Religion in the 18th Century

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Photos of Burton Parish Church, The Episcopal Church,  Colonial Williamsburg Virginia. All rights reserved copyright 2010 Teresa L. Watts. Above photos are from my personal photo library and may not be printed or used without written consent.

Attending church in the 18th Century a mandatory law for officeholders. A very important detail when writing historical American fiction. I say American since this is my area of expertise. Our country founded on the scripture. 

When William Bradford, captain of the Mayflower, embarked on his journey on the high seas it was not without consent from the King and The Congregation.

After twelve years of settlement in Leyden, Holland (now spelled Leiden), the Congregation recognized the dangers and corruption between the Low Countries and Spain. It was decided after much thought that a removal to another location was needed.

In William Bradford’s writing Of Plymouth Plantation 1608-1650, “a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world.”

With that dedication to God and his ways it was still very present in the 18th Century. Sunday services were held in meetinghouses, tents, or a spot for gathering on open land. If you chose to not attend you were a sinner doomed for damnation. Although I have to add the irony in my findings. The fleeing to America came about for “freedom of religion” because England’s rein of religion was too constricting? With the out of control religion of today, I don’t think this is what they were going for. I don’t know, that’s a rant for another day.

Another important note to remember; men and women did not sit together. The men sat on one side of the church and women on the other. I am in debate with my travel buddy on which side each sat. I remember hearing the women sat on the windowed side of the church because it was warmer. The churches were not heated. He heard the men sat on the sunny side. The second debate we are having, Martha Washington did sit in the same pew as her husband. I heard, because she wanted to. He heard because it was warmer. My argument – well men were ignorant toward women and treated as the weaker sex,… but since General George Washington’s pew was on the non-windowed side of church is what leads me to believe I am correct. Well I will have to dig in and find the answer on this one. Stay tuned…

You did not sit in the pew of your choice. You sat according to status, gentry sat in the front the lower class in the back. The status was dictated on the amount of money paid for the lease of your family pew. College students of William and Mary sat on the upper rows and the governor sat in a separate pew with a curtained ‘throne’ for privacy and warmth in the front of church.

In writing the historical genre, even in fiction, you have to get it right. You are taking your reader back through time and want them to enjoy the richness of your story. Make it believable, they will call you on it.


Happy Writings

Teresa L. Watts



About teresalwatts

Fascinated with Women in US History, Lover of Photography, Fashion, Shoes, Chocolate, Drinks Way too much coffee, Mother, Grandmom (to the four legged kind).
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4 Responses to Religion in the 18th Century

  1. Ann Marquez says:

    This is a beautiful site, Theresa! Excellent job. Looks very professional.
    Best of luck, especially during the next few months. 😉

  2. Carla Gade says:

    This is a super post about colonial churches and religion. Thanks for sharing it!
    By the way, my husband (Bradford) descends from William Bradford.

    • teresalwatts says:

      Thank you Carla! Your husband is a descendant of William Bradford – Deborah Sampson was the great-great grand-daughter of him. Her mother Deborah Bradford was his great grand-daughter. Deborah Sampson is also a descendant of Issac Samson. That is where the confusion of the “P” in Sampson comes in. Deborah spelled it with a p.

  3. Carla Gade says:

    That’s so interesting! And they sure did spell their names any old way didn’t they?
    Glad to see you made it over to Colonial Quills.

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