Persecution of Catholics

As Catholics and Protestants struggled in England, so too was this struggle enacted in the colonies. Virginia and Massachusetts passed anti-Catholic legislation (adapted here into modern English). In Maryland, the government of Lord Baltimore, a Catholic, had set in place a policy of religious toleration. Following Oliver Cromwell’s victory over the Catholic monarchy in England, however, the Puritans of Maryland overthrew Baltimore. The Puritan government was not tolerant and disenfranchised the Catholics in 1654.


Virginia’s Anti-Catholic Bill, 1642

Whereas it was enacted at an Assembly in January 1641, that according to a statute made in the third year of the reign of our sovereign Lord King James of blessed memory, that no popish rescuants should at any time hereafter exercise the place or places of secret councilors, register, comiss: surveyors or sheriff, or any other public place, but be utterly disabled for the same, And further it was enacted that none should be admitted into any of the aforesaid offices or places before he or they had taken the oath of allegiance and supremacy…And that it should not be lawful under the penalty aforesaid for any popish priest that shall hereafter arrive to remain above five days after warning given for his departure by the Governor or commander of the place, where he or they shall be, if wind and weather hinder not his departure.

[From William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, vol. 1 (Richmond: Samuel Pleasants, Jr., 1809), 268.]

Massachusetts’ Anti-Catholic Bill, 1647

This Court, taking into consideration the great wars and combustions which are this day in Europe, and that the same are observed to be chiefly raised and fomented by the secret practices of those of the Jesuitical order, for the prevention of like evils amongst ourselves, its ordered, by the authorities of this Court, that no Jesuit or ecclesiastical person ordained by the authority of the pope shall henceforth come within our jurisdiction…

[From Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, vol. 3 (Boston: William White, 1854), 112.]

Maryland’s Anti-Catholic Bill, 1654

It is Enacted and Declared in the Name of his Highness the Lord Protector with the Consent and by the Authority of the present General Assembly That none who profess and Exercise the Popish Religion Commonly known by the Name of the Roman Catholic Religion can be protected in this Province by the Laws of England formerly Established and yet unrepealed. . . but are to be restrained from the Exercise thereof. Therefore all and Every person or persons Concerned in the Law aforesaid are required to take notice.

[From William Hand Browne, ed. Archives of Maryland, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, January 1637/38-September 1664, vol. 1 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1883), 340-41.]

Persecution in Maryland, A Jesuit’s Report, 1656

In Maryland, during the year last past, our people have escaped grievous dangers, and have had to contend with great difficulties and straits, and have suffered many unpleasant things as well from enemies as from our own people. The English who inhabit Virginia had made an attack on the colonists, themselves Englishmen too; and safety being guarantied on certain conditions being treacherously violated, four of the captives, and three of them catholics, were pierced with leaden balls. Rushing into our houses, they demanded for death the impostors, as they called them, intending inevitable slaughter to those who should be caught. But the fathers, by the protection of God, unknown to them, were carried from before their faces: their books, furniture, and whatever was in the house, fell a prey to the robbers. With almost the entire loss of their property, private and domestic, together with great peril of life, they were secretly carried into Virginia; and in the greatest want of necessaries, scarcely, and with difficulty, do they sustain life. They live in a mean hut, low and depressed, not much unlike a cistern, or even a tomb, in which that great defender of the faith, St. Athanasius, lay concealed for many years.

[From E.A. Dalrymple, ed., Narrative of a Voyage to Maryland by Father Andrew White, S. J. An Account of the Colony of the Lord Bron of Baltimore, Extracts from Different Letters of Missionaries from the Year 1635 to the Year 1677 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1874), 91-93.]