The first permanent English speaking colony in the U.S. was founded at swampy and deadly (because of malaria) Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Settlers brought with them the English language, strong English traditions, Anglican religion, a desire to get rich through business, and a history of slaveholding.
In 1620, the Mayflower brought Pilgrims from England to the coasts of present-day Massachusetts. The Pilgrims were religious outsiders who experienced persecution in England and wanted to start a new life in America. Before landing, Pilgrim males got together and decided to establish a limited democracy to govern the colony. This was called the Mayflower Compact. Thus, the belief in self-rule began early in the nation’s history.
The people who settled America in the colonial period were diverse. One area of diversity was in their religious beliefs. For example, Puritans migrated to New England, while Lord Baltimore established a Catholic colony in Maryland. Just to the north, Quakers, under the leadership of William Penn, established a society that emphasized tolerance of others in Pennsylvania.
Religious beliefs helped shape American attitudes. For example, Calvinists, a religious group that dominated New England, said that people who God had “chosen” would be marked by prosperity and right living. To prove they were “chosen,” Calvinists promoted a strong work ethic, sometimes called the Protestant work ethic. Also, for Calvinists, salvation was a matter between each individual and God. Thus, the idea of individual responsibility was encouraged.