Religion in the Thirteen Colonies

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Was America founded by religious zealots?

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There are a few things to unpack in order to consider this question. The first is, how does one define the "founding" of America? Was it done by its native, indigenous inhabitants? Was it done by the early explorers who came here, like Ponce de Leon or Leif Ericsson? Or was it the first settlers who determined to make a new life here? That last group are often considered the first "Americans" who decided to colonize on a long-term basis, and called themselves "pilgrims" because they sought freedom what they thought was religious persecution. Their mode of Christianity was at odds with what their religious community in England believed and practiced, so they thought the best way of establishing their own religious enclave was to go to an entirely new country.

But the landscape and climate were harsh, compared to what they had come from, and living conditions very difficult. Winter especially was a time of starvation and illness. These colonists often questioned whether they had made the right decision in coming to this new world that was often inhospitable. They found some solace in their religion, but they also found blame there. This tendency to attribute ordinary hardship (for example, crop failure or death of livestock) to a form of punishment from God was indeed connected to a type of religious zealotry, and eventually led to an atmosphere of superstition and extreme beliefs in the devil's manipulation of residents. This is how the witchcraft craze, having already affected Europe for many years, found its way to the new world and manifested most dramatically in the Salem Witch Trials. The new settlers no longer wanted to blame themselves for their problems and found it more palatable to find scapegoats.

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