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Early Americans Valued a Bible-Inspired Work Ethic

September 7, 2017

America is a country that was built upon hard work.  The first settlers in what would become the original thirteen colonies of the United States were instrumental in creating a culture of work that would characterize our future nation.  Much of their inspiration for work came from the Bible.

Engraving of Captain John Smith, 1616

In the first of the thirteen colonies of the United States, Virginia in the early 1600s, colony leader Captain John Smith had encouraged a strong, Bible-inspired work ethic among settlers because hardship, idleness, and greed had plagued many of those first colonists.  Many settlers did not want to work or lacked proper skills and experience to survive in the harsh environment.  Many spent their time searching for gold rather than farming.  Such challenges threatened the colony’s success and existence.  As a result, Smith implemented a Christian work ethic based on 2 Thessalonians 3:10 in which the Apostle Paul says to believers, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”  Smith likewise announced to the settlers, “You must obey this now for a law, that he who will not work shall not eat (except if by sickness he is disabled), for the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain one hundred and fifty idle loiterers.”  Smith’s Christian view of work was shared by the Puritans who arrived in America a few years later.

Jamestown Garden by Sidney E. King, 1957

In their colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Puritans similarly valued and practiced hard work, industry, and diligence.  Work was a central part of Puritan life and society and aligned with the Puritans’ Christian beliefs.  The Puritans believed in living life as a service and glory to God.  In a sermon citing 1 Timothy 1 and 1 Corinthian 7, Puritan pastor John Cotton addressed God’s calling for man to work:  “Faith draws the heart of a Christian to live in some warrantable calling.  …  Paul makes it a matter of thankfulness to God to have given him ability and put him in a place where he might serve God (1 Timothy 1:12).  As God has called every man, so let each man walk (1 Corinthians 7:19-20).  This is the clean work of faith, that a man would have some employment to fill his head and hand with.”  Work was a duty and responsibility, the Puritans saw, that allowed for mankind’s provision and prosperity.  It could benefit the individual, family, society, and God as well as keep man away from the temptations of idleness and sloth.  It could also fulfill God’s assignments and purposes.  The Puritans did, in fact, prosper economically in America.  Some thought this prosperity was due to continued worship and service of Christ.

Title Page of A Description of New England by Captain John Smith, 1616

The American colonies attracted many from Europe because they gave people who were willing to work the opportunity to create better, fulfilling lives for themselves and their families.  In his 1616 Description of New England, Captain Smith writes of the opportunity in America: …

Though the pursuit of wealth later became more important than the pursuit of godliness for some, the church and the Bible continued to play an important role in American society.  The Puritan work ethic influenced ideas of industry and capitalism and became an important part of American life in the future United States.

From AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

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Source:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 7:  Economic Success in the Puritan Colonies, p. 119, 345.  MS-HS.

Economic Success in the Puritan Colonies… 

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.

Published by: Angela Kamrath

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