New England ancestors of colonial/early statehood days knew it. I, personally, would just like to leave that view of “freedom” behind.

For the record, I have exactly one known New England ancestor. He left, appears to have likely married a Virginia girl, and even fled farther west to Missouri before he died. He’s another of my Revolutionary War patriots who served in the Montgomery County, VA militia. Most Southern genealogists wish for some New England ancestors because the vital records are so good compared to the Southern court houses that have burned over the years. However, I kind of have pride in the fact that my family was always headed farther south and farther west.

40 thoughts on “Redefining Freedom & Ignoring History”

  1. Wow, they actually let people choose which church their tax money went to?
    They did care more about freedom back then!

    1. From what I’ve read, it’s actually the Baptists who were leading the charge to get that changed. It’s really funny how the stereotypes don’t fit the actual history. :)

  2. Funny. Didn’t some of the States come into existence because of the Religious Beliefs of the Original States? Something about Maryland being a “Safe Haven” for those Catholics who were being Punished by those Pilgrim Fore Fathers, like the Mather Family?

    1. I really don’t know much about Maryland and can’t look it up at this second. However, I do know that in the 1600s, they were accepting Huguenot refugees from Europe who were being murdered by French Catholics. I only learned about that because it turns out I’m descended from one of the more famous ones. :)

      1. Fascinating you should mention Maryland on the 382nd anniversary date of her chartered founding, 20 June 1632!
        Maryland’s early religious history was a roller coaster, as was her tolerance of non-established religions. I just read about it this morning in the following link:

        In essence, Lord Baltimore Calvert was given permission by Anglican King Charles I to establish the Catholic Colony of Maryland named after the King’s Catholic wife. Maryland passed laws to allow Protestants to live among them in peace. But things changed in England and in the other colonies to effect changes in Maryland. Here’s some short history excerpted from the link above:

        In 1649, they extended liberty to PROTESTANTS by issuing the Maryland Toleration Act, which stated:

        “That no person…within this province…professing to believe in JESUS CHRIST shall…from henceforth be any ways troubled or molested…in respect of his or her religion.”

        When the neighboring colony of Virginia drove out anyone who was not an ANGLICAN, settlers who were PURITAN fled to Maryland because of the Maryland Toleration Act.

        Meanwhile, back in England, a Civil War broke out between PURITANS and ANGLICANS.

        The PURITANS won and chopped off the head of ANGLICAN King Charles I in 1649.

        At this time, an ANGLICAN named John Washington emigrated to Virginia. His great-grandson was George Washington.

        In 1650, PURITANS took over the Colony of Maryland and passed laws against CATHOLICS, such as the Act Concerning Religion, October 20, 1654:

        “That such as profess Faith in GOD by JESUS CHRIST, though differing in Judgment from from the Doctrine, Worship or Discipline…should not be restrained but protected in the Profession of the Faith and Exercise of their Religion…


        That none who profess and exercise the PAPISTIC, commonly known as the ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION, can be protected in this province.”

        PURITANS lost control of England, and in 1658, Lord Baltimore was restored to being Maryland’s Governor.

        In 1688, the last CATHOLIC King of England, James II, was driven out during “the Glorious Revolution,” and William and Mary ruled as ANGLICANS.

        In Maryland, ANGLICANS took control of the colony, and CATHOLICS were again denied freedom of conscience, as stated in an Act to Prevent the Growth of Popery, September 30, 1704:

        “That whatsoever POPISH Bishop, Priest or Jesuit, shall baptize any child…other than such who have POPISH Parents or shall say Mass…shall forfeit…fifty pounds Sterling…and shall also suffer six months imprisonment…

        And be it further enacted…if any PAPIST…shall keep school or take upon themselves the education…or boarding of youth…such persons…shall upon conviction be transported out of this Province.”


        The wealthiest man in Maryland, Charles Carroll, Sr., sailed to France in 1752, to meet with CATHOLIC King Louis XV to obtain land in the Louisiana Territory in order to move Maryland CATHOLICS there.

        Then the Revolutionary War started and everything changed.

        The different colonies in America, with their different denominations, realized they had to work together in order to defeat the ANGLICAN King George III.

        In 1775, when the Continental Army was camped at Harvard College and on the Cambridge Commons, soldiers made plans for the annual Guy Fawkes procession with its “custom of burning the Effigy of the Pope.”

        When General Washington heard of it, he halted the event and expressed dismay at their lack of decency, as CATHOLICS were fighting together with them against the British.

        Maryland, at first, resisted the Revolution, as almost every member of the ANGLICAN clergy supported King George III.

        Charles Carroll, son of the wealthiest landowner in the colony, was the sole CATHOLIC to sign the Declaration of Independence. He wrote to Rev. John Stanford, October, 9, 1827:

        “To obtain religious as well as civil liberty I entered jealously into the Revolution.”

        [And to confirm your findings in New England Constitutions, Mrs. Bitter, Maryland’s had similar religious tests which the Federal Constitution could not prohibit. Continuing with the link:]

        In 1776, Maryland’s original State Constitution generously granted religious freedom to PROTESTANTS and CATHOLICS:

        “ARTICLE 33: That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons, professing the CHRISTIAN RELIGION, are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty;

        wherefore no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice…

        yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION.”

        Maryland’s original 1776 Constitution continued:

        “ARTICLE 55. That every person, appointed to any office… shall… take the following oath:

        I…do swear, that I do not hold myself bound in allegiance to the King of Great Britain, and that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland; and shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the CHRISTIAN RELIGION.”

        [And look at this!!!]:

        In 2002, Maryland’s Constitution stated:

        “ARTICLE 37. That no religious test ought ever to be required…other than a declaration of belief in THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.”

        Someone alert the ACLU! ;-)

        Respectfully, Arnie

    2. For Shame, Les!

      Well, sort of, it was a refuge. But a quick look at Wikipedia shows, as I thought, Maryland was a recognized Colony before any of the New England Colonies like Massachusetts. England had been going back and forth between persecuting Catholics and persecuting NON-Catholics (Church of England, that is: Jews and others were pretty much targets regardless of which religion held the Country): Lord Calvert saw Church of England firmly established as the “winner” and obtained a grant where English Catholics could live – other non-CofE as well (again, some, sort of).

      1. Considering the Huguenots were being murdered in their own homes in France, I’m sure that the whole “we won’t kill you outright” attitude may have been enough for them. :)

        That said, there was a later Huguenot refugee influx into Virginia, too. I am also descended from that migration as well.

        I know, I know, that’s an awful lot of French ancestry to confess to, but I will add that both Huguenot lines had men who supported the Revolutionary War. That’s got to make up for some of it, right? :)

          1. Yup, I’ve heard about that. Several of the descendants of my Faure family who were part of the Virginia Huguenot population went south to the Carolinas and probably ended up with many of those Huguenot descendants. It’s definitely a fascinating group of refugees to read about.

      2. There are very, very Jews in England at this time. Most were expelled or left after the York Massacre of 1291. Most of the fight is Puritan vs. Anglican vs. Catholic.

      1. I was told by a former jewish COllegue that Maryland was the first state that actually allowed Jews to own private property, which explains why they have such a high jewish population (2nd to New Yorks). Not sure if that’s true or not.

        There was also some fight that went on near the time of Marylands founding between the King and I suspect Lord Fairfax or someone else in Virginia which is why Maryland not only owns the entirety of the Chesapeake and Potomac up to the high water mark on the Virginia shore but also possesses the right to restrict hunting and fishing on the chesapeake and Potomac to only Maryland residents (or non-residents accompanied by Maryland residents).

        The Great State of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations, btw, was formed by Roger WIlliams upon his being kicked out of Massachussets after being found guilty of Treason and Sedition for spreading diverse, new and dangerous opinions. Basically, he didn’;t believe the puritans in Massachussets were sufficiently seperated and independent from the Church of England and he also raised concerns over the treatment of Indians.

        1. Interestingly, and noteworthy seeing as he established the first Baptist Church in the US (something I’m sure the present day bigots of Massachussets would support as a valid reason for kicking him out), he was also possibly the first abolutionist in the US. That, of course, considering the percieved views of many regarding the South and the present day Southern Baptist churc is also ironic.

          1. Roger Williams is really big among American Baptists who still simmer over the schism with the Southern Baptists over the issue of slavery.
            But no wonder people kept moving West – like to California. (and then to Hawaii). San Jose was once envisioned as the HQ of the LDS church. Still the main body stayed hunkered down in balmy, beautiful Salt Lake City – and the Elders recalled the Mormon regiment that had fought in San Diego against the Mexicans and freed California, back to Salt Lake. After a season of gold-mining here they cut the Mormon Immigrant Trail from WEST to EAST upon their return, shouldda told the Donner Party about the easy way…

        2. I can’t recall ever seeing religious qualifications for owning property. Maryland did not allow Jews to hold public office until 1809. They were not so different from many other colonies, which usually required you to be a Christian, sometimes a Protestant, and a few cases, of a specific denomination, to hold some offices.

  3. We Southerners brought a lot of good things to the country, but you’ll hardly ever hear about it in the mass media. Instead the focus is almost entirely about slaves and race. It’s like looking at the history of Russia and only focusing on the Gulags.

  4. The back country Baptists were very much for separation of church and state because they were afraid the Presbyterians of the coast would duplicate the Anglican Church’s control of the religious sphere as it did in England.
    Government support of a certain religion or sect usually leads to government control of said religion. They had direct experience of that in Europe. Its too bad religious leaders today fail to realize that.

  5. I’ve always suspected that the separation of church and state was less about protecting freedom and more due to the fact that they couldn’t decide which religion should be official.

    1. Based on the Library of Congress account of the Massachusetts debate on their state constitution (linked in the post), I would tend to think that’s a reasonable position.

    2. Noah Webster in one of his pamphlets in support of the Constitution pointed out that a remarkable situation in America prevented any such national consensus on religion. But well past the Revolution, states still had establishments of a particular denomination.

      Of course, all states criminalized immoral behavior into the 1950s, based on a common understanding of what was contrary to Christian belief.

  6. Unlike other colonial areas, Charleston, S.C. had vibrant Jewish and Catholic populations by 1700. It’s my understanding that the synagogues and cathedrals didn’t meet the letter of the law, but the people of Charleston welcomed them anyway.

    1. I would believe that. Even though I found several references to SC laws mentioning a belief in God, they were very non-specific. The southern colonies also seemed to be some of the first to adopt laws keeping the clergy out of elected positions and vice versa in several of the links I found.

    2. And this was not necessarily true elsewhere. In New Amsterdam, there is a fierce complaint from the Dutchmen called to militia duty that they were expected to serve with Jews.

  7. Great post, Mrs. Bitter! I agree wholeheartedly with your findings! As my research has found that 11 of the original 13 States required in their 1776 Constitutions that every holder of State office must believe in the God of the Bible (some even requiring faith in the Trinity and the Gospel of Jesus Christ), when secularists try to tell me America was not founded as a Christian nation, I agree with them…and then declare to them we were founded as a Union of THIRTEEN Christian nations!!!! And Thomas Jefferson declared that the First and Tenth Amendments ensured that the Federal Government could not interfere with those State established religions, that the “wall of separation” only applied to the Federal government, not to the State governments. But something happened 57 years after the 14th Amendment was declared ratified – Gitlow v New York, 1925, and the rest is history.
    Again, loved your post!!! Thank you!!

    – Arnie

    1. Both Pennsylvania and Delaware at various times required belief in the literal truth of the Old & New Testaments as a condition for various officeholders.

  8. Bitter, Arnie, and everyone,

    Thank you. My public school history lessons completely glossed over this history. And I was in HS during the Bicentennial, and thought they had completely covered this era as part of the celebration.

    1. Thank you, rd! I had the same frustrating schooling experience as you. Investigating original documents, especially the original State constitutions, is most illuminating. I am presently studying the debates of the Constitutional Convention, which were officially sealed until Robert Yates’ notes of the Convention were released 30 years after the fact (!) by Congress in 1818, and Madison’s more complete notes of the debates were released in 1840. Concerning the former, Yates’ notes led John Taylor of Caroline to publish his “New Views of the Constitution of the United States” in 1823 which upset the nationalists within the old Federalist camp to no end because of its copious evidence of the Founders original intent favoring States’ Rights and the compact theory of the Constitution. John Marshall and Joseph Story refused to read it, the latter never referring to it in his own mammoth three-volume essay on the Constitution. When James Madison’s notes were finally made public in 1840, Taylor was vindicated, but too late; federal supremacy was entrenched, and the bloody war for Southern Independence and its painful reconstructive aftermath inevitable. Historian James McClellan wrote, “Madison’s decision to withhold his Convention notes may have seriously undermined the States’ Rights movement, or possibly doomed it.” Taylor himself observed, “If the journal of the Convention [had] been published immediately after the ratification [of the Constitution in 1788]…it would have furnished light toward a true construction [interpretation] sufficiently clear to have presented several trespasses upon its principles….” How different, and in my opinion much more free, a nation we would be, had these original documents (the notes of the debates and proceedings of the Constitutional Convention) been read and studied by our early lawmakers and judges. Marbury v Madison may have birthed an entirely different and liberating legacy than the oligarchic tyranny we are suffering today.

      First principles and original documents – the keys to discovering the truth of history – are generally not found in public or university education today. I recommend every patriot pursue these these keys like treasure and read, read, read!

      Respectfully, Arnie

  9. The original Puritan of the bleak New England coast was not content to flay his own wayward carcass: full satisfaction did not sit upon him until he had jailed a Quaker. That is to say, the sinner who excited his highest zeal and passion was not so much himself as his neighbour; to borrow a term from psychopathology, he was less the masochist than the sadist.

    H. L. Mencken, A Book of Prefaces, New York, 1917

    Today’s Progressives are the cultural, political and spiritual descendents of the original Puritans. And they are every bit as determined to establish a theocracy in America as were their forebears.

    1. Mencken is a clever writer, but not the most accurate. He is often attributed the saying that when the Pilgrims arrived, “they first fell on their knees, then on the Indians.” Cute, funny, but not accurate.

      Puritans were no worse than any other group of the time. The notion of tolerance was just beginning to emerge after the English Civil War, and the notion of full legal equality of religions was well in the future.

      1. Zafirovski, Milan, “The Most Cherished Myth: Puritanism and Liberty Reconsidered and Revised.” The American Sociologist Vol. 38, No. 1 (2007)

        Zakai, Avihu, “Puritan Millennialism and Theocracy in Early Massachusetts.” History of European Ideas Vol. 8, No. 3 (1987)

      2. Even Alden T. Vaughn, the leading 20th century reformist Puritan historian, radically changed his views in the second edition of his landmark work, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675:

        Seventeenth-century Puritans, more than other European settlers, sought to create in America a model society. Their New Jerusalem was based on the assumption that God had prescribed one faith, one fundamental form of government, and one basic style of life, which the Puritans believed they alone practiced. Leaders of the New England Zion welcomed new recruits but demanded adherence to its precepts by everyone – European or native – within their jurisdiction. Indians, especially, were desirable additions to the Puritan experiment, because their conversion would signal the approaching millennium and demonstrate God’s approval of the Puritan exodus. However, the Indians must become complete Puritans, not autonomous neighbors or even partial carriers of aboriginal culture. They must forsake their theology, their language, their political and economic structures, their habitations and clothing, their social mores, their customs of work and play. The Puritans brooked no compromise. In anthropological terms, the Indian was expected not merely to acculturate by blending his traditional ways with those of the new society, but to transculturate: to repudiate totally his Indianess and become in every way an American Puritan.

  10. The search for individual Liberty’s is not over, it only has only begun and may very well fail. Close attention is needed.
    “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Thomas Jefferson.

  11. I think it’s a good thing that you’re making sure that we remember that the past isn’t as free as we’d like it to be. It’s important to remember that when this country was first founded, we were working from a tradition of complete control by the monarchy, to some degree or another, and that while the English were probably more free than anyone else, they only planted the seeds that grew into the liberty we enjoy today. (At least, as long as it lasts. :.(

    Indeed, this is something that sometimes annoys me about libertarians: an unwillingness to accept that freedom is somewhat relative, and we have to grow to the point where society is willing to accept it. One example is to look at Lincoln, and see a bloody tyrant–which is true–but to overlook the fact that he was a temporary tyrant working to protect government and hence freedom, which is a very Lockean concept.

    Similarly, Puritans weren’t thinking about liberty (except in the general Lockean “We are English, so we’re free, even if our progeny will think we’re tyrants” type of freedom) when they came to America…yet, rather than bury this, we should remember how it produced Rhode Island, which then began causing Americans to consider freedom of conscience, which paved the way to religious liberty in America….

    1. I pretty much agree with you alpheus, except I submit that Lincoln’s tyranny expanded federal government and destroyed the power of State governments to protect us from federal tyranny today. Now I have IRS hands in my pockets, OSHEA and EPA thumbscrews on my business, NSA antennae down my throat, and HLS guns to my head, and my State government is powerless to defend me! Thanks a lot, Abe! :-(

Comments are closed.