Religion's Influence on Carolina

Carolina was settled primarily by Protestants. By the end of the Lords Proprietors' rule in 1729, for the most part, religious toleration had been embraced in the colony. As can be expected, this was a turbulent process.

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the Engish colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens.

Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as "inforced uniformity of religion," meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst.

In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent.

Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.


All eight of the original Lords Proprietors were members of the Church of England (Anglican), but only two actively participated in the oversight of Carolina. As early as 1666, the first Lords Proprietor died (Sir John Colleton), and the remaining seven continued to quickly die off, with the last (William, Lord Craven) living until 1697. Between 1663 and 1729, there were over thirty (30) subsequent Lords Proprietors, and all of these had varying stances on religious toleration, which did influence how Carolina was governed.

Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury was a staunch supporter of religious toleration, and he was one of Lords Proprietors actively involved in making the colony of Carolina a reality. He chose John Locke to pen the original Fundamental Constitutions for Carolina, and he, Sir Anthony, actually contributed much to this important document.

Of course, the Fundamental Constitutions were never fully embraced by the colonists - they laid out an idyllic state of nobility that simply could never be implemented - at least not remotely. None of the original Lords Proprietors ever went to Carolana, and only a few subsequent Lords Proprietors ever lived in the colony. The settlers were well aware that they could defy much of the "rules and regulations" dreamed up by the Lords Proprietors because it was very difficult for the Lords Proprietors to truly enforce all of the rules while living three-thousand miles away.

Sir William Berkely was the only other of the original Lords Proprietors to take an active role in Carolina. Not only a Lords Proprietor of Carolina, Sir William Berkeley was also the governor of Virginia - twice - from 1630 to 1651, and from 1659 to his death in 1677. But, he never set foot on Carolina soil, and his attention was clearly focused on running the royal colony of Virginia on behalf of King Charles II.

Governor Berkeley was a staunch Anglican, and he was dead-set against all "dissenters," those who opposed the domination of the Church of England. His first rule as governor of Virginia ended with a Puritan force from England removing him from office because of his avid persecution of dissenters in the colony. He may have moderated his actions during his second term, but his attitude against dissenters never wavered.

Certainly, the Lords Proprietors appointed governors to adminster the colony on their behalf. Most of the early governors had never "governed" anyone previously in their lives, and they were ill-equipped to handle all of the issues and problems that were bound to arise as the fledgling colony was settled. Most governors were simply handed a set of written instructions from the Lords Proprietors and sent on their way - go forth and do wonderful things on our behalf (or something like that).

In 1673, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper renounced his earlier stance on toleration, and he became quite vocal in support of the Church of England, suspicious of King Charles II's efforts to improve the positions of many Roman Catholics. Lord Anthony was dismissed as Lords Chancellor that year and soon he was out of favor and imprisoned in 1677 for opposing Parliament. Staunchly anti-Catholic, Lord Anthony was soon released from prison and he helped to establish the Whig Party in England.

In 1679, Shaftesbury became president of the Privy Council and began to press for the exclusion bill to keep the Roman Catholic James, Duke of York (later James II), from the throne. He supported instead the claims of the Duke of Monmouth.

Again dismissed in 1679, he continued the fight for exclusion until King Charles II dissolved the 1681 Parliament. Shaftesbury’s position was now precarious, since his party was discredited and the King in complete control of the government. An indictment for treason failed, but he fled in 1682 to Holland and soon thereafter died.

Appointed by the Lords Proprietors, each governor had their own personal views about religious toleration. Most were strict Anglicans, and some of these early governors created many problems within the colony, acting on behalf of the Lords Proprietors. Most of these early problems were not about religion, but about land ownership and elected representation within the newly formed governments - one must remember that there was a separate governor appointed in the Albemarle region in 1664 and in 1670 there was another governor appointed in Charles Town as it was established.

As Carolina was slowly settled in the north and in the south, the new people were approximately evenly split between Anglicans and Dissenters, with quite a few French Huguenots in both regions. By 1671, a small group of Dutch arrived in Charles Town. Soon, more French Huguenots and a handful of Swiss/Palatines came to Carolina - but, none of these had any true "rights" as full citizens of the colony. They were simply regarded as refugees.

In one of the very few decent acts of his administration, Governor Seth Sothel and the Carolana parliament passed a law in 1691 that provided for the naturalization of all French and Swiss Protestants among the colonists. Although the law passed, it was not implemented until much later, during the second term of Governor Joseph Blake (1696-1700).

In the meanwhile, John Archer - a Quaker - was appointed governor of Carolina in 1694, and his leadership brought about a brief period of prosperity and relative calm within the colony. Archer had also purchased Lord William Berkeley's share of the colony and was now one of the new Lords Proprietors. But, his tenure as governor was short and he soon returned to England.

The Anglicans of North Carolina had been almost entirely passive until 1699, when Henderson Walker took office as Deputy Governor of the province. Walker was an aggressive churchman (Anglican), and under his leadership the church party, by "a great deal of care and management," secured control of the General Assembly in Albemarle.

In 1701, an Act was passed establishing the church and authorizing the levy of a poll-tax for the support of the clergy, and under its provisions three churches were built, but the next Assembly was controlled by the Quakers and their allies, and shortly afterwards the establishment Act was disallowed by the Lords Proprietors.

Sir Nathaniel Johnson became governor in 1703, and trouble immediately began. His first act was to have a law passed by sharp practice excluding all Dissenters, who composed two thirds of the population, from the Assembly. The people discovered the trick, and the next Assembly voted by a large majority to repeal the law.

But Johnson refused to sign their Act. The Assembly then appealed to the Lords Proprietors, but they sustained the bigoted governor. The people then appealed to the House of Lords and won their case, as they always will when they stand together. The Lords Proprietors yielded when the Act of their governor met a royal veto from Queen Anne and when threatened with the loss of their charter, and the Dissenters were restored to their share in the government.

The Church of England, however, was made the state church and so it continued to the time of the Revolution. The colony was divided into parishes, which became political, as well as ecclesiastical, divisions.

In 1704, the Act of the first Parliament under Queen Anne, which imposed a new oath of allegiance, arrived. It made no express exception in the favor of Quaker office-holders, neither did it mention the dominions. The Quakers refused to take the oath and were removed by Deputy Governor Robert Daniell from their offices.

A province law was also passed, that no one should hold a position of trust without taking the required oaths. The Act for the establishment of the Anglican Church, with that requiring the oaths. We hear much more of the question of oaths than of the church question. But all the dissenters in the province seem to have been profoundly stirred, which would have scarcely been true if the point at issue had merely been that of the oaths.

John Ash, who was sent by the South Carolinians to England to complain of the passage of the Act for the establishment of the church, was compelled to find passage from Virginia, and went thither over land through Albemarle. Edmund Porter was appointed by the dissenters of Albemarle to accompany Ash. Porter, with the help of John Archdale, secured from the Lords Proprietors an order addressed to Governor Johnson to remove Daniell from the deputy governorship.

For the next twelve years there was a constant conflict between Anglicans and Dissenters, culminating in the petty civil war known as the Cary Rebellion.

In 1672, George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, visited Albemarle County and established a Quaker meetinghouse. As the years passed, the Quaker element grew in size and influence. By the start of the 18th century, Quakers held most of the important political positions in northern Carolina, which displeased the Anglican minority.

In 1702, a new monarch, Queen Anne, took the throne in England. According to custom, oaths of allegiance were required of all royal officeholders in England and the colonies. The Quakers, as a matter of religious principle, refused to take the oath, but did offer to "affirm" their loyalties. The Anglican leaders declined these affirmations and forced the American Quakers from their offices.

In 1705, Thomas Cary entered this tense situation in the Carolinas as the new governor. He had been an Anglican supporter, but switched his allegiance to the Quakers and led them back to power in 1708. The simmering feud boiled over in 1711, when Edward Hyde arrived as the newly-appointed Deputy Governor of Albemarle. Cary refused to yield office and gathered his supporters near his home in Bath at the mouth of the Pamlico River.

Over the next few months, the fortunes of the contending parties rose and fell. The turning point came in July of 1711, when a company of royal marines was dispatched from a ship in Chesapeake Bay. Cary refused to order his men to fire on royal soldiers, therefore, he was captured and sent in chains to England on a charge of treason.

His friends soon won his release and he returned to Carolina, living out his days in relative obscurity.

While the colony was in turmoil and Cary's Rebellion soon to boil over, in 1710, Acting Governor Thomas Pollock greatly assisted Baron Christopher von Graffenried to settle his Swiss/Palatine group into New Bern, providing much needed monetary assistance from his own deep pockets.

As soon as the tensions eased off with Cary shipped off to England to learn his fate, the disparate religious factions of Carolina was soon faced with a much greater problem - in autumn of 1711, the Tuscarora War began. This war lasted over two years and left many colonists dead - but, it did manage to force them to come together and to put aside their petty arguments over religion.

Another thing the Tuscarora War brought about was open acknowledgement and acceptance of Carolina really being two separate entities, and during this war the Lords Proprietors changed their long-standing position of having only one governor for the colony - and in 1714, North Carolina received its first full governor, Charles Eden. Charles Craven, previously the governor for all of Carolina, was now only governor for the newly named (officially) South Carolina. "The Split" was now officially recognized.

Not long after the Tuscarora were appeased in North Carolina, the second Indian war was launched on the south - the Yamassee War started in April of 1715 along the southern frontier below Charles Town. Over a year later, this war was concluded as well.

Governor Charles Eden quickly picked up the pieces in the aftermath of the Tuscarora War and immediately went back to work setting forth his agenda as laid out to him by the Lords Proprietors. His 1715 General Assembly once again established the Church of England as the "rule of law" in North Carolina.

However, at this point in time there was a severe lack of clergymen and missionaries sent out from England by the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel. Thus it was that most of the nine parishes established in 1715 had to rely entirely upon the services of qualified lay readers.

In a letter of Governor Eden's he states "In most of the parishes they have already established two or three readers who are the most capable persons we can get here. To some they allow per annum thirty pounds, to others twenty pounds and to none less than ten pounds."

During Eden's administration, the colonial legislature also passed what were probably the first "Blue Laws" made in the state. The law makers of 1715 hoped "to prevent the grievous sins of cursing and swearing, to check drunkeness, to enforce Sunday observance and in other ways improve public morality."

To the south, in 1719, the tensions between Anglicans and Dissenters had reached a peak and the struggle between the Lords Proprietors and the Commons House of Assembly culminated in the convention of 1719, of which Arthur Middleton was President. This convention established a revolutionary government, and requested Robert Johnson to assume the executive in the name of the people, which he declined to do, asserting the rights of the Lords Proprietors.

The convention thereupon elected James Moore, and asserted their power by military force. The people accepted Moore and unbelieveably so did the Crown. King George I was quite aware of the grumblings of the colonists as well as aware of the chronic ineptitude of the Lords Proprietors in managing Carolina. When the people's revolution of 1719 occurred without much violence, King George I decided it was time to step in and embrace Carolina as a royal colony, and he immediately set the wheels in motion to make it happen. He died in 1727, two years before all the "ink was dry" in 1729, but he died knowing it would be realized by his son, George II.

By 1729, when the Lords Proprietors were sent along their merry ways, Carolina had evolved into the two Royal Colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina. The tensions between the Anglicans and the Dissenters were not totally erased by the Crown, but both colonies soon embraced more religious toleration and the tensions eased considerably after "the Split."


Equally as important to all of these direct religious influences upon Carolina was, indirectly, the "original cause" - way back in the 1500s - the Protestant Reformation that spread across Europe in the 1500s and 1600s, and of course brought about many wars in Britain and all of Europe. If interested, you can Click Here to learn more about the many religious wars in Britain that indirectly influenced the formation and the settling of Carolina prior to the Crown taking over the colony in 1729.

Furthermore, the French Wars of Religion in the 1500s and 1600s certainly led to the emigration of thousands of French Huguenots to England and ultimately to Carolina during the early years. If interested, you can Click Here to learn more about all of the many wars of religion in France and the rest of Europe - and again, these did, indirectly, influence the formation and settlement of Carolina prior to the end of the Lords Proprietors' rule in 1729.


 


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