Religion in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

The population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was Puritan. The governorship was dominated by the same few colonists for decades who were strongly influenced by Puritan religious leaders. Although the governors were elected, the electorate was limited to freemen, who had been examined for their religious views and formally admitted to their church. They also enacted a law that only those men who were members of certain churches in the colony were eligible to become freemen and vote. Becoming a member of one of the colony’s churches involved a detailed examination by the church elders about beliefs and religious experiences. Only individuals whose religious views were approved by the church leadership were likely to become members, and be able to vote in the colony.

The colonial leadership was intolerant of other religious views, including Anglicans, Quakers, and Baptists. Failure to follow the Puritans’ religious tenets, led to prosecution and persecution by the colony. Banishment and hanging was the penalty for dissidents who would not accept Puritan beliefs. Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were both banished from the colony. Anne Hutchinson supported the concept of predestination and preached it to others, especially dangerous for a woman in a male-dominated society. Roger Williams supported the separation of church and state, which was not acceptable to a Puritan theocracy.  After he was banished, Williams founded the colony of Rhode Island which offered sanctuary to dissenters and freedom of religion. Mary Dyer, a Quaker, was hung in her wedding dress after she returned to Massachusetts Bay Colony to protest the deaths of other dissenters.

Tomorrow, The Fate of the Colony    Rita Bay

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