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The English colonization of Virginia, with the first settlement occurring at Jamestown, brought with it the religious practices dominant in that country. With the formal establishment of the primacy of the Church of England, the Anglican order defined religious practices during the earliest period of Colonial Virginia. Defining Anglicanism, however, is not easy, combining elements of both Catholicism and post-Reformation Protestantism. The Church of England, courtesy of Henry VIII’s political machinations, had evolved into a less centralized and less parochial institution that was ill-suited to the spiritual requirements of a distant colonial population spread out among the newly-acquired territories of North America. Unlike the Puritans who settled New England, and whose religious fervor provided the basis for many of the policies and practices that prevailed there, the Anglicans struggled to maintain control over their parishioners, many of whom grew spiritually as well as geographically remote from the church’s strictures. While the colonists remained intensely religious, their beliefs became more distant from the established church, with religious practices at home taken spiritual precedence over church attendance, which in turn further weakened the Anglican hold on its subjects.
By the 18th Century, religious practices in Colonial Virginia had grown more diffuse, with the First Great Awakening ushering in greater assertiveness on the part of Protestant denominations like Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists, the latter attracting the region’s growing population of African slaves. The Church of England, however, did not quietly acquiesce in this lessening of its influence among Virginia’s population. It took particular issue with the Evangelic movement that had emerged to rival the Anglicans for dominance.
In conclusion, then, the primary religion in the earliest period of Colonial Virginia was the Anglican Church of England. As the settlement of Virginia expanded, however, the religious homogeneity of that early period at Jamestown gave way to a proliferation of variations of Protestantism that proved enormously resilient.
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