Pre-Revolutionary America

Catholics were a minority during the colonial era that was dominanted by Puritans and Anglicans. As such, colonial Catholics often felt the sting of persecution, due to a deep seated hatred for the Church that many blamed for Protestant persecutions many decades before, in addition to a belief among many Protestants that the Church was too corrupt in its present form. While there were some positives, as evidenced in some of the following documents, the colonial era was one of the darkest in American Catholic history.

- Maryland was one of the few predominantly Catholic colonies in America during the English colonial period. Some of the history of this period is detailed in Clayton Colman Hall's collection Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633-1684. Among the stories presented here is that of Father Andrew White, who would perform the first Mass in the original thirteen colonies in 1634 in Maryland.

-While the Charter of Maryland does not specify the Catholic religion as being dominant there (in fact it purports to be dedicated to the "Ecclesiasticall Lawes of our Kingdome of England"), Baron Baltimore, Ceclius Calvert (in whom all colonial authority rested) was a devout Catholic. In his instructions to his deputies, he urged them to practice their religion prudently and to establish good relations with the Protestant majority in America.

-Not all colonies were as tolerant of Catholics as Maryland, as seen in this act from Virginia passed in 1641 that prevented Catholic from holding any offices in Virginia without taking a loyalty oath and that priests were prevented from staying in the colony for more than five days.

-Massachusetts would achieve notoriety as well for passing acts against Catholic colonists, with two examples here from 1647 and 1700.

-New York would join Maryland in passing religious toleration acts in 1683 and 1649, respectively. Neither would last, as both colonies would have these acts revoked within a few years of the enactment of each.

-By the time of the American Revolution, Catholic numbers had not grown significantly, and persecution was prevalent. While Rome still hoped to have a bishop there, American priest Father Ferdinand Farmer laments in this letter to Father Bernard Well of Quebec that America proposed to dangerous a situation at that time to risk the naming of a bishop.


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