In 2020 the United States, England and the Netherlands are commemorating that 400 years ago a group of English religious refugees, after twelve years of voluntary exile in Leiden, left for North America where they founded Plymouth Colony. The influence of this event has assumed mythical proportions over time. Although not the first or most successful settlers, these English-speaking Protestants have gone down in history under the name Pilgrims as founders of America. During the international commemoration of 2020 the Pilgrim story will be retold and examined from all sorts of perspectives.
Refuge in Leiden
On 12 February 1609 the city government of Leiden granted 100 English religious refugees permission to settle in Leiden. In 1620 a group of these radical refugees left for America as Pilgrims and founded Plymouth Colony there. Most of the roughly hundred Pilgrims who found refuge in Leiden had previously lived off small-scale agriculture in England. Upon arrival in Leiden, they could immediately start working in the city’s textile industry – among the largest in Europe at the time.
A colony of their own
Most Pilgrims had little trouble integrating into this dynamic, multicultural society, and as a result their leaders feared that the group would eventually lose its religious and cultural identity. The establishment of a private colony to which they could retreat and where they could sustain their pure faith community became an increasingly enticing solution. Moreover it was economically attractive for many to leave the arduous textile industry, and build up a new life and home by cultivating new lands in the wilderness of North America.
Leiden in Holland was a city of free-thinkers, relative religious tolerance, and a long tradition of offering shelter to the dispossessed. Following their escape from England, the Mayflower Pilgrims carved new lives here, bought land near Pieterskerk and built houses that became known as the Engelse poort (English Alley). Living here for 12 years, Leiden had a profound influence on the lives of the Pilgrims - even after their departure. 'Civil marriage' was one innovation that the Pilgrims took with them to the new world. Led by John Robinson, the group of refugees were granted leave to settle in the city - the request was answered with... “No honest persons will be refused free and unconstrained entry to the city to take up residence”. From 1620 some of the Pilgrim community emigrated from Leiden to North America.
Austerfield, near Doncaster and the market town of Bawtry. Home of William Bradford who was baptised in St. Helena's Church and later became Plymouth Colony's first elected Govenor.
In the Bassetlaw area of north Nottinghamshire, the beliefs of the leading Separatists who voyaged to American in 1620 were shaped. Explore the Pilgrim Roots.
Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Close to Scrooby and Retford. Some of the Separatists are thought to have worshipped in secret at the Old Hall with permission of its owner, merchant William Hickman.
The Scrooby congregation - including Williams Brewster and Bradford - made their first attempt to escape to Holland from Boston in Lincolnshire. They were held and tried in Boston Guildhall.
It was from Immingham Creek on the edge of the river Humber that the Separatists made a dangerous, but successful escape from England to Holland in their search for religious freedom.
Prominent Mayflower passenger, Edward Winslow came from Worcestershire - he was schooled in Worcester and came from Droitwich Spa. Following the voyage, he later returned to England.
The Separatists escaped from England to Holland and settled in Leiden - a city of free-thinkers and religious tolerance. It was their resting place for almost 12 years before departing on the Speedwell in preparation for their final voyage to the New World.
The Mayflower is believed to have been built in Harwich sometime before 1600, and was commanded and part-owned by her Master, Captain Christopher Jones, whose house still stands near the waterfront.
The London borough of Southwark, which includes the former docklands of Rotherhithe, has many links with the voyage of the Pilgrims. It was the home port of the Mayflower, and the area was one with its own strong tradition of religious descent.
The Mayflower arrived in Southampton in July 1620 and several days later was joined by the Speedwell, carrying the Pilgrims from Leiden. On 15 August the two ships weighted anchor and set sail.
When the Speedwell began to take on water, both ships and their crew changed course and arrived in Dartmouth on 23 August. They rested here whilst repairs were made in Bayards cove before heading out into the English Channel.
300 miles clear of England, the Speedwell continued to leak and both ships turned about for Plymouth. Eventually, just the Mayflower set sail with up to 30 crew and 102 passengers on board. The final departure city before embarking on life in the New World.
After a storm tossed 66 days at sea, the Mayflower anchored on the tip of Cape Cod, at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts. The settlers formulated the 'Mayflower Compact'.