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The Surprising Religious Diversity of America’s 13 Colonies

The story of religion in America’s original 13 colonies often focuses on Puritans, Quakers and other Protestants fleeing persecution in Europe, looking to build a community of like-minded believers. Protestants were indeed in the majority, but the reality was far more diverse. Colonial America attracted true believers from a wide array of backgrounds and beliefs, include Judaism, Catholicism and more.

And that’s just the European émigrés. Myriad groups of Indigenous Americans who already lived along the Eastern seaboard had their own beliefs, many of which forged connections between the living, the departed and the natural world, according to Yale emeritus professor Jon Butler in his book New World Faiths: Religion in Colonial America. And African people transported to the colonies as part of the transatlantic slave trade brought their own multiplicity of spiritual practices, which included polytheistic, animist and Islamic beliefs, before merging into new variants of Protestantism.

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