Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Protestant English Adventurers Settled in Jamestown VA 400 years ago; Catholics were there before them!

Four hundred years ago this month, English adventurers settled the colony of Jamestown, the first permanent colony in what is now the state of Virginia. The history of Catholicism in Virginia predates Jamestown.

The first Catholic presence in Virignia was the 1526 expedition of Spanish settlers led by Lucas Vasques de Ayllón and accompanied by Dominican friars including Antonio de Montesinos. The enterprise was quickly abandoned and the settlers returned to their point of origin, Santo Domingo.

More than forty years later, Father Juan Segura, with seven other Jesuit missionaries, set out to evangelize the Algonquin Indians in coastal Virginia. They were all killed by the Algonquin in 1571, not far from the future site of Jamestown.

Segura and his companions left little noticeable mark on the land where they spilled their blood. The British colonists claimed the territory of the four rivers (James, York, Potomac, and Rappahannock) for the King of England, and with the Crown’s sovereignty came the Crown’s religion, Anglicanism. Given its proximity to Maryland and its relative tolerance in the early colonial period, Virginia provided haven for Catholics fleeing the former colony when Protestants took control and enacted anti-Catholic measures. The first known permanent Catholic family—Giles Brent and his sisters Margaret and Mary—moved there in 1650 and 1651, respectively, after a bitter contest with Maryland and English authorities over the property rights of their family estate in Maryland. They settled in the Northern Neck and recruited migrants from England to fill their vast property holdings.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Virginia, too, became hostile to Catholic residents, and the community remained small and private. Priestly activity was prohibited and the Anglican establishment enforced. In the eighteenth century, Catholics in Virginia depended on the ministrations of a few itinerant priests (including John Carroll) traveling from Maryland. [....Snip] For more on the Catholic history of Virginia, and other places, see

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