I've noticed that in the colonial period here in what is now New York State, there was quite a bit of movement between faiths.
When this was New Holland, in general the religion available was Dutch Reformed, and therefore Irish of that period can be found in the registers of the old Dutch Reformed churches which existed here (and which seem to be slowly dying out 350 years later as the numbers of their members have declined). When New Holland became New York, almost simultaneously with the imposition of the Penal Laws, Presbyterian ministers were driven from their homes and meeting houses, beaten, and their goods confiscated. In 1699, five Catholic priests were executed (hung, drawn, and finally quartered) soon after they landed on Manhattan. Irish joined the various Protestant denominations available to them, while a special bond grew between the Irish Catholics and the Quakers, who often sheltered the Catholics and even permitted a Catholic chapel to exist in Philadelphia.
If an individual persisted in practicing as a Quaker or as a Catholic, the government punishments became steadily worse with repeated infractions. These included nose slittings, ear loppings, cheek brandings, and finally banishment (usually done in winter, as in the case of Roger Williams up in Massachusetts, to ensure death by starvation, exposure, or Indians) or, leaving nothing to chance, execution. These abuses in the name of England's established religion would help forment the American Revolution and would eventually find their constitutional response in the very first of several pronouncements in the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Here on Long Island, Major Thomas Jones (a Catholic who had fought for James II) became an Anglican, contributed to the construction of both the Anglican Church in Hempstead, Long Island, and also Trinity Church on Wall Street in Manhattan, but married a Quaker girl of the Townsend family. Their descendants became staunch Anglicans who were largely dispossessed as Tories following the American Revolution. (In some quarters, the American Revolution was blamed on Whig Presbyterians). Some of the Jones family still live in Massapequa, Town of Hempstead, Nassau County, Long Island, where Major Jones and his bride settled in the
1690s. They still maintain their relationship with Grace Episcopal Church, and by family tradition are buried in that graveyard. The famous Jones Beach is named after them.
Back in Manhattan, the secret Irish Catholics of Trinity Church (originally called Anglican but subsequently Episcopal because of the backlash against all things English after the American Revolution) had been managing their Easter Duty by going down to the Catholic chapel in Quaker Philadelphia each year. Finally, in 1785, two years after the end of the Revolution, they came out of hiding to found the Catholic parish of Saints Peter and Paul.
Copyright © 2015 by Gerald A. John Kelly
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