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Religion in the Colonies, Northern Colonies

religious toleration, Plymouth Colony, separation of church, new colonies, Roger Williams

During the 17th century, New England became a religious refuge for Protestant followers of John Calvin, whose beliefs differed from those of the Church of England. One such group, the Pilgrims, established the Plymouth Colony in 1620 to escape persecution in England. The Puritans, another Calvinist sect, arrived nine years later in Massachusetts. The Puritans eventually absorbed the Pilgrims and spread into Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, upstate New York, and eastern Ohio. The religious freedom these pioneers sought for themselves, however, was not extended to others. They allowed only Puritan churches, which were supported by taxes, and only church members had political rights. Advocates of other beliefs were punished, sometimes harshly.

This emphasis on conformity led some members to break away and move to new colonies. Roger Williams, a Puritan clergyman, founded the colony of Rhode Island after being expelled from Massachusetts in 1635 because he disagreed with the colonial government. There he established the principles of separation of church and state, religious toleration for all, and freedom of religious expression. After 1680 Puritans were forced by changes in English law to tolerate other Christian churches in their midst, but taxes still went to the established church. Massachusetts did not achieve separation of church and state until 1833, the last state in the union to do so.

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