Catholics in a Puritan Atlantic: The Liminality of Empire’s Edge

  • R. Scott Spurlock
Part of the Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1500–1800 book series (CTAW)


Catholicism in the early modern British Atlantic has drawn far less scholarly interest that Puritanism, especially outside England and, for obvious reasons, Ireland. In a number of ways, this occlusion is problematic, but is the product of several factors. This includes the rhetoric of seventeenth-century British politics and the recent historiography which has been optimised by Linda Colley’s well-articulated argument that, by the end of the eighteenth century, Britain’s constituent populations had developed a united identity based on a shared Protestant ideology.1 While not wholly new, Colley’s approach seemingly surprised historians in the early 1990s by arguing that religion did indeed have a prominent role in the formation of Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Subsequently Carla Pestana applied this paradigm to the expansion of British influence into the Atlantic world in the seventeenth century, arguing that by ‘only weakly establishing the Church of England, [the English] oversaw an increasingly diverse religious landscape. Yet [they] … established a broadly shared culture that united believers from different Protestant churches (and different ethnic and racial backgrounds) into a common Anglophone spiritual orientation’.2 So even while the policy of a state church that extended into its colonies failed, the English government managed to corral illicit Protestant communities into advancing the state’s cause.


Seventeenth Century English Government Early Modern Period Catholic Priest Indenture Servant 
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© R. Scott Spurlock 2015

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