Religion in Early America

The Jefferson Bible

The role of religion in the formation and development of the United States was at the heart of this one-year exhibition that explored the themes of religious diversity, freedom, and growth from the colonial era through the 1840s. National treasures from the Museum’s own collection were featured, such as George Washington’s christening robe from 1732, Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also known as “The Jefferson Bible,” and Wampum beads. Significant objects on loan included Massachusetts Bay Colony-founder John Winthrop’s communion cup, circa 1630; a Torah scroll on loan from New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, founded in 1654; a chalice used by John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop in the U.S. and founder of Georgetown University; and a first edition of the Book of Mormon. The objects represented the diverse range of traditions that wove through American life in this era, including many Protestant denominations, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam, as well as Native American and African beliefs and practices.