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In Search of Faith and Liberty

Many motivations and goals drove colonization of the America’s and among the most noble of these was the establishment of religious principles. Several persecuted groups found refuge in building a colony founded on their deeply held religious beliefs. Missionary work was foremost on the minds of those who led the efforts of colonization. The Massachusetts colonies, which were set up with a religious foundation, were influential and long-lasting, while the profit-based colony of Jamestown, Virginia lost influence and was eventually deserted.
The early settlers in Massachusetts were Puritans who had been cruelly persecuted for deviating from the established Church of England. They were granted permission to plant colonies in Plymouth and later Boston and sailed with a vision of establishing a refuge for themselves where they could practice the high ideals they preached. In order to do this, the group wisely set up a system of laws that all inhabitants were obliged to follow. Without these obligations, the untamed land would soon have driven the colony to anarchy.
Not all the passengers of the Mayflower who wanted to disembark at Plymouth were Puritans. The others, whom the Puritans called “strangers,” claimed they “would use their liberty, for none had power to command them” (Bradford).  This alarmed the Puritans, who felt that they would be at the mercy of these lawless men. Once they arrived, the two groups consented to the Mayflower Compact, agreeing to “constitute, and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices…as shall be thought… for the general good of the Colony” (Bradford).  The two groups subsequently signed the Compact obliging themselves to live by their own laws framed for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith” (Bradford).  The group afterwards elected John Carver to be Governor because of his “godly” character. (Bradford).  After coming ashore, the group set up a Constitution remarkably similar to our current U.S. Constitution.
John Winthrop, who later sailed with another group of persecuted Puritans on the Arbella, also wrote about the Christian ideals of a community in “A Modell of Christian Charity” (Winthrop 317). He knew that his colony would be seen by the world as an experiment of a new religion. In the speech, Winthrop compared them to “a city on a hill” and reminded the people that their dealings would be watched and judged. IN week 2 of our class discussions Michael Lipscome said that the speech was “to inspire, and instill in the colonists who were heading to the new world to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the importance of their mission.” Winthrop exhorted his people to practice what they preached and to have a society that lived up to the high ideals of Christian goodness and charity. He warned the people that they had entered into a covenant with God to uphold these teachings and that turning away from them would bring failure to their new community. This, in part, explains why the Puritans felt compelled to expel from their community those who changed or challenged Puritan teachings such as Anne Hutchinson.
Shortly after Hutchinson’s trial, Winthrop recorded in his journal a speech given by a deputy Governor about the responsibility of leaders to uphold the people’s God-given liberties.
But if you will be satisfied to enjoy such civil and lawful liberties, such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you…for your good. Wherein, if we fail at any time, we hope we shall be willing (by God’s assistance) to hearken to good advice from any of you, or in other ways of God; so shall your liberties be preserved. (Winthrop 324)
Thus, we can plainly see that the people felt that the liberties they enjoyed came not from man but from God, a fundamental idea of the Declaration of Independence. As a result of this belief in a higher authority than himself, this official offered to listen to the advice of the people if he should fail in his governing duty. This was the result of their belief in a higher law rather than man-made laws.
            In contrast, Jamestown, Virginia was not founded on any particular religious principles. Instead, it was founded by aristocratic gentlemen looking for profit. As a result, it was initially made up mainly of men. The wealthy gentlemen in Jamestown expected the same easy life they led in England while the other men worked and so were surprised when John Smith declared that “he who does not work will not eat” (Winans 257). The lack of family life in the colony caused stagnation at first. They were often engaged in wars with the Indian population resulting in huge loss of life. In 1676, during Bacon’s Rebellion, Jamestown was burned to the ground. It lost its seat of government status in 1699 and was eventually deserted (Encarta).
            While Jamestown did not last, the Massachusetts colonies that were founded on religious principles were able to flourish and multiply. Today, Boston is a major metropolis and Plymouth is a household name. The settlers there put down the religious and political roots that would later blossom into the liberties and freedoms we enjoy today. Even two hundred years later their faith and belief that God was the author of our freedoms, rather than kings or men, was strong. We see it in many American icons. This belief is evident in our money, monuments, national songs, and our Pledge of Allegiance, and is it crucial to understanding our founding documents. While mixing religion with politics is a taboo today, back then it was the justification for all their laws and accomplishments, the moving power of their sacrifices, and the power behind all that happened to them. As evidenced by the explosion of democratic governments around the world today, they did set up a “city on a hill” that would shine the light of faith and liberty to the entire world.

Works Cited
Bradford, William. “Of Plymouth Plantation.” The Heath Anthology of American           Literature Volume A Colonial Period to 1800. Ed Philip Gould. 5th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. 329-330.
"Jamestown (Virginia)." Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005.
Smith, John. “A Description of New England.”  The Heath Anthology of American           Literature Volume A Colonial Period to 1800. Ed  Amy Winans . 5th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. 264
Winans, Amy E. “John Smith (1580-1631).” The Heath Anthology of American           Literature Volume A Colonial Period to 1800. Ed  Amy Winans. 5th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. 324
Winthrop, John. “A Modell of Christian Charity.” The Heath Anthology of American           Literature Volume A Colonial Period to 1800. Ed Nicholas D. Rhombes, Jr. 5th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. 317
Winthrop, John. “The Journal of John Winthrop.” The Heath Anthology of American           Literature Volume A Colonial Period to 1800. Ed   . 5th Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006. 324

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