Virginia's official church was the Anglican Church. Many religious restrictions were made into formal regulations in the colony. One example is that on Sundays, all colonists were expected to attend church twice. If they did not have a preacher of their own faith, they could listen to a sermon by a native Anglican priest.
The majority of colonists were English Protestants who believed in strict separation between church and state. They wanted laws against religious persecution - which happened quite often - but didn't want any kind of tax or requirement that would force them to support any particular church.
About 15 percent of the colonists were Catholics or members of other Christian denominations in North America at the time. Most came from Britain, although some came from as far away as Germany and France. They tended to be wealthy land owners or traders who had their own churches built outside town limits.
In 1620, when the first permanent English settlers arrived at what is now known as Jamestown, Virginia, there were already thousands of Native Americans living in villages along the James and Potomac Rivers. Over the next few years, more than 10,000 colonists came to Virginia, most of them men between the ages of 20 and 45. This high rate of death caused by disease resulted in only about 300 people surviving to see the first year in power of their own government.
The first Virginia colonists were not anti-religious; they saw religion as an essential aspect of life and governance. They expected the Anglican church would be the "established" church, funded by government-imposed levies. The colony's first charter, granted in 1606 by King James I, included a clause stating that the governor should appoint "some fit person" to serve as bishop for the colony, who could then choose other clergy. This was intended to ensure that the colony had only one established church, not multiple competing churches.
However, there was no official state religion, so many different groups emerged to compete with each other. These include groups of Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Some of these sects were very small, while others had thousands of members.
Virginia's first law, passed in 1608, made attending church compulsory but did not specify which church you had to go to. This law was part of an effort by the colony's leaders to encourage settlement by providing basic rights and privileges to all citizens. In fact, after the death of its first royal governor, Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, in 1618, control of the colony was handed over to its senior political leader, John Smith. Under his leadership, the government adopted a new system of laws that included protections for religious freedom.
The colony's official religion was the Anglican Church of England. Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists were among the other Christian denominations in the colony. Many of the colonists were not active members of any church but still believed in God and prayed before big events in their lives. The majority of the people had no religious affiliation.
Colonial Virginia was one of the most religiously tolerant states in America. The government officially banned discrimination based on religion, and violence because of a person's beliefs or practices was rare. However, many Virginians at the time didn't feel like they could express their views on religion openly for fear of being labeled an infidel or heretic.
There were several reasons why the government decided to ban discrimination based on religion. First of all, the English law that governed colonial Virginia prohibited religious tests for office holding. Anyone who was considered able to fulfill the duties of a public position could be chosen by the community to serve in it. Thus, it wasn't important whether someone was Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, or some other faith. What mattered was if they could carry out the responsibilities of an office to the satisfaction of the community.
Secondly, the government wanted to make sure that everyone could find support in the colony if they needed it.
Prior to the Revolution, the Anglican Church was Virginia's "established" religion. White Virginians have been obligated by law to attend and support the Church of England since 1624. What role did religion have in Colonial Virginia?
In Colonial Virginia, Christianity was the dominant religion, with a focus on the Anglican sect. This was the churn that settlers had to follow, just as it was in Great Britain. The Church of England wasn't the only option for Christians wanting to practice their faith. Presbyterians and Baptists also flourished in the colonies.
But while these other religions existed side by side with Anglicanism, they weren't as popular among colonists. This isn't very surprising since they were different sects within Christianity and often disagreed on certain issues. For example, Presbyterians believed in predestination - that is, whether or not you will be saved after you come to God through faith in his son Jesus Christ depends on what he decides before you ever arrive here on earth. And Baptists believed in baptismal regeneration - that is, the act of washing away your sins when you are baptized causes you to automatically become a Christian. Only Anglicans did not believe in predestination or baptismal regeneration. They were the majority religion in the colonies.
Colonists who didn't adhere to the practices of Anglicanism sometimes faced persecution. In 1698, for example, an attempt was made by the government to convert the members of the Dutch Reformed Church to Anglicanism by offering incentives such as land grants and financial support if they converted.