Who were The Quakers and why did the early settlers in America believe in freedom of religion?

William Penn, was one of the early settlers in America who was actually pretty good about such things, and believed in freedom of religion.

He was a member of the Society of Friends, they were called Quakers by their enemies, and the name eventually stuck.

The Quakers had been severely persecuted in Europe, and Penn was determined that others shouldn’t go through the same ordeal.

So he promised freedom of religion in his settlement of “Sylvania.” To Penn’s consternation, the king added “Penn’s” to the settlement’s name when he wrote out the charter. This was in honor of William’s father, not William, and of course the king’s coinage is still in use today.

Although Penn was good at granting religious freedom to almost everybody, Roger Williams was even better. As the fiercest defender of religious freedom, Williams almost got himself kicked out of the New World. He and his family came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.

Williams, however, refused an invitation to become the minister of a Boston church because he opposed its ties to the Church of England.

He took on the ruling Puritans, arguing that the royal charter did not justify taking the Indians’ land and that they should not be punishing non-Puritans because of their differences in religion.

In 1636, officials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony attempted to seize the troublemaker and send him back to England, but Williams fled into the wilderness. He decided to start his own colony based on complete religious freedom and fair treatment of the Indians.

Unlike most of the colonists, Williams actually bought land from the Natives at a fair price. He founded Providence, Rhode Island, and opened it up to all religions, including some that even Penn couldn’t tolerate, Roman Catholics, Jews, and atheists.

Because of this radical tolerance, the New England Federation refused to allow the Rhode Island colonies to join for many years.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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