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The Mayflower Story

The Mayflower

The Historical Setting

Religeous Separatism were forbidden under the Act of Uniformity 1559.  It was against the law to not attend services held at the state run Churchs.  Penalties for disobedience included imprisonment and larger fines for conducting unofficial services.  Robert Browne and his followers, who were known as 'Brownists', were repeatedly imprisoned in Southwark and the City of London during the 1580s, and Henry Barrowe, John Greenwood, and John Penry were executed for sedition in 1593.


The majority of the Separitists, that came to be known as the Pilgrims were brought together between 1586 and 1605 by shared religeous beliefs, promited by Richard Clyfton, a preacher in Babworth, Nottinghamshire.  This Separatist's congregation beleived that their services should not invlove the ornaments, strict guidleines and organisation of the Church of England.  It was led by Robert Browne, John Greenwood, and Henry Barrowe.

Floowing the death of Queen Mary and the coronation of James I, the Separatists had hoped that religeous laws would be relaxed and that they would be alloed allow independence to worship in freedom.  But this did not happen and the only concession they recieved was a translation of the Bible into English.

Key People

William Brewster was a former diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands.  He was living in the Scrooby manor house while serving as postmaster for the village and bailiff to the Archbishop of York.  He had been impressed by Clyfton's services and had begun participating in services led by John Smyth in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.  After a time, he arranged for a congregation to meet privately at the Scrooby manor house.  Services were held beginning in 1606 with Clyfton as pastor, John Robinson as teacher, and Brewster as the presiding elder.

Scrooby member William Bradford of Austerfield kept a journal of the congregation's events which was eventually published as Of Plymouth Plantation. He wrote concerning this time period: 'But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted and persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were faine to flie and leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood.'

In Holand

The Separitists left England and went to Holland in 1607, firstly to Amsterdam but found the city life and foreign culture too removed from their previous rural life at home.  They then moved to Leiden, a smaller city of some 30,000 people.  The success of the congregation in Leiden was mixed. Leiden was a thriving industrial center, and many members were able to support themselves working at Leiden University or in the textile, printing, and brewing trades.  While others were less able to bring in sufficient income,


Bradford wrote of their years in Leiden:  'For these & other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair & bewtifull citie, and of a sweete situation, but made more famous by ye universitie wherwith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned man. But wanting that traffike by sea which Amerstdam injoyes, it was not so beneficiall for their outward means of living & estats. But being now hear pitchet they fell to such trads & imployments as they best could; valewing peace & their spirituall comforte above any other riches whatsoever. And at length they came to raise a competente & comforteable living, but with hard and continuall labor.'

William Brewster had been teaching English at the university, and Robinson enrolled in 1615 to pursue his doctorate. There he participated in a series of debates, particularly regarding the contentious issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism (siding with the Calvinists against the Remonstrants).  Brewster acquired typesetting equipment about 1616 in a venture financed by Thomas Brewer, and began publishing the debates through a local press.

However, there remained a culture and language difference between the Dutch and the English Separatists and in particular they found the local morals much too liberal, and their children were becoming more and more Dutch as the years passed.  The congregation thought that they would eventually lose their identity and be absobed into the local culture.

The Mayflower Compact

The document read:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc. having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the Colonie unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Codd the 11. of November, in the year of the raigne of our sovereigne lord, King James, of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fiftie-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.

A few days later, Susannah White gave birth to a son aboard the Mayflower, the first English child born in New England. He was named Peregrine, derived from the Latin for ‘pilgrim’.

Having the need for clean water and fertile land, a Pilgrim party went ashore to explore the area for the first time, on 25th November. Having spotted a small group of Native Americans, the Pilgrims tried to follow them but got lost in the woods and stuck amongst some dense thickets. They decided to change course and came across cleared land where corn had been grown. As well as finding corn, that they took back to the Mayflower, they also found graves. The village had been home to the Wampanoag and called Patuxet but had been deserted following the outbreak of a plague.

The colonist would face no resistance in settling there. They departed the bleak shores of Provincetown and arrived, finally, in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, on 26th December 1620

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