October 19, 1745

Swift Death Mask
Jonathan Swift's death mask
Photo by Becky Garrison

Lemuel Gulliver, I.P. Bickerstaff, and M.B. Drapier, all names used to disguise the identity of Anglican priest Jonathan Swift as he lurched from woman to woman and parish to parish, were all laid to rest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin when the world’s foremost Christian satirist (our favorite kind) expired at the age of 77.

June 30, 153

Baby Shop - Nazareth
Baby shop in Nazareth
Photo by Becky Garrison

Within three generations of the crucifixion, the town of Nazareth discovered Jesus Tourism.

June 20, 1157

The assembled clerics at the Council of Reims determined that the only sure way to deal with suspected heretics was by facial branding. Ouch.

June 19, 1637

pulpit rock
Photo by Becky Garrison.

Baptist preacher Roger Williams, seeking land where free-thinking Christians could live in peace, purchased Prudence Island (part of modern-day Rhode Island) from Sachem Canonicus, chief of the Narragansett Indians, for 20 fathom of wampum and two coats. Even if the Indians knew they could one day own the bed-and-breakfasts on the island, they wouldn’t have sat through another sermon.

May 11, 1825

tract society
Woodcut by Anderson from
The American Tract Magazine, 1825.

American Tract Society, Garland, Texas.

The American Tract Society was founded in a four-story building at 87 Nassau Street in New York, quickly becoming America’s leading charity and distributing 35 million evangelical books and tracts in its first decade. The theory was that if we could wipe out vices like gambling and alcoholism and sexual license, all of which get in the way of conversion, then the nation would become overwhelmingly Christian and the passions of the underclasses could be kept under control. The society, after 183 years of continuous pamphleteering, is now based in Garland, Texas, and is on the verge of finally eliminating every vice.

June 27, 1844

smith lynch
Martyrdom of Joseph and Hiram Smith in Carthage Jail,
Tinted lithograph by Nagel & Weingaertner,
after C. G. Crehen, 1851 Library of Congress.

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, and his brother Hiram were killed by a lynch mob in Carthage, Illinois. The mob leader tried to behead Joseph, but was thwarted, so he shot him instead. Two years later the Mormons would abandon their settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois, and under the leadership of Brigham Young, migrate to Utah, where beheadings were less common.

June 16, 1830

Book of Mormon

In Palmyra, New York, Joseph Smith published *Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon, Upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi*. Okay, listen carefully. Smith found these golden plates. On the plates were engravings in the language of “reformed Egyptian.” The plates tell the story of all the peoples who lived in North America from 600 B.C. to 421 A.D., especially a group of Israelites led by Lehi, who left Jerusalem and emigrated to America, where Christ showed up and gave them his teachings. This whole story was compiled by a 5th-century prophet named Mormon, who was working from a version written down by Nephi, son of Lehi. That’s the short version. Unfortunately, in Mormonism, there are no short versions.
(Image is First edition, E.B. Grandin, 1830, from the Library of Congress).

May 23, 1832

Two famous Presbyterian ministers who had been holding camp meetings all over the west for many years–Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell–broke away from Presbyterianism to form their own denomination, the Disciples of Christ.

May 21, 1747

Shakers Near Lebanon
Shakers near Lebanon, New York
Stipple and line engraving, drawn from life
Library of Congress

Jane and James Wardly, husband-wife evangelists in Manchester, England, received a spiritual message–“a further degree of light and power”–and broke away from the Quaker Church to form the Wardley Society. This was the first religious group in Manchester to feature female preaching (Jane) and open confession at revivals, which often consisted of vigorous motions of the head and arms, leading their critics to call them “Shaking Quakers.” Mother Ann Lee brought the Wardley Society faith to America in 1774, but by then they were known as simply Shakers, although their ecstatic worship more often consisted of trembling, whirling around, and dancing in concentric circles.

May 20, 1824

Lorenzo Dow
Lorenzo Dow and the Jerking Exercise.
Engraving by Lossing-Barrett, 1856
Library of Congress

Lorenzo Dow, a truly strange Methodist evangelist who traveled from town to town inspiring people to fits of enthusiasm, introduced the Jerking Exercise, in which people would flail their arms about and let the Holy Spirit grab their upper bodies and shake them like bags of flour until they collapsed on the ground. It took several generations to refine the Jerking Exercise, which can be observed today on any stage where Benny Hinn appears.

May 19, 1795

Absalom Jones

Absalom Jones

Oil on canvas by Raphaelle Peale, 1810

Delaware Art Museum

Absalom Jones, a freed slave, was ordained as the first black Episcopal priest in the United States. Jones was a founding member of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, which was part of the mainline Episcopal denomination until the white Episcopalians decided they weren’t too fond of race-mixing, so 20 years later the black churches had to break away and form their own denomination. The verse of Paul about the body of Christ being “neither bond nor free” took a while to sink in.

May 16, 1815


In Philadelphia, Richard Allen and his black Methodist colleagues formed their own denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, after all the black converts in the Second Great Awakening received a less than brotherly welcome from the white Methodists. Allen had left the Methodists in 1787 after their initial enthusiasm for a color-blind church gave way to segregated worship.


May 13, 1801:

The first reports of wild "camp meetings" in the wilderness of Kentucky filtered back to the east coast, marking the beginnings of the Second Great Awakening. Although the meetings were originally organized by Presbyterian ministers, they became so intense and emotional that they were eventually repudiated by the Presbyterians, then the Baptists. Only the Methodists continued to boogie down in the woods for the rest of the 19th century. (Above, "Sacramental Scene in a Western Forest," lithograph by P.S. Duval, ca. 1801, from Joseph Smith, Old Redstone, Philadelphia: 1854. Library of Congress)

May 8, 1865

Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War pamphleteer, was the only American member of the French National Assembly when he published The Age of Reason, which came to be regarded as "The Atheist Bible" and would cause Paine to be attacked by both English and American clergy for the rest of his life, especially for his allegation, endlessly repeated, that the virgin birth was "blasphemously obscene." Paine died penniless and alone, so we showed him.

May 7, 1865

The First Congregational Church of Washington, D.C., didn’t have enough money for its own sanctuary, so Charles Boynton, the pastor, started conducting services in the House of Representatives, a practice that continued for three years, with about 2,000 people attending each Sunday. God apparently allowed this to happen so that, in future centuries, Christopher Hitchens could be appalled.

January 12, 1806

Dorothy Ripley, the English evangelist, became the first woman to preach in Congress, and the first woman to speak officially in Congress for any reason. With both President Thomas Jefferson and Vice President Aaron Burr in attendance, she said that “very few” lawmakers had been born again and broke into a camp-meeting-style sermon, calling on them to dedicate their lives to Christ. None of them did.

January 8, 1826
John England

John England, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, became the first Roman Catholic to preach in the Congress, addressing the House of Representatives in order to rebut President John Quincy Adams, who had stated in 1821 that the Catholics were intolerant of other religions and therefore were not compatible with republican principles. Said England, “We do not believe that God gave to the church any power to interfere with our civil rights or our civil concerns. I would not allow to the Pope, or to any bishop of our church, the smallest interference with the humblest vote at our most insignificant balloting box.” What’s unclear is whether he still would have felt the same way after the year 1870, when the Pope became infallible.

July 4, 1801

The Reverend David Austin, preaching a sermon to both houses of Congress, predicted the Second Coming of Christ as the logical outcome of the American Revolution. This is believed to be the first, but not the last, millennialist sermon preached to Congress. Many Congressmen of the time believed that we were living in the end times and that judgment was nigh, but it would be another eighty years before the idea of the Rapture was first breached, so most people don’t read these sermons today because they don’t have that great second act.

January 1, 1802
Jefferson Letter

Thomas Jefferson invented the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” in a letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut. Thanks to forensics investigators at the FBI, we now know that the phrase was originally “wall of eternal separation between church and state,” but Jefferson deleted the word “eternal” before mailing the letter. Either that or there are some damned atheists in the FBI crime lab.

April 29, 1820
Jefferson Bible

Thomas Jefferson completed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English, which was his way of stripping out all supernatural elements from the Christ story, keeping only the parts that he thought plausible. For many years a presentation copy of what came to be known as the Jefferson Bible was given to every new Congressman at his swearing-in.

April 28, 1811

Lords Prayer

Thomas Jefferson was a student of cryptology, and he liked to use the Lord’s Prayer as a cryptological base code for his secret messages, as we know from this paper traced out in his own hand.

April 25, 1800

Providential Detection

Thomas Jefferson was attacked as an atheist by the Federalist Party, which claimed he was so intoxicated with free-thinking philosophers and infidels like Helvetius and Rousseau that he was unqualified to be president, especially since he’d shown partisanship toward the atheistic French Revolution. (In the political cartoon, that’s the eye of God accusing him.) This campaign of vilification is cited by atheists today, who say that obviously Jefferson was an atheist, but they fail to point out that Jefferson denied all charges and insisted that he was a good Christian.

April 24, 1801

Capitol 1800

President Thomas Jefferson rode a horse from the White House to the Capitol in order to attend church services in the House of Representatives, a practice Jefferson would continue on every subsequent Sunday throughout his two terms. Both the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court chambers continued to be used as churches until well after the Civil War, with preachers of every denomination conducting services, including a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, as early as 1806. Since Jefferson is the author of the original “wall of separation” letter, this is one of those inconvenient facts that drive his supporters crazy, since he started the practice and saw nothing wrong with it, and since his supporters tend to be rabid secularists.

March 23, 1798

President John Adams declared a national day of fasting and thanksgiving, with was a fairly common thing for American leaders to do. In his proclamation, he used words like “sin,” “grace,” “Redeemer of the World,” “repentance,” “heavenly benediction,” and “His Holy Spirit.” Today people argue about whether he was an atheist. Uh, well, no.

April 19, 1817

John Adams

Ex-president John Adams, a member of the Congregational Church in Braintree, Massachusetts, wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson explaining his Unitarian principles and saying, “Without Religion this World would be Something not fit to be mentioned in polite Company, I mean Hell.”

September 19, 1796


George Washington’s Farewell Address, one of the most famous speeches in American history, had a “religion section” that was learned by heart by several generations of schoolchildren. “Religion and morality are the great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens… National morality cannot exist in exclusion of religious principle… Virtue or morality as the product of religion is a necessary spring of popular government.” It goes on like that, indicating that the Father of Our Country believed in a boring but important God.

August 15,1790

The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, turned out in force to greet a group of touring federal officials, including the President, after which George Washington gave his famous assurance of religious freedom for the Jews, promising “the stock of Abraham” that America would give “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Washington and his cabinet then roasted a pig.

June 11, 1783

Washington's Prayer

George Washington wrote a prayer to be circulated to the executives of all the states on the occasion of the end of the Revolutionary War. It came to be known as “Washington’s Prayer” and was frequently reproduced on postcards and other souvenirs, and recently has been cited as evidence that the Father of Our Country was a devout Christian who believed that America was a Christian nation. The prayer itself, calling on God to “dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion,” and concluding with a reference to “Jesus Christ our Lord,” is fairly boring, as was the record of Washington’s service to an Anglican church in Truro Parish, Virginia, where he was a vestryman responsible for repairing the front steps, painting the roof, and selling church-pew memberships to people richer than he was.

May 24, 1543

Heavenly Spheres

The first edition of On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres, the book proving that the Earth revolves around the sun, arrived at the home of its author, Nicolaus Copernicus, a canon of the Catholic church assigned to the cathedral in Frombork, Poland. Later that same day, he died, before hell could break loose.

December 11, 1791

Ben Franklin

Three-fourths of the states finally ratified 10 of the 12 amendments submitted to them by the federal Congress, becoming the Bill of Rights, including the 16 words in the First Amendment—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—that caused everyone for the next two centuries to try to establish religions and prohibit the free exercise thereof.

August 20, 1787

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed the language in Article 6 of the Constitution prohibiting a religious test for public officeholders. So we never got to test him to see if he’s really a Christian.

June 28, 1787

Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin made a speech to the Constitutional Convention, calling on the delegates to open each day’s session with formal prayers. This was Franklin’s famous “God Governs in the Affairs of Men” speech, which everyone decided was an important idea, but not that important. His proposal was shot down because they didn’t have enough money to hire chaplains.

January 7, 1786

The Virginia Assembly passed Thomas Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, the earliest law of its kind in the western world. Jefferson thought it was so important that he had it inscribed on his tombstone. He had written the act in 1777 and it took nine years for James Madison to get it past the opposition of Patrick Henry. People continue to argue about it today, mostly people who haven’t read it.

November 27, 1785
James Madison

James Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance, today considered to be the most eloquent argument for church-state separation ever composed. In his fight against Patrick Henry in the Virginia Assembly, he made two arguments—that state-supported religion was a violation of individual freedom to choose your own faith, and that all state support inevitably harmed religion more than it helped. Increasingly the Madison document came to be accepted and quoted in court decisions down to the present time, to the point that Madison has even been claimed (wrongly) as a friend of the atheist.

November 27, 1785

The most widely circulated religious petition in American history was addressed to the Virginia General Assembly but not signed by its authors, because the Baptists who wrote it were tired of getting beaten up. It was, however, signed by more ordinary people than the more famous documents authored by Patrick Henry and James Madison, the two opponents in the ongoing fight over whether taxes should be raised to support the church. The Baptists of Westmoreland County, Virginia, where the petition originated, said that deism could be “put to open shame” by fighting the tax, by refusing all money from the government, by staying out of government affairs, and by being guided only by those who were “inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost.” How old-fashioned.

April 2, 1778

The Dunking of David Barrow

David Barrow, pastor of Mill Swamp Baptist Church near Portsmouth, Virginia, was conducting an outdoor service when a well-dressed vigilante gang grabbed him and his assistant, Edward Mintz, dragged them down to the banks of the Nansemond River, and violently dunked them under the water (because they were Baptists, get it?) while singing obscene songs. At the time a license was required to preach, but Baptists were opposed to religious licensing and refused to apply, making it difficult to get police protection when these recurring incidents of persecution occurred. The “I’m gonna baptize you, preacherman” joke got kind of old, though.

April 1, 1771

John “Swearin’ Jack” Waller was preaching in a Baptist church in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, when the local Church of England parson, who thought Baptists were heretics, entered the sanctuary with the county sheriff. The sheriff stood by the pulpit and ran a horsewhip across Waller’s Bible, then stuck the whip in the pastor’s mouth during a hymn. Waller started praying with the congregation, but in the midst of the prayer the preacher was jerked off the stage and held by the back of his neck, then his head was repeatedly beat against the ground before he was carried out to the street and given 20 lashes with the horsewhip. This tended to put a damper on the singing of the Doxology.

October 3, 1785

washington letter

George Washington wrote a letter to George Mason saying he supported tax-supported churches, the only time the Father of Our Country ever spoke on the subject, making this document in the Library of Congress a prime target for crazed bug-eyed atheist vandals.

December 24, 1784

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry, who could generate a mean speech, introduced a bill in the Virginia Assembly for a general religious tax, generating the most famous debate in American history over whether to have an established church or not. Henry was supported by the Anglicans, who had the largest numbers, but he was opposed by the Baptists, with the Presbyterians hovering in the middle as swing voters. James Madison, who believed with the Baptists that receiving government money corrupted religion, eventually got the bill killed by arranging for Henry to be elected governor, thereby removing him from the debate before it could be voted on. The Anglicans weren’t that sneaky, so they lost.

March 26, 1780

The Massachusetts legislature passed the Massachusetts Bill of Rights, including Article Three, which goes on and on and on and on about the importance of religion and the worship of God and how the people and the government can’t exist without God and how the expenses of worship should be paid for by the state. When “originalists” today claim that all the founder fathers were secularists, there are always these pesky little documents turning up.

June 25, 1778

Isaac Backus

Isaac Backus, pastor of the Baptist church in Middleborough, Massachusetts, preached a fiery sermon in opposition to Phillips Payson, the Congregationalist who believed in tax-supported churches. Backus believed that state support of religion corrupted the church and called for a strict separation of church and state—but he lost when the Massachusetts legislature established a general religious tax for the support of the church. The Baptists never took a penny of it, which explains why Backus couldn’t afford frequent haircuts.

May 27, 1778

Phillips Payson, the Congregationalist minister in Chelsea, Massachusetts, made an impassioned plea to the Massachusetts Legislature for the state to have a tax-supported church, and the sermon was considered so rousing that it was later published and passed around. More important, he won the debate. Massachusetts had an official state church until 1832, partly because you couldn’t mess with Payson. In the very first battle of the Revolutionary War in 1775, Payson had armed all the males in his church and led them against the British regulars at Lexington. Killing the enemy as a ministry has all but died out in today’s world, as church doctrine becomes watered down by liberals.

May 5, 1948

Israeli independence

The United Nations formally recognized Israel, an event which started the End Times Clock ticking, according to John C. Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. If you ask John how many hours are left on that clock, he mumbles into his sleeve.


March 20, 1562

John Jewel

John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, published The Apologie of the Church of England, which basically said that all Roman Catholics were heretics and the only true church was the one based at Canterbury. This was the first time anyone made the argument that Anglicanism was a true universal religion and not just a political invention of Henry VIII. This was also probably the last time anyone made that argument.

July 27, 1787

John Ettwein

The U.S. Congress awarded 10,000 acres of land on the Muskingum River in modern-day Ohio to the Moravian Brethren, for the purpose of “civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity.” Moravian Bishop John Ettwein had made an appeal on behalf of the Delaware Indians, who had been converted by the Moravians prior to the Revolutionary War but whose settlements had been wiped out by the British during the conflict, partly because they bought into the Moravian aversion to taking up arms. Whether this act of Congress was an example of the state supporting religion, or was simply an act of restoring land to peaceful Indian tribes, is a question that Christian conservatives and secular humanists are currently threatening to kill each other over.

September 12, 1782

Aitken's Bible

The first English-language Bible published in North America was printed by Robert Aitken of Philadelphia, who had been specifically sanctioned by Congress as a engaged in a “pious and laudable” undertaking. Fie on those Bibles from England—we no longer needed them.

September 11, 1777

The dastardly British had cut off the importation of all Bibles to the rebellious states. Therefore the Continental Congress passed an act calling for the Committee of Commerce to find and import 20,000 Bibles “from Scotland, Holland or elsewhere,” so that the oppression might cease. Yes, they had time to import Bibles.

March 16, 1776

Congress passed a proclamation declaring a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer—the first of many such days that would be proclaimed throughout the Revolutionary War and beyond. The resolution urges everyone to “confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.” Which pretty much blows away that whole church-state separation thing.

October 1, 1777

George Duffield

The Continental Congress, meeting at Philadelphia, voted to have more than one chaplain at a time, because of the whole embarrassing thing with the first Congressional chaplain defecting to the British. Therefore, the first two non-traitorous chaplains were appointed: William White, rector at Christ Church in Philadelphia, and George Duffield, pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Of the two, Duffield had the funkier hair.

September 5, 1774

The first “American” (as opposed to British) prayer was offered at the initial meeting of the Continental Congress by the Reverend Jacob Duche, rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia. Duche would continue to deliver prayers for the Congress as its official chaplain for three years, at which time he defected to the British.

December 25, 1784

Ordination ceremony

American Methodists meeting in Baltimore became an independent denomination for the first time, breaking away from the Church of England and forming the new Methodist Episcopal Church, with Francis Asbury as deacon, elder and superintendent. It would be three years later before Methodists ordained their first bishop, and a year after that before they scheduled their first Wednesday-night spaghetti supper.

March 6, 1789

After years of arguing and wrangling and splitting into those that sided with England and those that sided with the rest of the world, the American churches that were formerly called the Church of England agreed to form the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. After 200 years of growing in Christ’s love, they would argue and wrangle and split back apart again, dividing into those that side with England and those that side with the rest of the world.

March 5, 1780

Jonathan Odell, rector of the Anglican church in Burlington, New Jersey, published a scathing verse satire–well, it was considered “scathing” at the time–against his fellow ministers who had joined the American revolution. A diehard Tory to the end, Odell eventually fled the country for England, where The American Times: A Satire in Three Parts, in Which Are Delineated the Leaders of the American Rebellion received rave reviews among old farts.

May 25, 1776

The Free Quakers

If you were an Anglican during the Revolutionary War, you had problems, beginning with the Book of Common Prayer, which was full of formal prayers read every Sunday calling the King of England the head of the church and asking God to help him out. That’s why the rector of Chaptico Church in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, pasted strips of paper over every reference to "thy servant GEORGE, our most gracious King and Governeur," replacing those passages with a plea that God “bless the honorable Congress with Wisdom to discern and Integrity to pursue the true Interest of the United States.” The Maryland Convention took a look at the changes and said, okay, fine with us, and King George was never mentioned again on this side of the pond.

July 9, 1781

The Free Quakers

The Pennyslvania Quakers who decided to take up arms against the British, thereby violating their Quaker vows, decided to organize into the “Free Quakers” at Philadelphia so that maybe they could enforce their claim to “common property” with the Quakers who had stayed home. Demanding your rights in a broadside against fellow Quakers also wasn’t very Quaker-like, so . . . strike two.

June 23, 1780

James Caldwell

When George Washington’s Continental troops ran out of wadding during the battle of Springfield, company chaplain James Caldwell, a Presbyterian minister from Elizabeth, New Jersey, ran into a nearby church and scooped up all the songbooks, which were called Watts Hymnals. He distributed them to the troops, shouting, “Put Watts into ‘em, boys!”

January 21, 1776

Reverend Peter J. Muhlenberg

Preaching from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, the Reverend Peter J. Muhlenberg, a Pennsylvanian Lutheran who was pastoring the Anglican church in Woodstock, Virginia, lingered over the passage beginning “To every thing there is a season,” and especially the eighth verse, “a time of war, and a time of peace.” He then announced to his congregation, “This is a time of war!”—and threw off his clerical robes, revealing the full dress uniform of a Virginia militia officer. The next day Colonel Muhlenberg led 300 men from his county to form the 8th Virginia, which would see action in South Carolina, Georgia, at Valley Forge, and in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. At the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, Major General Muhlenberg would lead the first brigade of Lafayette’s light infantry, commanding the entire right flank of the American army and breaching Cornwallis’ defenses a few days before the final day of victory. Lutherans could always kick ass.

February 26, 1776

political cartoon

If there’s one thing worse than 18th-century political satire, it’s 18th-century political satire from England, especially this lame newspaper cartoon making fun of the American revolutionaries and implying that they’re the same kind of rabble who followed Oliver Cromwell a century earlier. A parson in a flat hat is saying “‘Tis Old Oliver’s Cause, No Monarchy Nor Laws.” That’s about as thigh-slappingly hysterical as the Brits could get in 1776.

February 25, 1769


The Bishops Plot—supposedly Britain’s effort to force Anglican bishops on Puritan New England—resulted in several disturbances, inspiring a political cartoonist in London to imagine mobs enflamed with theories of John Locke herding timid prelates onto ships and forcing them back to England. Oddly, the cartoon mob chose the works of Calvin as the book to be flung at the retreating bishop. No one who has actually read Calvin could imagine getting all of him into one volume.

January 30, 1749

Jonathan Mayhew

At West Church in Boston, pastor Jonathan Mayhew delivered one of the most famous sermons in American history, using the anniversary of the execution of Charles I to call the Church of England a diabolical force and to tell his congregation that it was their “glorious duty” to resist a tyrant, no matter what he’d said before about submission to the higher authorities. The sermon was published and became the standard crib sheet for ministers during the American revolution when they got all those pesky questions about turning the other cheek.

Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers

February 20, 1778

Joseph Galloway, close friend of Benjamin Franklin and speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, fled the continent for England because he believed the American Revolution was wrong and an offense against the established Church of England. In several pamphlets and tracts, he claimed that the whole thing was a plot by Presbyterians and Congregationalists whose “principles of religion and polity” were heresies. Galloway would be the spiritual ancestor of all those Anglican churches today that are ruled by archbishops in Nigeria.

February 19, 1639


Roger Williams founded Colonial Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, the first Baptist congregation in America. So it’s his fault.

February 18, 1614

Baptism of Pocahontas

Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan, was baptized by the Reverend Alexander Whitaker so that John Rolfe could marry her. That rascal.

February 15, 1632

The Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law establishing the Church of England as the only religion of the colony. Not very American of them, was it?

February 14, 1649

Lord Baltimore and Lycurgus

The Maryland Assembly passed a freedom of religion law that they were very proud of—here Lord Baltimore hands it to the ancient Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus—but it was actually much wimpier than the ones in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. It was mostly passed in order to protect Catholics, hence it applied only to “Trinitarian Christians.”

February 13, 1634

Father White

Andrew White conducted a Catholic mass on the Maryland coast after the arrival of the Ark and the Dove, ships carrying the first 200 English Catholic settlers, who were fleeing the Stuart kings. Father White would become known as “The Apostle of Maryland” even though this only known depiction of him, shown here, indicates he may have been in Florida.

February 12, 1683


The first German dissenters arrived in Philadelphia from Krefeld, Germany, in a group made up primarily of Mennonites and Quakers. They would soon be followed by Dunkers, Moravian Brethren, Footwashing Moravian Brethren, German Baptists, and our favorite, the Schwenkfelders. We’re not sure what the Schwenfelders believed, we just like to say it.

February 11, 1682


William Penn issued a charter for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania declaring it to be free of religious prejudice—well, almost, free of prejudice toward anyone who believed in “One Almighty and eternal God.” Close enough for 1682.

William Penn at 22

February 8, 1654

Touro Synagogue

A shipload of 23 Dutch-speaking Jews fleeing Portuguese inquisitors in Brazil—no, this is not the set-up for a joke—arrived in New Amsterdam, creating the first Jewish community in North America. It took them two and a half more centuries to discover the Catskill Mountains.

June 1, 1660

Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common

Mary Dyer was hanged until dead on Boston Common by Puritan authorities, who had already banished her from Massachusetts three times and told her never to come back spouting her Quaker nonsense. When she came back a fourth time, they told her she’d been a bad apple ever since she supported theological dissenter Anne Hutchinson back in the 1630's, so how much patience did she expect them to have with her infidel soul?

February 5, 1636

Roger Williams, a defrocked Puritan minister, was kicked out of Massachusetts, even though, at that time, it was the dead of winter and there was no place to go other than Indian villages and trading posts. Roger somehow survived his journey south through the Connecticut woods and down into what would become Rhode Island, but he wouldn’t come up with his best quote for eight more years: “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.” We should put that on a coffee mug or something.


IMAGE: Long-winded title page of The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for cause of Conscience, discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace by Roger Williams, 1644. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. (Some intern at the Library of Congress needs to account for that suspicious coffee stain.)

February 1, 1663

Native American Bible

John Eliot, the Congregational minister at Roxbury, Massachusetts, published the first Native American Bible, for the 1,100 “Praying Indians” who lived in his area. The Bible was written in phonetic Algonquin for 14 Indian villages comprised of people who couldn’t read in any language. Oh well.

January 31, 1640

Book of Psalms

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Richard Mather and two other ministers published the first book in North America, a translation of the Psalms so they could be sung in church. Only 11 copies of the Bay Psalm Book survive and it’s not hard to figure out why. Major snoozer.

January 30, 1560


English refugees led by William Whittingham, living in Switzerland after being hounded out of their native land, published the Geneva Bible, which would become famous as the Bible of Shakespeare, of John Bunyan, of Cromwell’s Army, and of all the Pilgrims and Puritans who screwed up North America. Whittingham also got a wife out of the deal; he married John Calvin’s sister.

January 29, 1648

Richard Mather

Richard Mather, minister of Dorchester, Massachusetts, introduced the Cambridge Platform, the articles of faith of the Congregationalist churches, better known as the Puritans. Though Congregationalism would eventually die out, Puritanism lives on in the hearts of zealots to this day.

February 4, 1555

engraving - John Rogers

John Rogers, who contributed to the first English translation of the Bible (the Tyndale Bible), was burned alive at Smithfield on the orders of England’s Catholic Queen Mary, who had not yet inspired the cocktail because this was her first martyr, executed as a heretic for “denying the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of communion.”

September 7, 1644


Ralph Corbington and John Duckett, Jesuit missionaries in the area around Durham, England, were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, the place of capital punishment for London. Informants had told the Protestant authorities that Corbington and Duckett were holding masses at a private home in Wolsingham. They fled the area, but were caught at Pickering Hill (now known as Redgate Head) and taken to London for trial. The charge: “Priestcraft.”

August 3, 1643

Brian Cansfield

Brian Cansfield, a Jesuit priest, died in Yorkshire, England, after being jailed and beaten by Protestant authorities. His ordeal began when the wife of a local judge converted to Catholicism, causing her enraged husband to send priest-hunters searching throughout the shire and vowing to draw and quarter whichever priest had converted her. Cansfield was celebrating mass when he was seized, pummeled about the head and shoulders, and imprisoned in a damp dungeon in York Castle. There he was starved and continually tortured—until his torturers declared that he was the wrong priest after all, and so released him. He died anyway.

January 22, 1641

January 22, 1641

About 100 Protestant prisoners were tortured, then driven like a herd of animals to the bridge over the River Bann, near Portadown, Ulster County, Ireland, where they were stripped naked and pushed into the water, then held at sword point until they drowned. Any temporary survivors were shot. Catholics win.

April 2, 1562

Sens massacre

In Sens, a town in the Burgundy region of France, Catholics butchered all the Huguenots in the city, setting off 36 years of atrocities against Protestants, which is why 400,000 of them ended up emigrating, including the ancestors of the Cajuns.

October 31, 1731

Lutherans leaving Salzburg
Leopold von Firmian, Catholic Archbishop of Salzburg, Austria, ordered 20,000 Lutherans expelled from the city, giving them only eight days to leave. Many would freeze to death that winter as they sought sanctuary, but a few would reach Amsterdam, East Prussia, and London. The London contingent shortly thereafter sailed for Georgia, where they became the ancestors of rednecks.

March 10, 1615

John Ogilvie, a 36-year-old Jesuit priest, was hanged and mutilated in Glasgow after being convicted by a court of conducting Catholic masses in a reformed city. Jailed on the testimony of a Presbyterian archbishop, he was beaten and his nails pulled out with pliers in an attempt to get him to name other Catholics who were secretly in the country (he refused). Ogilvie kept appealing for mercy to King James, who finally sent him five questions on doctrine. Ogilvie replied, “As far as civil obedience goes, the king does not have a more obedient subject in his realms, but in matters of the spirit, King James has no jurisdiction.” Finally he was offered property and money if he would return to the Presbyterianism of his youth, but he refused, so his death warrant was ordered. Some people just have to be different.

January 11, 1766

Francis Asbury

Five people gathered in the sail loft of a rigging house in New York City to launch the Methodist Church in America. Thanks to evangelist Francis Asbury, who traveled 270,000 miles on horseback, preaching and ordaining ministers, the Methodists had grown to 4 million members just 80 years later, in 1846. Today the mainline Methodist church is, of course, back to five.

rigging house

March 8, 1739

Gilbert Tennent

Evangelical Gilbert Tennent of New Brunswick, New Jersey, who was frequently ridiculed as “an awkward and ridiculous” wannabe in the rapidly expanding field of revivalism, preached at Nottingham, Pennsylvania, a vicious attack on his fellow pastors who thought the “born again” thing had gone too far, accusing them of being “Pharisee-Shepherds” who “with the craft of foxes, did not forget to breathe the cruelty of wolves in a malicious aspersing of the person of Christ.” Ouch! The other pastors continued to make fun of him.

January 9, 1735

Jonathan Edwards

At the conclusion of a two-week crusade in Northampton, Mass, one person committed suicide and another attempted it as a result of the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, the first preacher to use "you're going to hell" techniques on any significant scale.

January 8, 1739

George Whitefield

George Whitefield, the Church of England evangelist who was constantly in trouble with his bosses, spoke to 30,000 people in a single sermon in Boston in what is considered the “Woodstock” event of The Great Awakening. Whitefield was praised for “his resonant voice, theatrical presentation, emotional stimulation, message simplification and clever exploitation of emerging advertising techniques,” which included the invention of the term “new birth,” later transmogrified into “born again.”

January 7, 1696

In London, John Toland published a tract called Christianity Not
Mysterious: or, a Treatise Shewing, That there is nothing in the Gospel Contrary to Reason, Nor Above it: And that no Christian Doctrine can be properly call’d A Mystery
. This marks the birth of Deism, often invoked as the religion of our Founding Fathers, and still annoying people even to this day.

December 27, 1657

Flushing Remonstrance

In the little town of Flushing, part of New Amsterdam, 30 Dutch citizens signed a letter that became known as the Flushing Remonstrance, publicly criticizing Peter Stuyvesant, director general of the Dutch West India Company, for publicly torturing a Quaker preacher named Robert Hodgson. Stuyvesant had issued an edict threatening fines and prison for anyone caught harboring Quakers, but the citizens of Flushing opened their doors to the refugees. “If any of these said persons come in love unto us,” said the letter, “we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egress and regress unto our town. For we are bound by the law of God and man to do good unto all men and evil to no man.” As a result of the letter, Stuyvesant arrested Flushing Town Clerk Edward Hart and three other signers, then forced all the other signers to recant. After all, Quakers were weirdos.

For more on the Flushing Remonstrance, go here for Martha Teichner's CBS Sunday Morning report on the separation of church and state.

June 19, 1647

The holiday of Christmas was abolished, along with several other Christian holidays, by the Puritan Parliament of England. The resolution read: "Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise not withstanding."

December 17, 1194

Waldensians getting burned at the stake

King Alonso II of Aragon issued the first secular edict against heresy, declaring the Waldensians—wandering lay preachers who followed the church reformer Peter Waldo—to be public enemies. Henceforth anyone who received them, listened to their preaching, or gave them food would be charged with treason and have all his worldly goods and possessions seized by the state. Any Waldensian preacher could be robbed by any citizen without penalty, and any injury inflicted on the heretics short of death or mutilation would be regarded as worthy of royal favor.

December 13, 1126

Burned at the Stake

Pierre de Bruys, a lay preacher who hated the practice of worshipping crosses and other images instead of God, was captured at St. Gilles, in southern France, after 20 years of crusading from his home in Embrun, his pulpit in Vallonise, and his hideout in Gascony, where he once ordered a great pile of crosses to be burned in a bonfire so he could roast meat over the flames. Given the severity of his many offenses, he was quickly tried and burned at the stake. It's not recorded whether anyone barbecued that day.

December 12, 1059


The Synod of Rome, at the urging of Pope Nicholas II, passed a law forbidding anyone to be present at a mass conducted by a priest known to be keeping a mistress. For the next 171 years Rome would receive constant complaints from congregations claiming they had no place to worship because they couldn’t find a celibate priest to conduct mass, so in 1230 the law was abandoned and declared to be a Donatist heresy.


July 11, 1223

Pope Honorius III declared the famous “Portiuncula” indulgence, granting complete remission of all sins committed since baptism to anyone who visits the Church of Santa Maria de Portiuncula, at Assisi, from vespers August 1 to vespers August 2. This was controversial among clerics who thought the Pope was sucking up to St. Francis of Assisi.

December 7, 1066


Pope Alexander II heard the case of a priest from Padua who was caught committing incest with his mother (the priest’s mother, not the Pope’s mother) and decided that the penance imposed by the bishop was a little harsh, so he reduced it. As to the question of whether the priest could remain a priest, he passed the decision on to his bishop. The opinion of the mother was not recorded.

December 6, 1240


Bishops meeting at the Council of Worcester were asked to rule on the practice of local priests who seized the bodies of dead parishioners, then refused to give them up until the bereaved family turned over the dead man’s assets to the parish. In their wisdom the bishops decided that, in cases where the practice would reduce widows and orphans to beggary, it was acceptable for the church to take only one-third of the estate of the family, leaving them with two-thirds for their own use.

April 4, 1189

Two farmers came to the Dean of St. Patroclus Cathedral in Soest, Westphalia, to file complaints against Father Einhardt, their local priest. One farmer said that, in preparing for Easter, he had confessed to Einhardt that he had been “incontinent” during Lent, and Einhardt told him he would be required to pay 18 deniers in cash so that Einhardt would then say 18 masses for his soul. The second farmer said that he told Einhardt that during Lent he had abstained from sex with his wife, but Einhardt told him he was wrong to do that, because he had a Christian duty to beget children. His spiritual fine was the same—18 deniers. Both men had to sell their crops early in order to pay the fines, and would never have realized they were duped if they had not met in the marketplace and compared notes. When they told the dean what had happened, Einhardt was questioned and then allowed to continue his career of what was quaintly referred to as “simony.”

August 6, 1166

Pope Alexander III sent an emissary to England, demanding to know how and why the Bishop of Coventry had assigned priesthoods at several churches to boys under the age of 10. The bishop replying that there was no known church law forbidding such a practice, the Pope admonished the bishop, then directed that in the future “competent vicars” would be appointed to run these churches until the boy reached an appropriate age, which he fixed at 14. Later popes would think this decree unduly strict, and reduce the age to 7.

June 27, 1198

Pope Innocent

Gerard de Rougemont, Archbishop of Besancon, France, is summoned to Rome after priests and abbots report him on charges of perjury, simony and incest. Pope Innocent III sentences him to a penance and absolves him, setting off 16 more years of the archbishop keeping dozens of concubines, including his cousin the Abbess of Remiremont, a nun and the daughter of a priest. The archbishop also instituted a schedule of payments for any church requesting consecration and any clergyman asking for anything. Monks and nuns who could pay the price were allowed to abandon their convents and get married. Finally, in 1214, the citizens, not the clergy, rose up and drove him out of the city. He retired to the Abbey of Bellevaux, where he died peacefully in 1225.

May 4, 570

The Kaaba, the black cube in the center of Mecca that was supposedly built by Abraham, attracted so many religious pilgrims, even before the time of Muhammad, that Christians were annoyed. They had two gripes about it—one, that it was full of idols, and two, that it kept people from visiting their churches. That’s why Abraha, the Abyssinian viceroy of Yemen, assembled an army in the spring of 570, mounted an elephant, and rode into Mecca threatening to destroy the Kaaba. The Meccans fled to the nearby hills, but flocks of strange birds appeared in the sky and started dropping pea-size clay stones on the Abyssinian army. Abraha and the Army of the Elephant were infected with a deadly disease that caused Abraha’s heart to burst and his fingers to fall off one by one, and then all his soldiers were “rendered like straw eaten up.” Whatever the pox was, it was not a pretty sight. The Kaaba still stands.


January 17, 897

Pope Stephen VI decided to dig up the corpse of Pope Formosus, who had been dead for eight months, so that Formosus could be put on trial before a synod of bishops. The decaying cadaver was placed on a chair, given a lawyer, and then found guilty. The sentence was to be stripped of his sacred garments, which were ripped off, taking with them pieces of his putrefied body, and to have three fingers of his right hand cut off—the three fingers he had used to bless the faithful. The day's festivities concluded with Formosus being tossed into the Tiber River, after which appropriate hymns were sung.

December 28, 1100

The most famous gay man in Orleans, France, celebrated with dirty sexual lyrics throughout the city and known as “Flora” in homage to a famous prostitute of the same name, was named Bishop of the city at the request of the Archbishop of Tours, who was in love with him. The election came on the Feast of the Innocents, and was duly sanctioned by King Philip I, who was grateful to the Archbishop for ignoring his recent excommunication.

April 26, 1475

Three Jewish households in Trent, Italy, were accused of murdering a Christian boy named Simon, using his blood to make matzo, and drinking his blood at Passover. They were all imprisoned and then tortured with a device called the strappado, a pulley that could be used to raise a person to the ceiling and then drop him, making him “dance” at the end of a rope, dislocating his limbs and inflicting pain. The few who didn’t confess immediately then had onions and sulfur placed under their noses, and hot eggs held under their arms, as a stenographer recorded the proceedings. Eventually all the members of all three families confessed, named names, and told the torturers what they wanted to hear. They were then convicted and executed, after which the young boy Simon became a saint. For some reason the Catholic church annulled Simon’s sainthood in 1965, just ten years shy of the 500th anniversary of his martyrdom.

May 6, 1844

Three thousand Protestants gathered in the Nanny Goat Market in Philadelphia to listen to anti-Catholic speeches. Since the Nanny Goat Market was located in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, the Catholics eventually answered the day-long invective with musket fire. As Protestants darted among the food stalls lining Cadwalader Street, 18-year-old apprentice leather worker George Schiffler was mortally wounded and two other men were shot. Catholics 3, Protestants 0. No nanny goats were injured.


May 7, 1844

Calling themselves “nativists”—people who think Catholic immigrants should be sent back to Europe where they belong—several thousand armed Protestants marched to the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, seeking revenge for the murder of their co-religionist the previous day. Unfortunately, they were easy targets for Catholics bunkered in the houses on Cadwalader Street, so the Irish Papists quickly laid down a steady stream of musket fire, killing a shoemaker, a ship carpenter, a marble mason and a rope maker, as well as wounding 11 others. The nativists then set fire to the houses where the firing originated and, as the Irish families ran out, shot at them–missing. As militia companies arrived to restore order, the score was Catholics 17, Protestants 0.