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Colonial House Picture of the colony
Meet the Colonists Behind the Scenes Interactive History Media Gallery
Behind the Scenes
Introduction Interview with the Executive Producer Colonial Life, Then and Now


The Native American Story
A Historian Awakens 1628
Religion on the Colony
The Longest Day
Building the Colony
Candid Camera
The Training
By Charles Hambrick-Stowe
Photo of Charles Hambrick-Stowe




y involvement as a consultant for COLONIAL HOUSE came about because of my dual vocation as a historian of American religion and a Christian minister. In addition to a Master of Divinity degree and 22 years as pastor of a church, my doctorate is in American Studies and I have taught American religious history at several academic institutions. I have published several books and a number of journal articles on early New England religious experience, so the prospect of helping to bring that experience to life today was intriguing. I'd had two earlier forays into the realm of "public history" through the medium of TV -- as religion consultant for the movie MARY SILLIMAN'S WAR and the Learning Channel's "Great Books" episode on THE SCARLET LETTER. Working on the Colonial House project seemed like a natural.

As most people are aware, you cannot realistically imagine 17th-century life without religion playing a role. Religion is a powerful force in American society today (as it is, perhaps to a lesser degree and in different ways, in Britain), but in colonial days it was always at or close to the center of people's lives. Not that everyone was equally "religious," and not that some people didn't try to avoid organized church life. And certainly the various Anglo-American colonies differed in the types of Christian spirituality and church life they attempted to establish. One of the appealing aspects of Colonial House was that the colony's religious life was to have integrity: historical integrity and personal integrity for the colonists. The colonists were not going to "play church" or pretend to be 17th-century Christians. The idea was to imagine and create a way for their religious life to be historically accurate and yet personally meaningful for them in the context of their shared experience.

The notion of individual religious freedom was only beginning to germinate in the early 17th century. As Perry Miller wrote in his classic work, ERRAND INTO THE WILDERNESS, "Every respectable state in the Western world assumed that it could allow only one church to exist within its borders, that every citizen should be compelled to attend it and conform to its requirements, and that all inhabitants should pay taxes for its support" (1956, p. 144). Francis J. Bremer similarly notes that "all European governments believed" that "the state had a responsibility to uphold the true religion" (THE PURITAN EXPERIMENT, 1976, pp. 93-94). A century and a half later, William Blackstone's COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND (1765-1769) in its section on Public Wrongs still prescribed fines for those who "absent themselves from the divine worship in the established church through total irreligion and attend the service of no persuasion." So it could be assumed that, no matter what shape the colony might take, the inhabitants would be required to buy into the corporate religious practice of the colony. Just as it would be unreasonable for the individuals participating in the Colonial House project to bring a washing machine, importing modern ideas of religious choice would likewise be cheating at the game.

During an initial telephone conference involving a number of other historians with a variety of specialties -- and in subsequent discussions with Mica McCarthy and others on the television production staff -- it became clear that even though the Colony was going to be located in New England, this was not going to be a Puritan colony. In Massachusetts or Connecticut, religious life would have been more highly structured and pervasive than in, say, Virginia, Maine, or some other colony where the Church of England would have held nominal sway. This colony, although physically settled on land in Maine, was to have a generically English quality about it. In our imaginary colony there would be some freedom to blend broadly Puritan and Anglican sources in a creative way. My job would be to create worship materials and other religious resources for the spiritual life of the colony. Specifically, I was to plan five months of Sundays and to provide materials for other religious settings such as personal and family devotions or special times of community prayer.

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