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Being First Doesn’t Always Matter

Two geographic centers for Catholics in the New World.

September 26, 2023  0

TRANSCRIPT
 

I'm Michael Voris coming to you from on board our fall Retreat at Sea, trekking along the New England Coast and focusing on the very beginnings of Catholicism here in the United States.

There really are two geographical centers of Catholic introduction to the New World. One was the Deep South, meaning the Gulf Coast area and extending further south into the Caribbean, Mexico and so forth.

Then there is the Atlantic Seaboard area. What may perhaps be a little note many Catholics don't know is this — neither area was especially "Catholic" in the way we might first think of it. For example, almost 200 years after Columbus landed in the modern-day Bahamas in 1492, the Catholic population of the New World was pretty tiny.

And especially in the English colonies (with their noted hatred for Catholics), the population was beyond meager in terms of numbers.

In Virginia, if a Catholic sought public office, he could be arrested.

By the time the War for Independence broke out in 1776, the sum total of Catholics in all the colonies combined was about 30,000, compared to going on 3 million largely Protestants. Catholics were approximately 1% of the population.

During the pre-Revolution days, religious and political wars were being fought all over Europe, as the fallout from the 16th-century Protestant revolt continued to echo across the continent. Much of that had spilled over to the New World as well, as the Catholic French and the English Protestants duked it out in various battles.

The problem for Catholics boiled down to a numbers game: There simply were not enough. While the age of discovery was fueled by Catholic monarchs and Catholic explorers, in the end, it was the English Protestants who cashed in on it.

Being first doesn't matter if you don't push your advantage. And they were able to cash in for two major reasons. First, owing to the desire to leave England and get away from the English Church, which, for them, was still too "Catholic," their numbers began to swell.

The Mayflower may have been the first, and its passengers barely surviving, but it was by no means the last. Whatever their motive, it was English Protestants who poured into North America in overwhelming numbers between 1607 and 1776.

And they did not hold any regard for Catholics, whom they saw as the mortal enemy. The New England colonies had established churches, which were congregationalist. Those were Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and, eventually, Maine.

They each had laws officially on the books that Catholics could not vote, and the "papist" religion would not be tolerated in their borders. The middle colonies — comprised of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware — did not have established churches, but that did not stop New York and New Jersey from having some of the most anti-Catholic laws on the books in all of the colonies.

Pennsylvania, and to a lesser degree Delaware, did demonstrate some level of religious tolerance, but even there, it wasn't pretty for day-to-day life of the handful of Catholics who took up residence there.

The southern colonies of Maryland, Virginia, Carolina and Georgia all had the established Church of England as the State religion. Only in Maryland was there breathing space for Catholics.

Maryland was founded in 1634 as a colony by Lord Baltimore for Catholics in England seeking refuge from persecution. So religious tolerance was granted, but it was a tolerance that permitted huge numbers of Protestants to flow in.

Eventually, they captured the House of Delegates in 1649, and tolerance for Catholics was brought to an end. Catholics were despised, persecuted and had laws erected against them in the colonial days.

In 11 of the 13 original colonies, Catholics were legally maltreated.

For example, in Virginia, if a Catholic sought public office, he could be arrested, charged and fined 1,000 pounds of tobacco. In Maryland, it was illegal for a couple to be married by a Catholic priest. And so the list goes on, up and down the colonies.

In 11 of the 13 original colonies, Catholics were legally maltreated. And on a point of order here, it was not largely owing to dogma and doctrinal differences. It was the idea that the pope was a sovereign ruler as well, and the belief he would try to extend his rule to them as well.

Colonial Catholics were viewed as secret ambassadors of that sinister plot, and the English colonists were having none of it: Nipping Catholics and their popish loyalties in the bud before they could undermine the colonies was job one. 

As we sail up and down the New England coast on this retreat at sea and briefly into Canadian waters, where the Protestant English and French mixed it up considerably, it's good for Catholics to take stock and remember the roots of America as they existed in the pre-Revolution colonies.

One final point to drive that home — the public school system was established in the colonies for one purpose: to teach children how to read the Bible on their own and not look to any "authority" to interpret it, especially a Roman one.

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Catholics Were Here First
Catholics begin it; Protestants end it.
September 25, 2023
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