Date of Award

1995

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Charles Royster

Abstract

This work examines the religious thought and the function of religion in colonial Virginia from first settlement to approximately 1725 by looking at the religious aspects of England's missions to the New World, the neglect and subsequent collapse of these missions, and the creation by Virginians of an Anglican religious establishment possessed of a self-identity different from that of the Church of England in the mother country. Virginia began as an extension of England into the world, a part of the English nation which, in its religious aspects, was shaped by the mythic idea that true Englishmen were Protestants. Virginia, however, proved to be an intellectual as well as a geographic space, and the colonists soon discovered that they were defined more by place and ethnicity than by European definitions of religious homogeneity. A Virginia myth, conditioned by the North American continent and its native peoples, emerged. This myth suggested that all Europeans were Christian when defined against the savagery of the land's natives. By the end of the eighteenth century, this myth had collapsed as well, and Virginians were openly accepting religion as a private persuasion rather than as a public possession. Place rather than ideology came to shape Virginians' understanding of their religious identity. While they readily accepted and participated in the Restoration Church of England's revival of its Catholic roots, Virginians had created different ways of organizing religion in the colony, and they reacted against English attempts to weaken their vestries or otherwise threaten Virginians' ways of structuring their Church. A large part of their religious identity emerged from the religious structures and practices that had emerged in response to the environmental exigencies of a new continent. For Virginians, this became part of their identity. Their identity as Virginians rather than as English people living in the colony first emerged out of their religious rather than their political worldview. In religious terms, the colony had begun as an extension of English religion into the world, but through English neglect and their own response to the continent, Virginians created a substantially different institution.

Pages

337

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