What Role Did Religion Play in the Middle Colonies?

Many of the original settlers of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware were immigrants from European nations where they had been persecuted for their religious beliefs. Among them were groups of Quakers, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists and Dutch Mennonites, each with their own practices and beliefs. According to the National Humanities Center, this religious pluralism played a role in creating the diverse, religiously tolerant culture of the middle colonies.

USHistory.org describes how the presence of so many different religious groups in one area made the dominance of one faith in the middle colonies nearly impossible. The various groups largely tolerated one another, since each experienced an equal risk of persecution. During the early days of Colonial America, the middle colonies served as a buffer between the more northern colonies, where English Puritanism was the dominant religion, and the southern colonies, where Anglicanism was most common. Because the middle colonies were more tolerant regarding religious dissent, those who feared persecution to the north or the south could move to these colonies and experience greater acceptance.

Even within individual cities in the middle colonies, there was great religious diversity. The National Humanities Center, for example, shows an image of the New York City skyline drawn in 1771. On the map are 18 different houses of worship. The religions represented by this image alone were Dutch Reformed, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, French Huguenot, Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, Moravian and Jewish.