John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America  – Part 1 New World

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America
– Part 1 New World

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America - Part 1

John Calvin in Pre-Revolutionary War America

In the tumultuous era leading up to the American Revolution, the religious landscape of the thirteen colonies played a significant role in shaping the course of history. Amidst a diverse array of beliefs and practices, John Calvin’s teachings emerged as a dominant theological framework that profoundly influenced early America’s social, political, and cultural fabric.

This may sound quite astonishing, as John Calvin lived and died almost a century before the American Colonies even existed. But the men and women Calvin taught and influenced during his time impacted many of the people who ended up in the United States, to the point where eventually, Calvinism held a firm grip on the hearts and minds of many colonists.

Calvin’s core teachings, collectively known as Reformed theology, emphasized the sovereignty of God, the fallen nature of humanity, and the concept of predestination. These theological principles resonated deeply with believers, providing a sense of order and purpose in a world that often seemed unpredictable and uncertain.

This four-part series explores the impact of Calvinism on three distinct regions: the Puritans in Massachusetts, the Dutch Reformed in New York, and the Huguenots in North Carolina. Before delving into the specific contexts of these areas, it is crucial to first understand the overarching power and significance of Calvinism in pre-Revolutionary War America.

Geneva: The Birthplace of a Nation

Believe it or not, Calvin’s influence in America began in Geneva, a little town in Switzerland. Geneva, renowned for Calvin’s academy, became a center for educating individuals in the Reformed faith. Many Reformers admired Calvin’s work in this town, including the great Scotsman John Knox, who called Calvin’s academy the “most perfect school of Christ.” Indeed, Calvin’s institution attracted students from various parts of Europe, disseminating his teachings far and wide.

During the 1550s, Geneva became a refuge for religious refugees escaping persecution in England, France, Italy, and Scotland. Calvin welcomed these refugees and provided them with education and training in Geneva before they returned to their homelands. In Geneva, these refugees also experienced an entire society built on the teachings of Scripture. This practice offered solace to the displaced and facilitated the spread of Calvinism across Europe when they returned home with what they had learned. This ignited a movement that would eventually reach the shores of America.

The transplantation of European churches and religious institutions to North America in the 16th century further solidified the influence of Calvinism. Although, Spanish and French Roman Catholics were among the earliest settlers in America, it was the influx of Dutch, English, Scottish, and German colonists, with their diverse Protestant backgrounds, which accelerated the growth of Calvinism in the New World.

The expansion of Calvinist denominations in North America can be attributed to the unique circumstances under which Protestantism emerged in Europe, the support of various civil governments for established Protestant churches, and the involvement of business sponsors who saw the Christian ministry as integral to their colonial designs.

The seeds of American Calvinism were sown, nurtured by the teachings of John Calvin

in Geneva, and brought across the Atlantic by religious refugees and settlers. And really, to understand Colonial America, you have to understand what Calvin did in Geneva. As, the influence of Calvinism would leave an undisputed mark on the religious, social, and political landscape of pre-Revolutionary War America.

More Than Theology: John Calvin’s Influence in America

The impact of Calvinism extended far beyond individual religious practice. It affected the social and political structures of the colonies, shaping their laws, institutions, and communal identities.

The Calvinist notion of a “covenant community” guided the formation of tight-knit communities, where adherence to moral and religious codes was seen as essential for the well-being of society as a whole.


Calvin’s theology of work challenged the prevailing notion that religious service was limited to the clergy. Calvin emphasized the idea that individuals could serve God through their vocations as merchants, manufacturers, or farmers. This perspective, along with his belief in Christian liberty and the freedom of conscience, provided moral and intellectual support for economic endeavors.

Calvin’s justification of property rights further encouraged economic success. Many economic policies we recognize today as supporting “free markets” or “classical liberalism” have their roots in Calvin and his followers.


Calvin’s influence extended to the realm of politics as well. Calvin’s teachings, emphasizing predestination and God’s sovereignty, influenced colonial charters, local governments, and the establishment of laws based on biblical principles.

In fact, many historians have drawn a connection between Calvin’s successors, the Puritans, and the American creed, a collection of legal and political ideals associated with American constitutionalism. These Calvinist ideals also played a pivotal role in the development of American political thought, inspiring a sense of moral duty and the quest for individual rights.

Cultural Values:

Calvin’s emphasis on moral discipline, personal responsibility, and the pursuit of a righteous life resonated with the early Colonists, shaping their values and practices. The influence of Calvinism on the development of American national identity can be seen in the enduring cultural values associated with Protestantism, such as a strong work ethic, individualism, self-reliance, and the belief in predestination. These values, rooted in Calvinist theology, shaped the way early American settlers approached their work, personal responsibility, and the idea of success.

Overall, the influence of Calvin can be seen all the way to today in economic policies supporting free markets, the development of the American Constitution, and the formation of cultural values. However, it is crucial to recognize the diversity of perspectives within the Calvinist tradition, which has contributed to ongoing debates over religion, identity, and national ideals in America.

Additionally, it is important to note that impact of Calvinism extends beyond institutional structures, as many influential individuals were shaped by Calvinism like George Whitfield and John Winthrop. These individuals also played a significant role in shaping American society and politics.

The Focus of Our Series

As mentioned earlier, we hope to explore three major geographical areas where Calvin’s influence took an early foothold.

The Influence of Calvinism on the Puritans in Massachusetts

In the first part of this series, we will explore the influence of Calvinism on the Puritans in Massachusetts. The Puritans, seeking to establish a pure and holy society, arrived on the shores of New England in the early seventeenth century, driven by a deep commitment to Calvinist ideals.

Fleeing religious persecution in England, the Puritans crossed the Atlantic and established the settlements of New England, Plymouth, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. With their localized conceptions of social order, the Puritans implemented strict adherence to religious practices and moral codes, profoundly impacting the formation of Massachusetts as a godly society like Geneva.

The Dutch Reformed Community in New York

The second part of the series will examine the Dutch Reformed community in New York. Thanks to the exploration of Henry Hudson under the patronage of the Dutch West India Company, Dutch colonists began to settle in the territory known as New Netherlands (aka New York).

Here they established outposts and forts to facilitate commercial enterprises. While religion was not the primary reason for establishing settlements, the directors of the trading company were devout, and they expected the inhabitants to conform to Protestant norms.

The Dutch Reformed Church played a central role in shaping the religious, economic, and cultural landscape of New York, leaving an indelible mark on its development. The Dutch Calvinists brought their traditions and institutions to the region, contributing to the growth of the vibrant trading hub.

The Influence of Calvinism on the Huguenot Community in North Carolina

Finally, the third part will explore the influence of Calvinism on the Huguenot community in North Carolina. Amidst the religious violence in France, French Huguenots sought refuge from persecution and settled in this southern region. The Huguenots infused their Calvinist beliefs with the area’s distinct social and cultural traditions.

While small numbers of French Protestants found safety in England’s mainland American colonies, only two independent Huguenot congregations, in New York City and Charleston, existed by the time of the American Revolution. The Huguenots’ contributions significantly shaped the religious and social fabric of colonial North Carolina.


Throughout this series, we will dive into the unique characteristics, challenges, and contributions of each Calvinist community, shedding light on their historical significance within the broader narrative of pre-Revolutionary War America.

By examining the multifaceted influence of Calvinism, including the less well-known German Protestants and the Dutch and French Calvinists, we can better understand how religious beliefs shaped the colonies’ development and laid the groundwork for the revolutionary spirit that would eventually drive the quest for independence.

It would be impossible to understand John Calvin’s life without understanding his incredible and lasting legacy in the United States before, during, and after its founding. So, join us on this journey through the Calvinist landscape of pre-Revolutionary War America as we explore the enduring heritage of a theological tradition that left its mark on the birth of a nation.

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America – Part 2: The Puritans

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America
– Part 2: The Puritans

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America - Part 2: The Puritans

The Influence of Calvinism on the Puritans in Massachusetts

The renowned Protestant reformer John Calvin profoundly influenced the New England Puritans’ religious and cultural development. As descendants of Calvin’s theological tradition, the Puritans sought to create a society inspired by Calvin’s teachings on predestination, divine sovereignty, and the pursuit of a righteous life.

Calvin’s theological framework provided the intellectual foundation and moral guidance that shaped the Puritans’ religious fervor, commitment to education, and vision of establishing a “City upon a Hill” —a place where others could look and be inspired to live similar godly lives. In this second part of our series, we will examine a little bit of the history behind the Puritans and hopefully come away with encouragement for our own lives and moments in history.

Before Coming to America

John Calvin lived in the mid-1500s, but the Puritans didn’t even arrive in Massachusetts till the 1600s. So how did Calvin influence them? Well, it goes back to England in the 1500s. Thanks to the invention of the printing press, Calvin’s teachings spread across Europe like wildfire. And the English were not exempt from the Calvinist storm. They soaked up everything they could about the Reformed faith.

Some of them went as far as to journey to Geneva, where they acquired further knowledge directly from Calvin himself. During their time in Geneva, they had the opportunity to acquire an English translation of the Bible, affectionately called the Geneva Bible. At the time, translations of the Bible in English were rare and often illegal, so this translation revolutionized the future Puritans by giving them direct access to the very words of God. Indeed, this translation would be carried on to boats that would bring them to the New World.

As the decades went on and the Englishmen returned to England, faithful preachers continued to teach the things they had learned about God from John Calvin. However, as the 1600s rolled around, a strong anti-Calvinist sentiment grew in the established church of England. Those who held to Calvin’s teachings were increasingly pushed out of mainstream religious spaces and, in some cases, were brutally persecuted.

This sour turn of events caused many Calvinist men and women to flee England and set sail for the New World. These men and women became the Puritans we know today.

Going to the New World

In the 1630s, most of these Puritans migrated to New England. Once in the New World, the Puritans found comfort in their faith and drew parallels between their journey and the biblical story of the Exodus.

They believed that, like the ancient Israelites, God delivered them from oppression and that they were bound to Him through a special relationship. They considered themselves chosen by God to establish a new and pure Christian nation. John Winthrop, their leader, reminded them of their duties as they sailed to America, urging them to become a shining “city set on a hill” for the rest of the world to witness.

Upon their arrival in New England, the Puritans settled in a town they named Boston, forming the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Life in this new land was harsh, but it gave them the freedom to worship according to their beliefs. Their religious services revolved around the Bible, the singing of the Psalms, and steadfast devotion to God. The authority of Scripture ruled every aspect of their lives.

Calvin in the New World

The Puritans sought to faithfully follow their Calvinist beliefs. Like Calvin, they taught that God had complete sovereignty over all things and that human beings were inherently sinful. They taught that salvation could not be earned but was entirely a gift from God. The concept of unconditional election shaped their worldview, emphasizing the importance of personal conversion and the pursuit of godly living.

Although individual faith was paramount, the entire community’s well-being was equally important to the Puritans. The Puritans believed that through their collective devotion and adherence to God’s will, they could establish a society that honored the Reformed faith and acted as a model for the rest of the world.

The New England Puritans, as faithful descendants of John Calvin, played a pivotal role in shaping America’s religious and cultural landscape. Like Calvin in Europe, the Puritans’ influence on New England society was far-reaching, encompassing various aspects of life, including politics, education, and social mores.

Localized Social Order

The Puritans were an ambitious bunch. They wanted to build a society that would last for generations. Following Calvin’s reforms in Geneva, they built their own society in the New World. They set up towns centered around churches where people came together for worship and important town meetings. But they didn’t just stop there. They created governments that worked with the church and tried to follow rules from the Bible.

These folks were serious about keeping things in order. They understood the inherent sinful nature of people, so they used laws from the Bible to keep their communities from falling into chaos. Through these laws, they believed they could establish a righteous and harmonious society.

Their commitment to biblical principles was so strong that they even set up punishments for severe crimes based on the laws outlined in the Bible. This was in direct contrast with England, where laws were often made arbitrarily on the King’s and parliament’s whims. Because of the Puritans, building legal codes based on the Bible became the norm in the rest of the American colonies.

In addition to their legal and religious pursuits, the Puritans were a diverse group with various professions. Many were prosperous merchants, skilled tradesmen, or farmers who contributed to the growth and prosperity of their communities. Their emphasis on family and their strong work ethic helped shape the foundation of the Puritan society in the colonies, reflecting their determination to live according to their religious beliefs and fulfill their calling from God.

Social Covenants

John Calvin’s influence on the New England Puritans played a pivotal role in their development of social covenants, which in turn profoundly impacted the shaping of the United States Constitution. Calvin’s teachings emphasized the concept of the covenant, a sacred agreement between God and His people.

This notion resonated deeply with the Puritans, who saw themselves as a chosen community with a divine mission to establish a righteous society. Their belief in the covenant formed the basis of their political organization. They saw themselves as a chosen people, called to establish a model Christian community. Drawing inspiration from Calvin’s emphasis on moral discipline and Godly governance, the Puritans forged social covenants among themselves, binding their members to uphold the principles of their religious faith in all aspects of life.

These covenants formed the basis for their political organization and social order, setting precedents for the development of self-governance and the rule of law. The Puritans’ commitment to these social covenants laid the groundwork for the principles of consent, limited government, and individual rights that would find their way into the fabric of the United States Constitution, making their influence incredibly important in forming American democracy.


Like Calvin, education held great significance to the New England Puritans, who saw it as essential for preserving their religious and societal values.

They established Harvard College in 1636, the first institution of higher learning in British North America, to train ministers and educate future leaders. At the time, Harvard looked a lot like the Academy Calvin had established a century earlier in Geneva. The teaching at Harvard focused on preserving knowledge of God’s word and creating generations of Godly Christians.

The emphasis on education provided the foundation for a highly literate society, nurturing a tradition of intellectual inquiry and a commitment to moral education.

The Joy of The Lord

People usually think of the Puritans as a bunch of dreary killjoys dressed in all-black clothes. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Their lives should show us that true joy comes from embracing the Lord and freely serving Him. That’s precisely why they embarked on the journey to the New World—to find a place where they could worship God according to the true Reformed faith without facing persecution.

For the Puritans, freedom to worship and live out their religious convictions was true freedom. Their commitment to God and deep joy in serving Him drove their pursuit of religious liberty in the New World.

The legacy of the Puritans in the United States is profound, and we owe them a great deal. Their emphasis on education led to establishing schools and universities, creating a legacy of intellectual curiosity and academic excellence. Their unwavering commitment to the ideals of freedom, faith, and the pursuit of a righteous society shaped our American identity.

In the end, the Puritans, inspired by Calvin’s ideas, sought to establish a society that reflected God’s will and the principles found in Scripture. Calvin’s legacy lived on through the Puritans, leaving a lasting mark on the foundations of the New World.

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America – Part 3: The Dutch Reformed

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America
– Part 3: The Dutch Reformed

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America - Part 3: The Dutch Reformed

The Influence of Calvinism on the Dutch Reformed in New York

In this third part of our series, we will examine Calvin’s influence on the Dutch Reformed community in New York. Thanks to the exploration of Henry Hudson under the patronage of the Dutch West India Company, Dutch colonists began to settle in the territory known as New Netherlands (aka New York). The bustling city we know today as New York City was actually a Dutch Reformed colony known as New Amsterdam.

Here they established outposts and forts to facilitate commercial enterprises. And while religion may not have been the primary reason for establishing New Amsterdam, the directors of the trading company who settled there were devout Calvinists. And they expected the inhabitants to conform to Protestant norms.

Calvin and the Dutch

Many historians agree that the Dutch Reformed Church played a central role in shaping the religious, economic, and cultural landscape of New York. The Dutch Calvinists brought their traditions and institutions to the region, contributing to the growth of the vibrant trading hub. It’s crazy to think that the metropolis we know today could have gained its success from Calvinists.

But John Calvin’s teachings brought the Dutch massive economic success centuries before New York ever became the world’s financial capital. Indeed, John Calvin’s influence on the Dutch population during the Protestant Reformation was profound, even though he never set foot in the Netherlands.

Calvinism arrived in the region in the 1540s, gaining converts among the nobles and the common folk. This adoption of Calvinism coincided with a period of intense persecution by the Spanish government, led by Phillip II, who saw Protestantism as a threat to the royal government.

When the Calvinist population faced persecution, they didn’t just sit back. They rebelled because they wanted to be free from the Catholic Spaniards who were causing trouble. The rebellion led to the Eighty Years’ War, which started in 1566 by a guy named William the Silent, who was a devout Calvinist. This war helped set the Calvinist Dutch free and made Calvinism even stronger in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Reformed Church emerged as the largest Christian denomination in the Netherlands from the onset of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century until as late as 1930.

The Netherlands and Beyond

Calvin’s teachings didn’t just stay in the church. They had a significant impact on how the Dutch people lived their lives. People from other countries noticed that the Dutch were hardworking, frugal, and straightforward. Calvin taught people to be diligent, moderate, and honest, and the Dutch took those lessons to heart. Calvinism shaped their religious practices and influenced their everyday values and behaviors.

The rise of Calvinism in the Netherlands played a significant role in launching the Dutch Golden Age, a period from 1588 to 1672 characterized by remarkable achievements in trade, science, art, and the military. The strong work ethic and frugality instilled by Calvinism contributed to the economic prosperity of the Dutch during this era.

However, economic prosperity wasn’t the only thing that occurred. Calvin inspired a whole generation of leaders to go out and proclaim the beautiful truths of the Reformed faith. Around 1,000 Calvinist pastors joined Dutch trading companies, seeking not only economic success but also the opportunity to spread the message of Christianity to diverse lands in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. These Dutch ministers believed that preaching the authentic, biblical version of Christianity would convert Muslims, Jews, and people of all faiths.

While Calvin’s doctrine of predestination may seem counterintuitive to missionary efforts, the Dutch Calvinists knew that preaching the word of God was the means by which the elect would respond to God’s promise of salvation. This missionary zeal and belief in spreading their faith to diverse lands motivated the Dutch Calvinists to venture to New York. There they established a strong presence and made enduring contributions to the region’s religious, economic, and cultural development.

Settling in the New World

As we said earlier, the Dutch Calvinists made their way to New York through the exploration of Henry Hudson in 1614, sponsored by the Dutch West India Company.

As soon as the Dutch immigrants came into the city, they got started setting up the Dutch Reformed Church, with its presence being established as early as 1628 in New Amsterdam. Among the various Calvinist immigrant, including the English, Scots, Dutch, and Germans, the Dutch were particularly active in creating churches and related institutions such as schools, banks, trade ports, and more.

In 1664, New Amsterdam came under English control and was renamed New York after the Duke of York. This transition marked a significant turning point in the region’s history. However, the Dutch had already left their mark.

This is because the Dutch settlers played a pivotal role in the early establishment and development of New York. With the founding of New Amsterdam as a trading outpost, they brought their Dutch customs, language, and institutions to the region. The Dutch presence in New York was characterized by a strong sense of community and a commitment to their Calvinist beliefs. This is why the early establishment of the church was so important. Everything flowed from that.

They also established a system of governance that reflected their Dutch heritage, focusing on trade and commerce. The Dutch influence in New York laid the foundation for the diverse and vibrant cultural landscape that still resonates in the city today.

Calvin in New York

John Calvin’s influence on the Dutch settlers in New York was significant and far-reaching. His teachings and principles, as cultivated by the Dutch Reformed Church, played a central role in shaping the religious, social, and cultural fabric of the Dutch community in New York. Calvin’s emphasis on hard work, honesty, and frugality resonated deeply with the business-oriented Dutch settlers, who were instrumental in transforming New York into a thriving trading hub.

The Dutch Reformed Church, following Calvinist teachings, provided a sense of community, moral guidance, and social cohesion among the Dutch settlers, leaving its mark on the development of New York as a prosperous and vibrant city. Calvin’s influence laid the groundwork for the enduring legacy of Dutch Calvinism in New York, which can still be seen in the city’s religious institutions, cultural traditions, and strong work ethic.

Here are some specific examples of the Dutch Reformed Church’s impact on New York:

● The church established the colony’s first schools, which helped spread literacy and education. They even founded the University we know today as Rutgers University.

● The church also founded hospitals and orphanages, providing social services to the community.

● The church’s ministers played a leading role in government, serving as advisors to the governor and helping to shape the colony’s laws.

● The church’s architecture can be seen in many of New York’s oldest buildings, including the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow and the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church in Manhattan.

Working From Joyful Rest

The Dutch Reformed community in New York was extremely diligent and productive. But they knew how to rest.

Like many of the Reformers, they passionately believed that Sunday should be reserved for rest and worshiping God. Known as the “Sabbath day,” Sunday was a day set apart for spiritual rejuvenation and communion with the Creator, a gift from God. Calvin himself taught, “the usage of this day which has been instituted in order that we might withdraw from all earthly anxieties, from all business affairs, to the end that we might surrender everything to God,” (Calvin’s Sermon on Deuteronomy 5).

This observance of the Sabbath actually motivated their diligent work ethic and contributed to their prosperity. The Dutch Reformed saw the Sabbath as a foundation for productivity, believing that working from a place of rest and spiritual renewal would lead to more tremendous success in their endeavors. This unique perspective helped shape their approach to work, as they saw it as a means to honor God and steward their resources responsibly.

By prioritizing the observance of the Sabbath, the Dutch Reformed community found a harmonious balance between work and rest, recognizing that true prosperity stemmed not only from tireless labor but also from taking time to worship the One that gave them every good gift.

As Calvin put it, “And when we have spent Sunday in praising and glorifying the name of God and in meditating on his works, then, throughout the rest of the week, we should show that we have benefited from it,” (Calvin’s Sermon on Deuteronomy 5).

Today, the legacy of Calvin’s teachings can still be seen in the strong work ethic, frugality, and vibrant Dutch Reformed traditions that continue to influence the cultural fabric of New York. Calvin’s impact on the Dutch and their observance of the Sabbath served as a guiding force, shaping their lives, and leaving a lasting imprint on the development and success of the Dutch community in New York.

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America – Part 4: The Huguenots

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America
– Part 4: The Huguenots

John Calvin and Pre-Revolutionary War America - Part 4: The Huguenots

The Influence of Calvinism on the Huguenot Community in North Carolina

In this final part of our journey, we delve into the captivating world of John Calvin’s influence on the Huguenot community in North Carolina.

Long ago, amidst the tumultuous waves of religious violence in France, brave French Huguenots sought sanctuary from persecution and cast their eyes across the vast ocean to the distant lands of America. As they forged new communities in the warm embrace of North Carolina, their Calvinist faith served as a guiding light, shaping their daily lives, values, and interactions with one another.

While only two independent Huguenot congregations existed in New York City and Charleston during the American Revolution, their contributions profoundly impacted colonial America’s religious and social landscape. In North Carolina’s fertile soil, the Huguenots nurtured their crops and the seeds of their faith. Their adherence to Calvinist teachings instilled a strong sense of community and purpose, inspiring them to build close-knit settlements that reflected their deep-rooted beliefs.

Let us embark on this exciting expedition as we uncover a rich tapestry of faith, resilience, and heritage that endures today. We hope to show you how Calvinism left an incredible legacy on the vibrant tapestry of North Carolina’s and, in turn, the United State’s past, present, and future.

Calvin and the Huguenots

A century before the Huguenots landed on the shores of America, they were already fervent followers of Calvin in France and Europe. The name “Huguenot” was adopted in 1560 when the first French Protestant Huguenot church was established in Paris under the teachings of John Calvin.

The name “Huguenots” was actually given to the followers of Calvin by their Roman Catholic adversaries. Many origin stories explain why they might have used this as a slur. One legend is that the name came from a story about a ghost named Hoguet, believed to haunt the city of Tours at night. Due to the time’s religious intolerance, French Reformers were compelled to hold clandestine night-time gatherings. So, the ghostly legend became an important symbol of identity shared among the French Reformers.

The name “Huguenot,” although meant as a slur, became a badge of pride and resilience in the face of adversity for this devoted community. From there, the movement spread like wildfire, and by 1562, there were approximately two million Huguenots in France, worshipping in around 2000 churches.

In France, John Calvin emerged as a dominant figure leading the French Protestant cause. With natural leadership abilities and unwavering commitment, he energized the movement through his profound teachings and reforms in worship. His intellectual prowess and approach found a strong following among the more educated strata of French society, attracting traders, military personnel, and the elite.

Within France, the Huguenots looked up to Calvin as the guiding light of their church, seeking his wisdom and direction, especially during the early years of the Reformation. Under his teachings, upwards of 2,000 congregations of the “new” Reformed religion sprung up across the country by 1562.

Fierce Persecution

Amidst the vibrant spread of Calvinism in France during the 1550s, the followers of this new faith were met with severe persecution. The Huguenots faced relentless efforts by Roman Catholic authorities to suppress their beliefs and practices. Forced to worship in secrecy, the Huguenots found solace in quiet places like forest clearings or mountain caves, away from the prying eyes of their Catholic adversaries. To attend these clandestine gatherings, they needed a special coin that served as evidence of their right to take communion and participate in the forbidden worship.

As Calvinism gained more converts in France, tensions escalated between the Huguenots and the Roman Catholic majority. Some Huguenots attempted to establish colonies outside France in their quest for religious freedom. In 1555-1567, a group of French Huguenots tried to colonize Brazil, known as France Antarctque, but the Portuguese thwarted their efforts. These setbacks did not deter the Huguenots, and they continued to seek ways to live and worship freely.

The escalating religious conflicts culminated in the infamous Massacre at Vassy in 1562, where Huguenots were ruthlessly attacked by the Duke of Guise, marking the beginning of the French Wars of Religion. These turbulent times pushed many Huguenots to seek refuge in other European countries, particularly England, where they found greater acceptance and the freedom to practice their faith openly. Many also found their way to Calvin’s Geneva, where they attended the Academy to be trained as ministers of the Reformed faith.

Huguenot Expansion in the New World

The Huguenots, seeking refuge from religious persecution, embarked on a courageous journey to the New World, looking for a place to practice their faith freely. However, their quest for religious freedom did not lead them exclusively to North Carolina.

Indeed, in the early 1560s, Huguenot Jean Ribault led a group on three expeditions to establish Fort Caroline, Florida. This Huguenot settlement, dating back to 1562, predates the arrival of the Puritans by over 50 years and stands as a testament to the enduring quest for religious freedom in the New World.

Around the mid-1680s, approximately 2,000 Huguenots settled in various regions of the New World, including New York, South Carolina, Florida, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. These resilient settlers established themselves in bustling port cities like Charleston, New York, and Boston, where they could forge new lives and contribute to the growing colonial societies. Additionally, they founded rural communities that exist today, such as New Paltz and New Rochelle in New York, Orange Quarter and French Santee in South Carolina, and Manakintown in Virginia.

Initially, the Huguenots attempted to live together, founding French Reformed churches to preserve their religious traditions. However, they intermingled with English settlers over time through marriage, naturalization, and political involvement in colonial assemblies and offices.

In North and South Carolina, the Huguenots flourished economically and socially. By the 1720s and 1730s, the Huguenots had fully integrated into colonial society while maintaining their French language and ties to their original French church for a brief period.

Among the various colonies that welcomed Huguenot settlers, North Carolina held particular significance as it became a haven for Huguenot refugees, further contributing to the state’s diverse cultural landscape and fostering a legacy of religious freedom that remains an integral part of North Carolina’s history.

Calvin in North Carolina

In 1690, a group of Huguenots settled on the Pamlico River in North Carolina. These Huguenots were once prosperous merchants and landowners in France, but the revocation of the Edict of Nantes stripped them of their religious liberties and forced them to leave.

Settling in North Carolina, they established a humble plantation, tempered by the realization that great fortunes might not be within their grasp. Nevertheless, the Huguenots embraced their new lives, finding contentment in modest wooden houses and enough land to provide for their needs.

Underlying the Huguenots’ resilience and adaptability was the profound influence of John Calvin’s teachings on their religious beliefs and outlook on life. Calvinism had instilled in them a sense of steadfastness and the understanding that prosperity should not be measured solely in material wealth but in finding contentment in life’s basic necessities. As they settled in North Carolina, the Huguenots carried with them Calvin’s emphasis on hard work, frugality, and the pursuit of a godly life, which played a vital role in shaping their community.

Religious Liberty

John Calvin’s teachings also instilled in the Huguenots a profound longing for genuine religious freedom. He emphasized that true freedom lies in willingly obeying God’s law, not out of compulsion, but as a heartfelt response to the grace they had received. As he wrote in the Institutes, “Unless this freedom be comprehended, neither Christ nor gospel truth, nor inner peace of soul, can be rightly known” (Vol 3, Ch. 19, Sc. 1). Calvin’s ideas resonated deeply with the Huguenots, who, having faced persecution and the loss of religious liberties in France, yearned for a place to practice their faith without constraint.

In North Carolina, they found solace in the freedom to worship according to their conscience, unburdened by oppression. Calvin’s belief in the transformative power of grace and adoption further reinforced their sense of liberation, allowing them to embrace their faith with a newfound sense of freedom and assurance in their relationship with God. As they settled in Carolina, the Huguenots carried with them the spirit of religious liberty that Calvin’s teachings had instilled in them, shaping the foundation of their community and the communities around them.

A Lasting Legacy

Being present in 10 of the original 13 colonies, the legacy of the Huguenots on the founding of America is profound. They played pivotal roles in molding essential aspects of American society, including attitudes toward religious freedom, individual rights, education, and representative government. Their descendants include prominent founding fathers like John Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, and George Washington, making the Huguenot spirit forever enshrined in our nation’s history.

While John Calvin didn’t physically found America, his profound influence on the religious and philosophical landscape of early American settlers, including the Huguenots, played a crucial role in shaping the nation’s values and institutions. Calvin’s emphasis on the importance of education and scholarship also contributed to the development of American intellectual and academic traditions. The legacy of John Calvin can be seen as a foundational force in the building of the United States of America.

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