The Pilgrims’ Faith

[text only, without pictures]

by Peter Toon

Gospel Communication, 1970



Preface by the Rev. A. H. Duff Stevenson,

                                    Minister of Old George Street Baptist Church, Plymouth.

1.   Introduction.

2.   The Pilgrim Church.

3.   Refuge in Holland.

4.   Sojourn in Leyden.

5.   Pilgrim Pastor.

6.   Negotiations.

7.   Farewell to Holland.

8.   From Plymouth Sound.

9.   A Country Found.


      1.   A Letter by John Robinson.

      2.   The Mayflower Compact.




      Dr. John Brown in his history of the Pilgrim Fathers, published in 1895, notes that the “transition from medieval to modern life was brought about by the combined action of religious enthusiasm with the spirit of personal independence”.  When the absolute authority of the medieval Church was challenged by the spirit of free enquiry, the results proved more far-reaching than even its advocates at first realised.  The promptings of the Spirit of God moved the minds and consciences of men quite independently of the ecclesiastical system that had clogged the progress of thought for centuries.

      The period covered by this transition – the reigns of the later Tudors and the early Stuarts – was not a happy one for those in England who were bold enough to follow the light of their conscience, illumined by the Spirit of Truth.  In the principal towns of England and in lonely Manor houses little companies of earnest-minded people began to gather for the reading of God’s Word.  They had no thought of overthrowing established religion, or of showing disloyalty to the Sovereign, but they rejoiced to discover in spontaneous worship the illuminating and strengthening grace of the Spirit of God.  For their “audacity” and resoluteness in persisting in these gatherings they were persecuted, being repeatedly arrested, fined and imprisoned, and in some cases hanged.

      One such “Separatist” Church was that of the Pilgrims at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire whose story is graphically told in these pages.  The epic voyage and subsequent heroic sufferings of these people alone merit an honourable place in the annals of human adventure; but when these are seen in the context of an uncompromising obedience to truth as they understood it, and an unremitting struggle for liberty in accordance with the Word of God, their place is in the more illustrious roll of the Heroes of the Faith.

      The New Testament Writer to the Hebrews makes mention of those who lived by the faith-principle in the ancient world, who “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”, and he says that “those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a country”.  Those pilgrims of the pre-Christian era were not prepared to accept the situation as they found it, but were willing to be Divinely-led to a fuller life, even though it was to mean separation from much that they held dear: “Of whom”, says the Writer, “the world was not worthy”.

      The Pilgrim Fathers of 1620 were in this noble succession, and, in the providence of God, they were enabled to lay the foundation of a community of free, godly and self-governing men, which was to bear the stamp and character of those who were its founders.  Says Dr. Brown, “While merely aiming at freedom of worship for themselves and their children, (they) were really bringing to new and pregnant issue the long and resolute struggle of centuries”.

      The re-telling of their story is timely if freedom-loving people are again to assert their right to self-determination in both religious and social affairs in the light of God’s Word.  A regrettable trend of modern times is the decrying of independent action based on freedom of conscience, and the branding as bigots of those who dare to differ from established ways.

      In the Christian democracy which they founded in New England the Pilgrim Fathers demonstrated to all the world that it is the truth alone that makes men free and not the negative approach of mere protest, which often by its very physical violence reveals its moral weakness.

      Whether resistance to the truth comes from those who have a form of religion but deny the power of it, or from those who have substituted materialist and humanist philosophies for the pure Word of God, that resistance can lead only to enslavement and to the loss of all that is best in the heritage of the English-speaking people on both sides of the Atlantic.

      The relevance of this page of history for those who, three hundred and fifty years later, are remembering the voyage of these intrepid pioneers, is that the fear of God and the love of liberty should be cherished above all else in the modern world.  The dangers that threaten the light and truth of the Gospel in the 20th century are more subtle than those of the 17th century, but they must be resisted with the same resoluteness as characterised the Pilgrim Fathers.  Men can lose by pre-occupation with material concerns, or by arbitrary and unscientific juggling with facts, the faith of New Testament Christianity.  The pilgrims of all the ages have recognised that the only hope for a lost, bewildered and dishevelled world lies in the exhilarating, shattering, redeeming truth that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and that those whom He sets free are free indeed.

A. H. Duff Stevenson

January 1970

The Rev. A. H. Duff Stevenson is the present Minister of Old George Street Baptist Church – founded about 1620, the date of the departure from Plymouth of the Pilgrim Fathers.  Old George Street Baptist Church has also suffered for its faithful witness to Protestant truth down through the years.


Chapter One –  Introduction

      When in September 1620, the doughty barque Mayflower left Plymouth, England, for a far country – that seemed a suitable end to strained relations between a small group of believers and the Establishment.

      The unexplored, uncultivated continent of America was a risky refuge for the exiles, but they looked forward to a wilderness ... if only because no one would be there dictating terms of worship.  They expected to establish a God-fearing, small-trading, self-supporting community.  They had no idea they would come to be regarded as the founding fathers of the earth’s most powerful democracy.  They could not guess that an annual national remembrance would result from their humble first Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November.

      They did not foresee their impact upon Western civilisation – indeed their influence on the American way of life was unrecognised.

      They have been known as Pilgrims only from 1840.  Before that, the people of New England called them ‘the forefathers’.

      They were men with a vision – of simplicity and purity before God; no compromise with un-Christianlike methods and attitudes; no acceptance of ritual and church regulation beyond or short of New Testament outline.

      The Pilgrims and friends in Europe soon issued two books on their adventures: Mourts Relation (1622) and Good New from New England (1624).  However, these now merely augment the story told by Governor William Bradford, himself a Pilgrim.  He began to write in 1630 and by 1650 his narrative had reached 1647.  He called it Of Plimoth Plantation.

      Before the American Revolution, this manuscript was kept in the archives in the tower of Old South Church, Boston.  But the church was used as a stable by British troops in the 1775–1783 war and the records were transferred.  In the process, the manuscript was lost.  It was discovered sixty years later in the library of Fulham Palace, a residence of the Bishop of London.  How it came to be there is still a mystery but a soldier probably brought it home as a trophy of war or a souvenir.

      Bradford’s account was finally published in Boston in 1856.  It has been reprinted several times and remains the basic source of information about the Pilgrim Fathers.

      It is our main authority for this book, showing the relevance and legacy of the Pilgrim Fathers, 350 years later.

      The title The Pilgrims’ Faith has been chosen because; first and foremost it tells of individuals for whom Christianity was the essence of life.  Social and economic factors were involved in their decision to sail across the Atlantic but all were considered personally Providential in the last analysis.

      These men, women and children. believed they were ‘strangers and pilgrims on the earth’ (Hebrews 11:13) – their true home was in heaven, and that was their goal; their aim – to obey Christ fully, in private morality, church worship and social organisation.  If this meant leaving home and kindred first in England and then in Holland then like the patriarchs of old this they would gladly do.

      They recalled that ‘by faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out not knowing whither he went’ (Hebrews 11:8).

      Their story begins with a small independent church in central England and ends with similar churches in New England.  It tells of brave people and perilous journeys.  And a God to be trusted.


Chapter Two – The Pilgrim Church

      When Martin Luther rose against the might of the Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church, he spread the Word of God plainly, dynamically and spiritually.

      The ex-monk called for reform in the doctrine and structure of the Church – a return to the faith of the apostles, Peter, Paul and John.  Yet both he and John Calvin, the Genevan reformer, thought in terms of National Churches allied to the State and its rulers.  They adamantly rejected the suggestion of any dissenting, independent, schismatic churches existing alongside those in the National System.

      They sought one united all-inclusive Protestant Church for each country.

      Despite that, they were the spiritual sponsors for later non-conformists defying state control.  These believers would want the Church to simply confess Jesus Christ as spiritual Lord – their own contact with Him being more trustworthy than any decree from hierarchy or government.

      Henry VIII had his own version of this when he severed the Church of England from the overlordship of the Pope and declared himself its head.

      Thus the possibility of reformation in England came about.  Those influenced by the writings of Luther prayed and worked for a reformed Episcopal Church of England – catholic in nature, Biblical in theology.  The seven medieval sacraments would be reduced to two – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The doctrine of the Church would not go beyond the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.  The central theme would be justification before God through His grace revealed in Christ.  Forgiveness of sin, salvation and eternal life were the gifts of God bestowed upon those who firmly believed Jesus was the Son of God and Saviour of men.

      Queen Elizabeth met their main requirements.  Her Settlement of Religion in 1559 affirmed the Church of England was a Protestant Church, with the Queen as its head.  However, the Church kept much of its medieval character, retaining Archbishops, Bishops, Deans, dioceses and cathedrals, besides various clerical vestments and church ornaments.  Still, the Prayer-Book was, in essence, firmly based on Biblical Theology ... though ministers were called priests.

      Within this new Protestant Church of England, some wanted reformation to be implemented in its organisation and the role of the clergy.  The New Testament clearly showed the early Church knew nothing of Archbishops, Archdeacons or Diocesan Bishops.  Each individual church had its own pastor (bishop), in congenial rather than bureaucratic fellowship with neighbouring churches.  No single minister or church was supreme.  They also noted this pattern in Geneva and other Calvinist areas.  They now pressed for a National Church on Genevan lines, wherein all ministers were equals in the service of God.  Queen Elizabeth would have none of this and their efforts failed.

      They also urged the removal of various ‘ceremonies’ required by law – such as kneeling at the communion service and wearing clerical vestments, relics of the medieval Roman Catholic Church.

      These men became known as Puritans.  They wanted to purify every aspect of Church life.  Yet like those satisfied with the Elizabethan Settlement, they thought in terms of a unified State Church.  The possibility of a Puritan Church existing alongside the Church of England was just not considered.  They wanted a National Church on Presbyterian lines rather than on Episcopal lines, a Church governed by synods of ministers and not by a hierarchy of Archbishops and Bishops.

      The concept of ‘religious liberty’ was far from their minds.

      When James I from ‘presbyterian’ Scotland came to the throne of England in 1603, Puritans saw and seized their chance.  They quickly presented their ‘millenary petition’ to the new king.  It bore the signatures of about a thousand clergy.  It requested the ‘redress of various abuses in the Church’ and desired some moderate reforms.  The sign of the cross in baptism, the use of the ring in marriage and the bowing at the name of Jesus should not be made obligatory; the wearing the cap and surplice should not be required; the Lord’s Day should not be profaned and only godly and learned men be admitted into the ministry.

      James’ reply was a conference at Hampton Court, attended by four puritan divines, the Archbishop of Canterbury and seven Bishops.  This did not favour the Puritans, James fearing their aim was the removal of both bishops and king – and in his estimation, bishops and kings stood together.  He closed the conference in a fit of temper, declaring he would make them conform, and if they didn’t he would drive them out of the land.  This pleased Archbishop Bancroft who fell upon his knees saying, ‘I protest, my heart melteth for joy that Almighty God, of His singular mercy, has given us such a king, as since Christ’s time has not been’.  He then proceeded to expel over three hundred nonconforming puritan ministers from their livings.  He was acting upon the statement of James that ‘what intractable men do not perform upon admonition, they must be compelled unto by authority’.

      Among the ejected were those who were beginning to feel the ‘body of believers’ should be free from centralised Church control, and subject only to the spiritual authority of Jesus Christ.  In this way alone could full reformation and renewal be achieved since the ruler had shown himself opposed to further change.  Thus a few separatist congregations came into evidence, meeting secretly in London and East Anglia.  The New Testament would govern their consciences – for what more did they need?

      Their fellowships comprised those who believed themselves regenerate, ‘born again of the Holy Spirit’.  From each congregation there would be appointed a pastor, a teacher, elders and deacons.  Simple services of worship included Bible reading, a sermon, and extempore public prayers with no recourse to the Prayer Book.  As justification, they appealed to the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul where the early churches are seen to have no connection with the State.  The churches of Corinth, Antioch and Ephesus were independent, looking to Christ as ruler.  His authority was to be followed in faith, morals and church polity.

      Under English law, these separatist congregations were, of course, illegal.  Life was made extremely difficult for them by both State and Church.  As a result, some left England for the Low Countries, where the cities offered refuge for victims of religious persecution.  They were joined by other Puritans who were not separatists, but found it impossible to follow their conscience in the Church as it was.

      One assembly which left England in search of freedom was that of the Pilgrims.  This church was formed in the village of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, 140 miles north of London, in 1606.  The congregation was a section of a secret church at Gainsborough.  The pastor of the mother church was John Smyth who eventually led his congregation into exile in Holland.

      The Scrooby division was made because some members had to travel long distances for the Gainsborough meeting.  The pastor called was 50-year-old Richard Clyfton, Rector of Babworth, and well-known in the area for both his Puritanism and his ‘great white beard’.  Many people happily walked up to twenty miles each Sunday to hear his expositions of the Bible.  Clyfton had a negative attitude to many ceremonies in the Church of England, but his preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ was positive and clear.  Ordinary people found he made the message of the New Testament truly good news.  Such were William Brewster and his wife.

      After leaving the Babworth church Brewster had become senior elder of the separatist church and the service was held at his home.  It was a great manor-house made of timber and surrounded by a moat.  Ironically, it belonged to the Archbishop of York.

      William Brewster had come to live there in 1575 when he was about nine.  The Archbishop had appointed his father bailiff-receiver of Scrooby manor – rent-collector on the Archbishop’s property.  He received a small salary for this and use of the house.  He was also appointed the postmaster for the Crown, which meant keeping horses ready day and night for royal couriers.

      The young William received a private primary education from a local tutor.  This included reading, writing, English and Latin Grammar.  In due course his father decided to send him to the University of Cambridge.  On December 5th 1580, his name was entered in the admission books of Peterhouse.  He registered as a ‘pensioner’ – a student who could afford to pay rent (pensio in Latin) for his lodgings.

      He was expected to attend matins and evensong regularly and to listen to the sermons in his College and the University Church.  So, while studying such subjects as logic, rhetoric, Latin and Greek, he was able to improve his knowledge of Protestant theology.  He now probably heard of separatism for the first time.

      Just before Brewster’s arrival at Peterhouse, a great stir had been caused in the University and town by Robert Browne of Corpus Christi College.  In public sermons, he had urged further reformation in the Church, claiming that the Word of God required a purer form of Christianity than outlined in the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion.

      Browne was so extreme, he was asked to leave Cambridge.  He went to Norwich.  Here, much to the consternation of the Bishop, he held private religious meetings, unconnected with any parish church.  He was sent to gaol for this, but he soon obtained release and fled across the North Sea to Middleburg with some of his followers.  Here he wrote a book of great moment for Puritans tending toward separatism.  It was entitled A Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for Anie (1582) and set forth the doctrine of the independent, local church with its own officers – pastor, teacher, elders and deacons.  The congregation of regenerate saints would be bound together in holy fellowship by a mutual covenant, and subject only unto Christ.  Of such a church no Queen could be the head.  That unique honour belonged to Jesus Christ alone.  So the name of Browne came to be associated with separatism and the term ‘Brownists’ was used as an alternative to ‘separatists’.

      How much or how little of Brownism young Brewster absorbed at Cambridge is unknown.  Certainly his later life suggests he was influenced in some way.

      Leaving Cambridge without taking his degree, Brewster entered the service of Sir William Davison, a Minister of State.  He remained in London until 1589 when his master fell into disgrace at Court.  Returning to Scrooby, he took over many of his father’s responsibilities.  When William Brewster senior died in 1590, the son became bailiff-receiver and postmaster.  A year later, he married a girl called Mary and they lived in the large manor-house.  Both were highly respected in the community and were known for Puritan principles and charity to the poor and needy.

      Another with the Christian commitment was a boy from the hamlet of Austerfield, some two miles away.  He too had experienced the new birth of which Jesus had spoken to Nicodemus (John 3) and which the rector had so loyally declared.  This boy was William Bradford, an orphan whom the Brewsters subsequently took into their home.  Years later, he wrote the book Of Plimoth Plantation.

      By now the seventeenth century had dawned and news reached Scrooby of the Millenary Petition, the Hampton Court Conference and the determination of the Archbishop of Canterbury to remove nonconforming Puritan clergy.  It now seemed clear that further legal reform of the Church of England was improbable.

      To various humble believers, it seemed as if God was calling them out, to be separated from the State Church.  Christ’s Word was more than the word of a king or archbishop; as Robert Browne had said, reformation must continue without ‘tarrying for anie’.

      Providentially – for so it seemed to Brewster and his friends – John Smyth arrived in Gainsborough in 1605.  Gladly accepting the Brownist tag, he quickly gathered a group of Christians into an independent church, ‘which, as noted above, divided for convenience into two churches’.

      In the words of William Bradford: they shook off the yoke of antichristian bondage ‘and as the Lord’s free people joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate in the fellowship of the Gospel, to walk in all His ways made known or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavours, whatsoever it would cost them, the Lord assisting them’.

      The Church and State, working through the Ecclesiastical Commission, sought to crush the separatist movement wherever it arose.  This meant trouble for the saints in Gainsborough and Scrooby.  As Bradford put it:

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 and clapt into the prison.  Others had their homes beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were fain to fly and leave their houses and habitations and the means of their livelihood.  Yet these, and many other sharper things which afterwards befell them, were no other than they looked for; and therefore were the better prepared to bear them by the assistance of God’s grace and Spirit.

The records of the Court of Ecclesiastical Commission for the Northern Province of England, of which the Archbishop of York was a senior member, confirm this statement.

      Various people were arrested and charged with being members of the sect of Brownists and of ‘holding and maintaining erroneous opinions’.  One such was Gervase Neville, a North Midland landowner connected with the Gainsborough church.  He was fined and thrown into prison in York Castle.  On his release, he fled to Amsterdam to join John Smyth and his company.

      William Brewster and Richard Jackson were fined £20 in December 1607 for their separatism.

      In the midst of all this, John Robinson, a 30-year-old clergyman from Sturton-le-Steeple, asked to become a member at Scrooby.  This young man was to become the future pastor and spiritual guide of the Pilgrim Fathers.

      Robinson was born about 1576 in Sturton.  After preliminary education in a local grammar school, he went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  He was admitted as a ‘sizar’ on April 9th 1592.  This meant he was the son of poor parents and had to help pay for his lodgings doing menial chores and waiting upon his fellow-students.  Sometimes, he had to read the Bible aloud at meal-times.  He enjoyed his work as a student, graduating Bachelor of Arts in 1596 and Master of Arts in 1603.  He also became a tutor in his College.

      During these years at Cambridge, he came into contact with and was profoundly influenced by such men as Laurence Chadderton, Master of Emmanuel College, and William Perkins, a lecturer at Great St. Andrews.  Both were convinced Puritans and disciples of John Calvin.  Robinson felt their lectures, books and sermons contained the very theology he read in the Letters of St. Paul.  He accepted their interpretation of the Christian life, and remained for the rest of his days a Biblical theologian in the Calvinist tradition.  For them and for him, the essence of the Gospel was salvation through the grace of God, received by faith in Christ.

      He gave up his fellowship at Corpus Christi in 1604.  This may have been due to the pressure on University tutors to conform to the liturgical and ceremonial requirements of the Church of England.  Or it may have been because he wanted to get married, for tutors could not marry and retain their fellowships.

      Whatever the cause, he was married soon afterwards in the parish church of St. Mary at Greasley in Nottinghamshire to a Miss Bridget White, and they moved to Norwich where he became minister of St. Andrew’s Church.

      The church had a reputation for forthright preaching and he was well received.  Yet his strong Puritan convictions soon brought trouble.  The local Bishop suspended him from the exercise of his ministry.

      Denied the liberty of preaching, he gathered a group of friends together for prayer and Bible study.  They were promptly excommunicated by the Bishop.  It was thus force of circumstance which led him to ponder the doctrine of the local church and to consider separatism.

      He left Norwich with his wife and babies to return to his home at Sturton.  Here he made contact with those who met in Gainsborough and Scrooby to worship the Lord according to the New Testament pattern.  After some hesitation, he decided to join them.  Though the Gainsborough church was the nearest, he had to cross the wide river Trent to get there, and so he chose to apply for membership of the church which met in the home of William Brewster.


Chapter Three – Refuge in Holland

      This small group of Christian believers stayed together throughout 1607, despite the efforts of the authorities to break it up.  Hearing that other separatists had gone to Holland, they also discussed the possibility.

      ‘By a join consent’, says Bradford, ‘they resolved to go into the Low Countries where, they heard, was freedom of religion for all men.’  This was no light decision.  Believing it was the will of God, members made immediate preparations to leave.  Brewster gave up his position as postmaster and others arranged to sell their property and collect all available money.

      It was one thing deciding to leave and another being able to get away.  Bradford remembers: ‘though they could not stay, yet they were not allowed to go; but the ports and havens were shut against them so as they were fain to seek secret means of conveyance and to bribe and fee the mariners, and give extraordinary rates for their passages’.

      On one occasion, a company of those seeking exile appointed the town of Boston as rendezvous.  They hoped to leave the Lincolnshire coast in a hired English vessel.  The party arrived but the ship did not.  Day after day, they anxiously waited until told the ship would come by night.  They and their goods were finally taken on board.  They were then betrayed by the captain into the hands of the local justices.  These men went aboard the vessel, arrested the believers, purloined their money, searched their persons, treated the women with rudest indelicacy and paraded them through the streets of the town.

      Brought before the magistrates, the believers managed to find favour and the majority were dismissed.  Seven, however, were detained in prison till the next assizes.  One of them was William Brewster.

      In the Spring of 1608, another group – including some of those betrayed – was all set to leave.  This time a Dutch ship was hired.  The embarkation point was a solitary part of the beach between Grimsby and Hull; now Immingham docks.  The women and children were to go to this lonely spot by sea and the men by land.  The women arrived the day before the Dutch ship, and put into a little creek.  The ship was on schedule and some of the men went on board.  However, just as the ship’s boat came back for the second load there appeared a number of men on horseback and others on foot with pistols, evidently intent on arrest.

      Thoroughly alarmed, the Dutch captain spread his sails to a favourable wind, weighed anchor, and was soon out of sight.  With what aching hearts the men on board looked back at their precious wives and children just cannot be chronicled.  The men had no goods with them, not even a change of clothing and hardly a penny in their pockets.

      Back on the shore, some of the men escaped while others remained to assist the women and children.  The whole party was apprehended and conveyed from place to place till the local constables were so weary with such over-religious people they let them go free.  Meanwhile, a storm drove the exiles at sea towards the coast of Norway and for several days they saw no sun, moon or stars.  ‘But when’, related one on board, ‘man’s hope and help wholly failed, the Lord’s power and mercy appeared for their recovery for the ship rose again and gave the mariners courage to manage her.’  Thus eventually they reached Holland.

      Just how all the others crossed the North Sea is unknown.  Bradford merely says that by various means and at different times nearly all the members of the church were able to get away from England.  The total number of men and women who arrived in Amsterdam was one hundred and twenty-five.

      Far from feeling like pilgrims, they felt like intruders.

      ‘They heard’, says Bradford, ‘a strange and uncouth language, and beheld the different manners and customs of the people, all differing from that of their plain country villages wherein they were bred and born, and had so long lived, as it seemed they had come into a new world.’

      Amsterdam at that time was larger and more cosmopolitan than contemporary London.  One of the great cities of Europe, it was built on land reclaimed from the ocean and boasted many types of industry, besides waterfront commerce with many parts of the world.  Above all, it was a tolerant and hospitable community.  Its canals were filled with placid vessels and its streets were adorned with long rows of trees.

      The Dutch and the newcomers were both industrious and persevering.  Though the Pilgrims were essentially farmers, they could find work – if only in the least-skilled and worst-paid phases of the textile, metal, leather and like trades.  William Bradford apprenticed himself to a French silkmaster.

      There were already a good number of British people in the city.  John Smyth and his Gainsborough congregation of eighty had arrived some months earlier and were now fairly settled.  But of most comfort and help during the first months was the ‘ancient church’, known as such to distinguish it from other and more recent societies.  Under the pastoral care of Francis Johnson, with Henry Ainsworth as its teacher, it had recently completed a large meeting-house on the Bruinistengange (Brownists Alley) and had a Sunday congregation of about three hundred.  Throughout their stay in Amsterdam, the Pilgrims worshipped with the ancient church.

      This proved a mixed blessing.  They found the Word of God taught faithfully and well but there was a contentious spirit in some quarters.  The church was being torn apart by disputes on points of doctrine, by petty recriminations and scandalous stories.  Certain members, for example, complained about the fashion sense of Mrs Johnson, a wealthy woman who seems to have dressed rather smarter than her graver sisters.  She wore ‘cork shoes’ and ‘whalebone in the bodice and sleeves of her gown’.  Deacon Daniel Studley acted with such a lack of Christian spirit he was excommunicated.

      These troubles afforded no small occasion of triumph to opponents.  Amsterdam had some supporters of the Church of England by law established, and these men were quick to point out dangers inherent in congregational democracy.

      To make matters worse, the Pilgrims heard that John Smyth and his church had severed relationships with the ancient church, preferring to worship on their own.

      John Robinson, by this time the Pilgrim Pastor, and ‘some others of best discerning’, thus decided the time had come to be on the move again even though ‘they well knew it would be much to the prejudice of their outward estates, both at present and in likelihood in the future’.

      The year’s stay with the Ancient Brethren seemed in retrospect so distressing to the saints of Scrooby that Bradford and other Pilgrim writers say virtually nothing about it.

      People less determined to serve Christ would have abandoned their principles and returned to England.  But the Pilgrims were set on being loyal servants of a living God.  They would let nothing stand in the way of following Him.


Chapter Four – Sojourn in Leyden

      Seeking permission to settle in Leyden, John Robinson went to the burgomasters and presented a formal petition to the city court on behalf of his congregation.  It was dated February 12th 1609:

TO THE HONOURABLE THE BURGOMASTERS AND COURT OF THE CITY OF LEYDEN: With due submission and respect John Robinson, minister of the divine Word, and some of the members of the Christian Reformed Religion, born in the kingdom of Great Britain, to the number of one hundred persons or thereabouts, men and women, represent that they desire to come to live in this city by the first day of May next, and to have freedom thereof in carrying on their trades, without being a burden in the least to anyone.  They therefore address themselves to your Honors, humbly praying that your Honors will be pleased to grant them free consent to betake themselves as aforesaid.

The decision of the burgomasters was inserted by the registrar in the margin of the minutes of their meetings.  It read:

The Court in disposing of this present Petition declare that they refuse no honest persons free entrance to come and have their residence in this city, provided that such persons behave themselves and submit to the laws and ordinances.

So far so good.

      Then unexpectedly, the English ambassador protested to the Leyden authorities about their ‘agreement with certain Brownists’.  The Dutch were not unduly moved.  Their policy was to admit all worthy people, regardless of religious convictions.

      So the Pilgrim Church prepared to go, but their first pastor, Richard Clyfton, preferred to remain with the ancient brethren.  However, others from the ancient church decided to join the Pilgrims.  They were tired of the continual problems and squabbles.  These included Deacon John Carver, who became the first governor of ‘Plimoth Plantation’, and Deacon Samuel Fuller, a surgeon and physician.

      Late in April, they went by road and canal to their new home.  In that same month, a truce between Holland and Spain was signed and this gave hope of peace and security.

      While Amsterdam was expanding in mercantile wealth, Leyden was rising in literary reputation.  In 1575 its citizens had chosen to have a University instead of a remission of taxes.  This choice had been offered by the Prince of Orange after they had shown great fortitude during a seige of the city.  Leyden had now become known as the ‘Athens of the West’, but with its cloisters of learning it had combined busy manufacturing.  In one street, the student was deep in his books; in another, the weaver concentrated on his loom.  All breathed liberty.

      But a peaceful retreat was about all the city could offer the people from Scrooby.  Leyden was far inferior to Amsterdam in wealth and trade.  They took whatever jobs they could find.  They became felt-makers, button-makers, pipe-makers, drapers, tailors, hatters, glovers, cobblers, carpenters, barbers, masons and various other kinds of tradesmen.  The older men had a more difficult time than the young.  William Brewster, especially, suffered at first, being in poor health.  Then his fortunes changed when he began English lessons for students at the University.  Young men from Denmark and Germany came regularly for help.  Some of them were sons of rich men and paid him handsomely.

      The group found accommodation around the Pieterskerk, the former Roman Catholic Cathedral.  It was in a poor quarter of the city, divided by many narrow lanes and alleys.  The Brewsters lived in the Stincksteeg (Stench Lane).  Tragedy soon struck when their infant son, William, died.  His burial took place on June 10th 1609 in the parish of St. Pancras.

      Life for the Pilgrims had also happy moments.  Various members of the church felt they could now marry.  On October 1st 1608, for example, Robert Peck and Jane Merritt went before the local official to record their betrothal.  They were married on the following November 21St.

      Pastor Robinson and his church were in hearty agreement with the form of civil marriage used in Holland.  The separatists held that marriage was not a function of the pastoral office, as the Church of England claimed.  Rather, it was a function of the civil authority.  Indeed, Robinson averred that in the Church of England marriage was made a ‘ministerial duty and part of God’s worship without warrant’.

      The Pilgrims carried the Dutch form and custom of marriage to New England.  Archbishop William Laud was scandalised to hear that Edward Winslow, a mere layman, had married couples in the Plymouth Colony.  He and his fellow bishops of the 1620s were wholly convinced that a marriage ceremony ought to be conducted by an ordained minister, although it wasn’t even a sacrament.

      Marriage among the younger Pilgrims led some to seek citizenship in Leyden, for membership of the craft guilds were open only to citizens.  Thus in 1610, the following entries were made in the city records of new citizens:

April 2nd        Bernard Ross, cloth and leather merchant

June 21st        William Lisle (trade not given)

June 25th        Abraham Gray, cobbler

Sept. 27th       John Turner, merchant

Dec. 3rd         William Robertson, leather-dresser

Dec. 10th       Henry Wood, draper

They had to pay a fee of three florins and be nominated by a citizen of good standing.  Every year for the next decade one or more of the Pilgrims came into full citizenship.

      Two years after arrival, the church began to look for more suitable and permanent premises for worship and fellowship.  Several days of search ended in the purchase of a house whose front was on the Kloksteeg (Bell Alley), facing the south transept of the towering Pieterskerk.  There was a fairly large plot of ground at the end of its garden, opening out behind the adjoining properties.  It was bounded on the east by grounds of the Commandery, on the west by a covered canal (Donckeregracht), and on the south by the grounds and tenements of the Veiled Nuns.

      This plot of land at the rear could be used for small dwellings.

      It was not so much fresh air as cosy companionship that the people sought – and a rent within their scanty means.

      The contract to purchase was made on January 27th 1611 between John Robinson, William Jepson, Henry Wood and Jane White for the Pilgrims and Johann de Lalsing.  The price was 8,000 gilders – 2,000 to be paid immediately and 500 on May Day 1612 and a like amount annually till the whole was paid off.  De Lalsing reserved for his own use a small room over the door of the house.  From this door the house took its name, Groene Port (Green Door).  Twenty-one little tenement houses were built in the grounds and into these, poor Pilgrim families moved.

      According to Bradford, ‘being thus settled, they continued many years in a comfortable condition, enjoying much sweet and delightful society and spiritual comfort together in the ways of God, under the able ministry and prudent government of Mr John Robinson and Mr William Brewster who was an assistant unto him in the place of an Elder’.

      Many came to them from England, seeking membership of a happy, united church.  ‘Such was the mutual love and reciprocal respect that this worthy man had to his flock and his flock to him’, Bradford goes on, ‘that it might be said of them as it was once said of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and the people of Rome, that it was hard to judge whether he delighted more in having such a people, or they in having such a pastor.  His love was great towards them and his care was always bent for their best good, both for soul and body.  For besides his singular abilities in divine things (wherein he excelled) he was also very able to give directions in civil affairs and to foresee dangers and inconveniences.’

      Within five years or so of the arrival in Leyden, the Pilgrim church had about three hundred members.

      Each Sunday, the congregation assembled at 8 a.m. for divine worship.  The men sat on wooden benches on one side and the women on the other.  All the children sat together, watched over by a deacon.

      During the opening prayers all the people stood up.  Kneeling was regarded as a heritage of Roman Catholicism.  The lengthy Bible readings were from the Geneva Bible – the Bible used by the English Puritan movement and by Shakespeare.  Psalms were also sung, but without musical accompaniment.  Puritans would not use organs, regarding them as ‘the devil’s bag-pipes’.  The sermon took at least one hour and often went on for two hours.  In essence, it was an exposition of a selected portion of Scripture followed by application to the needs and conditions of the hearers.  The service ended at about 11 a.m.

      Some members met again in the afternoon for a more informal meeting at which prophesying (I Corinthians 12:10) took place.  Any saint who felt God had given him a message for his brethren and sisters was free to stand up and speak.  The church, they declared, is the body of Christ, with each part helping the other.

      Paul had discussed this in his Epistles to the Corinthian church.  Nevertheless, despite its Biblical basis, such activity scandalised many upright people of that day.  Lay-preaching did not become generally acceptable in England until the nineteenth century.

      The Pilgrims’ was not the only English-speaking church in the city.  There was a Scottish Presbyterian community with which they enjoyed close and happy fellowship.  Some separatists would have felt it a sin against God to mix with Christians less reformed than themselves but, under Robinson, the Pilgrims withheld fellowship only from opponents of reformation and purity in the Church of Christ.

      John Bradford, the Pilgrim narrator, became a citizen of Leyden in 1612 and one year later married Dorothy May, whose parents were members of the ancient church of Amsterdam.  Having sold lands inherited at Austerfield, he was able to buy a small house on the Achtergracht (Black Canal) and there took his 17-year-old bride.  He was a most useful member of the church to whom it looked for help more and more as the years went by.  And he could never forget the tremendous fellowship he found in the meetings at the Groene Port.

      ‘I know not’, he writes, ‘but it may be spoken to the honour of God and without prejudice to any, that such was the true piety, the humble zeal and fervent love of this people (whilst thus they lived together) towards God and His ways, and the singleheartedness and sincere affection one towards another, that they came as near the primitive pattern of the first churches as any other church of these later times have done.’

      Late in 1616, William Brewster established a publishing house in the Koorsteeg (Choir Alley).  His partner was Thomas Brewer, a fairly rich member of the Scottish church in the city.  They brought over a master printer from London to take charge of the presses.  He was John Reynolds, who brought an assistant.  This young man, Edward Winslow, was to become one of the most distinguished of the Pilgrim Fathers and the roving, ambassador of the Plymouth Plantation.

      Three books dated 1617 came from this press.  They bore the imprint Apud Guilielmum Brezυsterum: in vico Chorali (at William Brewster’s office in Choir Alley).  One was in Dutch and two in Latin.  The latter were by two leading English Puritans, Thomas Cartwright and William Ames.  Their contents contained nothing to alarm the English bishops.

      Yet the press had been founded, as the English ambassador put it, ‘to print prohibited books to be sold underhand in his majesty’s kingdom’.  In England there was strict censorship of printing.  No book could appear without permission from the Bishop of London or some other Church dignitary.  Thus books critical of the Establishment were published on the Continent.

      At least eight titles came out.  Five were critical of the Church of England or of King James’ plans to control the Church of Scotland.  One of the latter was Perth Assembly.

      At the General Assembly of the Scottish Kirk at Perth in August 1618, James I had explained his plans to enforce diocesan bishops on the Church of Scotland.  David Calderwood voiced the resentment of the committed reformers in a tract on ‘the utter nullity of that meeting and all its proceedings’.  Censorship in Scotland forced him to send this with another manuscript to Holland.

      Copies of Perth Assembly were smuggled into Scotland in April 1619, packed in vats looking like a consignment of French wines.  Landed at Burns-Island, they were in general circulation by June.

      James was furious.  The style of the book revealed the authorship and Calderwood fled to Holland.  When he had gone, James referred to him as ‘that knave who is now loupen over sea, with his purse well filled by the wives of Edinburgh’.

      James Cathkin, an Edinburgh bookseller, was thought to be the publisher and was imprisoned by royal command in June.  Soon afterwards, the name of the real publisher came to light.  Sir Dudley Carleton, the English Ambassador at the Hague, was shown a copy of the tract and informed that it was printed by a certain Brownist of Leyden.  On July 22nd he was able to inform the king that the printer of Perth Assembly and De regimine Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Calderwood’s other book, was one ‘William Brewster, who hath been for some years an inhabitant and printer at Leyden’.

      Brewster was at this time in London negotiating with the Virginia Company.  He decided his only hope of safety was to go into hiding.

      The king instituted a search in likely towns and ports but he was never found.  Apart from mention of his name in various despatches and letters, no more was heard of him until the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620.

      Meanwhile the Choir Alley press was raided and some material confiscated.  Thomas Brewer sought refuge in the University, where he had previously matriculated.  John Reynolds made an expedient move to Amsterdam.  Edward Winslow stayed in London and continued his association with the Pilgrim church.


Chapter Five – Pilgrims’ Pastor

      Brewster’s printing office was not the only one of its kind in Leyden.  There were several Dutch publishers who handled books written by Englishmen.  John Robinson made full use of them.

      Soon after his arrival he began to write in defence of the Pilgrim position.  His first book was A Justification of Separation from the Church of England, against Mr Richard Bernard, his invective entitled ‘The Separatists Schisme’.

      Richard Bernard, a former student colleague of Robinson, had become the Vicar of Worksop.  At one critical point in his life he had been on the verge of becoming a separatist but at the last moment had drawn back.  In 1610, he was a faithful servant of the Church of England.  The purpose of his book was, in his own words, ‘to supply dissuasions from the Separatists’ schism, commonly called Brownism’.

      The main difference between Bernard and Robinson was concerning the nature and constitution of a true church in New Testament teaching.  Robinson maintained that the authority for constituting a genuine church – and the authority which such a church must always accept – was the Bible.  He declared that the Church of England was not framed according to the model of the New Testament churches; consequently, there was a duty to separate from it.

      The true church was made up of those who made a voluntary profession of faith in Christ and separated themselves from the world ‘into the fellowship of the Gospel and the covenant of Abraham’.  Robinson scorned the legal conditions for membership of the English State Church.

A man may go out of these countries where I now live, as many do, and hire a house in any parish of the land in England ... and then become, by the right of his house or farm, a member of the parish church where he dwells; yes, though he have been nursed up all his life in Popery or Atheism, and though he were formerly neither of any church or religion.  Yes, though he should profess that he did not look to be saved by Christ only and alone, but by his good meanings and well doings.

To the Pilgrim pastor, the conditions of church membership were put upon an entirely wrong basis.

      Membership of a truly Christian church, he felt, involved definite personal responsibility to a God who is there.  They were answerable to a Person in belief and conduct.

      ‘This we hold and affirm’, he continued, ‘that a company consisting though but of two or three, separated from the world ... and gathered together into the name of Christ by a covenant made to walk in all the ways of God known unto them, is a church, and so hath the whole power of Christ.’

      This view, Bernard had written, ‘is the first A.B.C. of Brownism upon which they build all the rest of their untruths ... this is the ground of their outbreaking from all churches in the world’.  It was.  Congregational democracy under the spiritual authority of Christ was the basis of their whole churchmanship.

      Robinson justified his position thus:

The Lord Jesus is the king of his church alone, upon whose shoulders the government is, and unto whom all power is given in heaven and earth; yet hath he not received this power for himself alone, but doth communicate the same with the church as the husband with the wife.  And as he is ‘anointed by God with the oil of gladness above his fellows’, so doth he communicate this anointing ... to every member of the body, and so makes every one of them severally kings and priests and all jointly a kingly priesthood or communion of kings, priests and prophets.

Continuing, he explained that:

In this fellowship, by virtue of this plenteous anointment every one is made a king, priest and prophet not only to himself but to every other, yes, to the whole – a prophet to teach, exhort, reprove and comfort himself and the rest; a priest, to offer up spiritual sacrifices of prayer, praises and thanksgiving for himself and the rest; a king, to guide and govern in the ways of godliness himself and the rest ... And as there is not the meanest member of the body but hath received his drop or dram of this anointing, so is not the same to be despised either by any other or by the whole.

Later he cited St. Paul’s conception of the local church as a body, with each part contributing to the life of the whole, as a New Testament justification for the democratic fellowship of his own and like churches.

      Certain Puritans in Holland shared Robinson’s high regard for the Scripture.  Their own principles had made it impossible for them to remain in the Church of England and they had sought and found academic appointments in Europe.  One such was William Ames.  A distinguished theologian and in deep sympathy with Robinson, he nonetheless considered his doctrine of the church too radical.

      When a book entitled The Prophane Schism of the Brownists appeared in 1612, Robinson found that his own name and church were mentioned in a far from pleasant manner.  He suspected mistakenly that Ames was behind the publication to which he replied in a book called Of Religious Communion Private and Public.

      The theme of The Prophane Schism being the ‘bigotry’ of separatists, Robinson felt obliged to show that the Pilgrims were as charitable as the New Testament ethics allowed them to be.  He and his church were very ready to have fellowship with and to pray with all true Christians.  It did not matter about the label, be it Lutheran, Presbyterian or Anglican.  If they loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth, they were most welcome.

      Some of the separatists in Amsterdam adopted a much more rigid position and refused to have anything to do with those who were ‘tainted’ through association with unreformed or semi-reformed churches.  Indeed, they even regarded Robinson as a compromiser.

      The Pilgrim pastor stood firm, however, offering a fine example of Christian dogmatism imbued with charity – as rare a combination in the 17th century as it is today.

      Later, Robinson made a further gesture to his Puritan friends.  He agreed that in certain circumstances it was permissible for convinced Christians to attend ‘a parish assembly’ (parish church) and to listen to a sermon by a godly minister.  As many Puritans gave regular ‘lectures’ in parish churches, the opportunities for separatists to visit were fairly common.  The lectures were held at a different time from daily matins and evensong, and made no use of the Book of Common Prayer.

      As parish churches had been Roman Catholic ‘idolatrous’ establishments before the Reformation, some Brownists felt it was even wrong to go inside, let alone worship God in them.  Robinson condemned such views, but he did not favour going to services from the Prayer Book.  He felt there were medieval Catholic ideas in it.

      Robinson, being a diligent seeker after truth on other fronts, entered the University of Leyden and attended the divinity lectures for postgraduate students.  On at least one occasion, he took part in a learned public debate, conducted in the Latin tongue.  His task was to expound and defend the Calvinist doctrines of salvation, teaching that God takes the initiative in bestowing forgiveness of sins, a new nature and eternal life on sinful man.  The professor with whom Robinson argued was Simon Episcopius, an advocate of Arminianism (named after Arminius, a Dutch divine) wherein man’s decision for Christ is emphasised.

      William Bradford regarded his pastor’s intervention on behalf of ‘sound doctrine’ as worthy of detailed attention in his narrative.  He, gave more space to this matter than to any other event in Leyden.  He says Robinson’s victorious speeches ‘procured him much honour and respect from those learned men and others who loved the truth’ in the Reformed Church of Holland.

      John Robinson also felt it necessary to defend the meetings for prophecy and the practice of what is now called lay preaching.  His book, The Peoples Plea for the Exercise of Prophesie (1618), was printed by his friend Brewster.  One paragraph sums up his whole approach

Thus we practice.  After the exercise of the public ministry is ended, the elders in the church do publicly exhort and require that such of their own or other church as have a gift to speak to the edification of the hearers, should use the same; and this, according to what is written in Acts 13:14 etc., where Paul and Barnabas coming into the synagogue, the rulers, after the work of the ordinary ministry was ended (considering them not apostles ... but only as men having gifts) sent unto them, that if they had any word of exhortation to the people they should say on.

      In this emphasis on the place of the ‘laity’ in the churches, Robinson was expounding a truth which it has taken the Church of England virtually three centuries to accept.


Chapter Six – Negotiations

      By 1617 a fair proportion of Pilgrims were feeling Leyden was not the place for their children to grow up in.  They certainly enjoyed freedom of worship and they earned enough to keep from starving, but wages in Leyden were low and work was hard.  Men and women were aging before their time.  The children were looking a decade older than their years.  Some young men had already left to become soldiers and sailors.  Others were living like the Dutch.

      Finally, ‘they had a great hope and inward zeal of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yes, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.’

      They thus decided the best move would be to a part of America where they could build a new society – a place where their descendants could live for ever.  Or, as John Robinson would have expressed it, until the Lord Jesus returned to earth.

      The political situation in Europe appeared to confirm their resolution.  In 1621 the Twelve Years’ Truce with the Spaniards was due to end, bringing with it the possibility of war and all the attendant social upheaval.

      So the believers pondered over settling in the New World.  They realised the problems involved – the hazardous sea-crossing, the possible brutality of the Red Indians and the dangers of disease and famine.  There were at least a dozen books available in Holland describing voyages by daring sea-captains to North, South and Central America.

      Their answer remained:

that all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.  It was granted the dangers were great, but not desperate.  The difficulties were many but not invincible.  For though there were many of them likely, yet they were not certain.  It might be sundry of the things feared might never befall; others by provident care and the use of good means might in great measure be prevented; and all of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might either be borne or overcome.  True it was that such attempts were not to be made and undertaken without good ground and reason, not rashly or lightly as many have done for curiosity or hope of gain etc.  But their condition was not ordinary, their ends were good and honourable, their calling lawful and urgent; and therefore they might expect the blessing of God in their proceeding.

Even if they lost their lives in the venture, their deaths would be honourable.

      So America it was – but which part?  Some favoured Guiana, the region between the rivers Orinoco and Amazon.  They had read Sir Walter Raleigh’s Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtifull Empyre of Guiana (1596) and Robert Harcourt’s Relation of a Voyage to Guiana (1613).  But others feared attacks from the Spaniards and death from tropical diseases.  So this was rejected.  The majority preferred the East Coast of North America.

      A start had been made on colonisation in Virginia, a territory whose northern boundary extended to latitude 41°N, which included modern Manhattan and most of Long Island.  However, its religion and church were those of King James who had granted the charter.  The Pilgrims hoped he would allow them freedom of worship if they could get a suitable grant of land.

      ‘And that this might be obtained’, says Bradford, ‘they were put in good hope by some great friends of good rank and quality that were made their friends.’

      ‘Our eye’, wrote Edward Winslow, ‘was upon the most northern parts of Virginia.’

      The next step was to sound out the English authorities and get permission to go.  John Carver and Robert Cushman, deacons of the church, were chosen to act as agents and sent over to London.  They made application to the London Virginia Company, which had jurisdiction over the Jamestown district and adjacent parts of the territory.

      Anticipating objections on religious grounds, the agents presented a 7-point manifesto signed by Robinson and Brewster.  This is now in the Public Record Office in London.  It says:

Seven Articles which the church of Leyden sent to the Council of England to be considered in respect of ‘their judgments occasioned about their going to Virginia.

1.  To the confession of faith published in the name of the Church of England and to every article thereof we do, with the Reformed Churches where we live, and also elsewhere, wholly assent.

2.  As we acknowledge the doctrine of faith there taught, so do we the fruits and effects of the same doctrine to the begetting of saving faith in the land (conformists and reformists) as they are called, with whom also, as with our brethren, we do desire spiritual communion in peace, and will practice in our parts all lawful things.

3.  The King’s Majesty we acknowledge for Supreme Governor in his Dominion in all causes and over all persons, and that none may decline or appeal from his authority or judgment in any case whatsoever, but in all things obedience is due unto him, either active if the thing commanded be not against God’s Word, or passive if it be, except pardon can be obtained.

4.  We judge it lawful for his Majesty to appoint Bishops, civil overseers or officers in authority under him in the several provinces, dioceses, congregations or parishes, to oversee the churches and govern them civilly according to the Laws of the land, unto whom they are in all things to give an account, and by them to be ordered according to godliness.

5.  The authority of the present Bishops in the land we do acknowledge so far forth as the same is indeed derived from His Majesty unto them, and as they proceed in his name whom we will also therein honour in all things and him in them.

6.  We believe that no Synod, Classes, Convocation or Assembly of Ecclesiastical Officers hath any power or authority at all, but as the same by the magistrate is given unto them.

7.  Lastly we desire to give unto all Superiors due honour, to preserve the unity of the spirit with all that fear God, to have peace with all men what in us lieth, and wherein we err to be instructed by any.

This was obviously meant to be a conciliatory document, minimising the differences between the Pilgrims and their persecutors.  Yet it contains no concessions; bishops are only allowed civil authority.

      The chief official seen was Sir Edwin Sandys, son of the same Archbishop of York who had been Brewster’s patron at Scrooby.  Sir Edwin wrote to Robinson and Brewster saying their agents had been favourably received by ‘his Majesty’s Council for Virginia.’

      The reply from Leyden dated December 15th 1617 sought to show that the Pilgrims were the right kind of people to build a permanent colony.  They gave five reasons:

      ‘First, we verily believe and trust the Lord is with us, unto whom and whose service we have given ourselves in many trials; and that He will graciously prosper our endeavours according to the simplicity of our hearts therein.’

      ‘Secondly, we are well weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange and hard land, which yet in a great part we have by patience overcome.  Thirdly, the people are, for the body of them, industrious and frugal, we think we may safely say, as any company of people in the world.  Fourthly, we are knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord, of the violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue thereof we do hold ourselves straitly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole, by every one and so mutually.’

      ‘Lastly, it is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again.  We know our entertainment in England and Holland.  We shall much prejudice our arts and means by removal.’

      Anxious to recruit colonists to avert economic ruin, the Virginia Company encouraged the Leyden agents to believe the king would grant freedom of religion.  Accordingly, the matter was placed before James by Sir John Wolstenholme.

      ‘By what means will they exist there?’ asked the king.  ‘Fishing’, he was told.

      ‘So God have my soul’, he exclaimed, “tis an honest trade!  It was the apostles’ own calling.’

      On reflection, he decided their request for religious freedom should be considered by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London.  The matter was also discussed in the Privy Council but the exiles’ peculiar doctrines of church organisation proved an obstacle.  Robinson and Brewster sought to show in letters that the French Reformed Church also had one pastor, one teacher, several elders and several deacons in each individual congregation; but their appeal made no impact.  To traditional Anglicans, there was no substitute for diocesan bishops and parish clergy.

      Though the attempt to gain toleration by the king’s official authority failed, the Pilgrims gathered that ‘he would connive at them, and not molest them, provided they carried themselves peaceably.’

      A large number of the congregation now wished to abandon the project and reconcile themselves to life in Leyden.  The leaders thought otherwise.  They still believed it was God’s will to move.

      Some of them felt they might proceed on the king’s promise of connivance.  ‘If there were no security in this promise intimated, there would be no great certainty in a further confirmation of the same.  For if, afterwards, there should be a purpose or desire to wrong them, though they had a seal as broad as the house floor, it would not serve the turn, for there would be means enough found to recall or reverse it.  And seeing the course was probable, they must rest herein on God’s providence, as they had done in other things.’

      Messengers crossed to and fro until, in the spring of 1619, Cushman and Brewster were sent to negotiate with the Virginia Company and ‘to procure a Patent with as good and ample conditions’ as they could.  But they found the Company torn by disputes and virtually bankrupt, vainly trying to escape the dissolution which ended its life five years later.

      In the midst of the talks, news reached London that copies of Perth Assembly had been seized in Scotland.  Though not yet suspected, Brewster who had recently come to London fled the city, leaving Cushman to carry on alone.

      A month later, Cushman obtained a patent to a piece of land, probably at the mouth of the Hudson Rivers.

      To avoid complications, the patent was taken out in the name of John Wincob, a Puritan minister who intended to sail with the Pilgrims.  In the end, he did not go and they never used the patent.

      The Virginia Company was also unable to subsidise the voyage.

      Pastor Robinson now decided that the only hope of finding a home in North America was through the Dutch, so he approached the directors of the New Netherlands Company, which traded between latitude 40° to 45°N – between Virginia and New France.

      On February 2nd 1620 the Company presented a petition to the Prince of Orange in the course of which it said:

It happens that there is residing at Leyden a certain English Preacher versed in the Dutch language, who, is well inclined to proceed thither to live, assuring the Petitioners that he has the means of inducing four hundred families to accompany him thither, both out of this country and England, provided that they might be guarded and preserved from all violence by ... your Excellency.

The settlers wished also to instruct the Indians in Christianity and true learning and convert them to the faith.

      In his narrative, Bradford merely notes that ‘some Dutchmen made them fair offers about going with them’.  But Winslow mentions that the Hollanders offered free transport, and cattle for every family.

      They did not accept and so missed being the founders of what is now New York City.  Their reason: an alternative had just arrived at Leyden in the person of Thomas Weston, an ironmonger who saw a potential profit in trade with the New World.  He advised the congregation not to make any agreements with the Dutch.  He and his business partners would arrange finance for the voyage to Virginia.

      Weston planned a ‘joint stock company’ to raise funds for the venture and the projected Plantation.  Those who invested in the scheme were called the ‘Adventurers’ and those who were to sail were the ‘Planters’.  The shares were fixed at £10.  Every planter of sixteen years or upwards was allotted one share without payment.  A planter could also take up shares as an adventurer by investing his cash in multiples of £10 or by bringing approved goods to the value of £10 for the use of the Plantation.

      It would be run as a joint stock corporation for seven years.  As originally arranged, at the end of seven years the capital and accumulated profits were to be divided amongst the shareholders or adventurers in proportion to their holdings of shares, but the houses and land brought under cultivation (particularly the home lots) were to be left undivided and in the possession of the planters.  While the planters were to work for the corporation of adventurers, they were to have two days a week for their private employment.

      Weston altered the last two points in the original agreement without consulting the Leyden congregation, and this caused great friction.  John Robinson promptly sent over protest but Cushman in London felt he had to accept the modifications, otherwise the project would have been abandoned.

      Now worried, some of the Leyden congregation decided not to go.  Indeed, the number determined to proceed with the voyage was so small Weston had to hire other recruits in England.  These new planters were chosen without regard to their religion.  Willingness to go and abide by the rules were the only qualifications.

      The Pilgrims looked upon their own small band as pioneers.  If all went well, the rest would follow a few years later, in other ships.  Thus Pastor Robinson was to remain at Leyden with the majority of the church members, and William Brewster was to lead the advance party.


Chapter Seven – Farewell to Holland

      June 1620 saw the adventurers charter a vessel of 180 tons named the Mayflower.  The Leyden party acquired the 60-ton Speedwell for ‘fishing and such other affairs as might be for the good and benefit of the colony’.

      The Speedwell was in bad condition and had to be refitted at great expense.  New masts and sails were purchased and timbers renewed.  She was to take on her passengers at Delft Haven.

      When news came that the Mayflower was ready to go from London to Southampton for the colonists, the Leyden contingent finalised their arrangements.

Being ready to depart they had a day of Solemn Humiliation; their Pastor taking his text from Ezra 8:21; ‘And there, at the river Ahava, I proclaimed a Fast that we might humble ourselves before our God; and seek of him a right way for us, and for our children, and for all our substance’.  Upon which text he spent a good part of the day very profitably and suitable to their present condition.  The rest of the time was spent in pouring out prayers to the Lord with great fervency, mixed with abundance of tears.

      These are the words of William Bradford but Edward Winslow also preserved vivid memories of the parting service and farewell feast.

‘They that stayed at Leyden’, he says, ‘feasted us that were to go at our Pastor’s house, being large, where we refreshed ourselves after our tears with singing of Psalms, making joyful melody in our hearts as well as with the voice, there being many of the congregation expert in music; and indeed it was the sweetest melody that ever mine ears heard.’

Winslow also recalled Robin’s farewell sermon.

We were now ere long to part asunder; and the Lord knoweth whether ever he should live to see our faces again.  But whether the Lord had appointed it or not, he charged us, before God and his blessed angels, to follow him not further than he followed Christ: and if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive any truth by his Ministry.  For he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word.

      He took occasion also miserably to bewail the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period in religion, and would go no further than the Instruments of their Reformation.  As, for example, the Lutherans: they could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw, for whatever part of God’s will He had further imparted and revealed to Calvin, they will still rather die than embrace it.  ‘And so also’, saith he, ‘you see the Calvinists.  They stick where he left them, a misery much to be lamented.’

      ‘For though they were precious lights in their Times, yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living’, saith he, ‘they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light, as that they had received.’

      Here, also, he put us in mind of our Church Covenant; at least that part of it whereby ‘we promise and covenant with God and one with another to receive whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to us from his written Word’; but withal exhorted us to take heed what we received for truth; and well to examine and compare and weigh it with other Scriptures of truth before we received it.  ‘For’, saith he, ‘it is not possible that the Christian World should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness; and that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.’

      Another thing he commended to us was, that we should use all means to avoid and shake off the name of ‘Brownist’, being a mere nickname and brand to make religion odious and the Professors of it, to the Christian world.

      ‘And to that end’, said he, ‘I should be glad if some godly Minister would go over with you before my coming’.  ‘For’, said he, ‘there will be no difference between the unconformable Ministers and you, when they come to the practise of the Ordinances (of religion) out of the kingdom.’

      And so (our Pastor) advised us, by all means, to endeavour to close with the godly party of the Kingdom of England (the Puritans); and rather to study union than division, viz. How near we might possibly, without sin, close with them.  ‘And be not loath to take another Pastor or Teacher’, saith he, ‘for that Flock that hath two Shepherds is not endangered, but secured by it.’

      Many other things there were of great and weighty consequence which he commended to us.

      With tears and choking voices and many ‘lively and true expressions of dear and unfeigned love’, the Pilgrims boarded the Speedwell.

      ‘The tide’, says Bradford, ‘which stays for no man, calling them away that were loth to depart, their reverend Pastor falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks, commended them with most fervent prayers to the Lord and His blessing.’

      So it was, as Bradford puts it, that the advance group left Holland and especially Leyden, ‘that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place for near twelve years; but they knew they were Pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country and quieted their spirits.’

      Those on board were only a small section of the congregation, perhaps a sixth.  They totalled less than fifty, and of these a good number were children.

      They set sail on July 22nd 1620.

      With a good wind, the Speedwell was soon passing the Hook of Holland and heading for the coast of Southern England.  Though the voyage went smoothly, the vessel shipped a lot of water.  This was a real cause of concern to Captain Reynolds and his passengers.


Chapter Eight – From Plymouth Sound

      The Speedwell sailed into Southampton harbour and tied up by the Mayflower, which had about 90 people from London on board.  The Leyden and London emigrants met then for the first time.  The cooperation necessary was obstructed by the testy agent for the adventurers, Christopher Martin.  Appointed treasurer by Thomas Weston, he exercised his powers with little concern for others.  Eventually, Weston himself came down.  When the agents for the Pilgrims refused to sign the amended articles of agreement, he grew angry and returned to London.  He said they could have no more money.

      This was a great blow to the Leyden party.  Then there was the heavy bill for repairs and new sails for the Speedwell.  They appealed in vain to the adventurers in London for financial help.

      But there now arrived a letter from Pastor Robinson (see Appendix 1).  He encouraged his dispirited flock to continue faithfully in their Christian lives.  They were to avoid pursuit of private profit and work for the general good.  Their aim was to cultivate peace and harmony with fellow Christians and chiefly amongst themselves.  When the time came for choosing leaders these should be the men who would ‘entirely love and promote the common good’.

      By August 5th, the Speedwell was passed fit for the journey.   To pay their bills, the Pilgrims sold some of their provisions – ‘some three or four firkins of butter’.

      The two vessels then sailed out into the Solent.  The Mayflower, under the command of Christopher Jones, led the way.

      They had not gone many knots when the Speedwell began to ship water as badly as before.  Captains Reynolds and Jones had no alternative but to head for the coast and put in at Dartmouth.  More repairs were carried out.  Meanwhile the passengers became worried and irritated.  And Christopher Martin would meddle with everybody’s affairs, annoying crew and saints alike.

      After a fortnight in port, they put back to sea.  For the first week or so good progress was made.  Land’s End disappeared from view and there was the daunting Atlantic.  But again, when they were some 300 miles out the captain of the Speedwell had to report to Captain Jones: his ship was filling with water.  His pumps just could not get rid of it.  They had to head back to England.  This time they put in at Plymouth.

      For the third time, the Speedwell was examined by experts.  They could find nothing radically wrong.  It appeared she was just not well-built – later they declared her masts were too high and she had too many sails.  So the Pilgrims decided to leave her and some of her crew behind.

      This meant that some passengers also had to stay behind.  Bradford reports:

Those that went back were for the most part such as were willing so to do, either out of some discontent or fear they conceived of the ill success of the voyage, seeing so many crosses befall, and the year time so far spent.  But others, in regard of their own weakness and charge of many young children were thought least useful and most unfit to bear the brunt of this hard adventure; unto which work of God, and judgement of their brethren, they were contented to submit.  And thus, like Gideon’s army, this small number was divided as if the Lord by this work of His providence thought these few too many for the great work He had to do.

      Apart from this, all that is definitely recorded of their stay in Plymouth is the statement made by one of their number: ‘We were kindly and courteously used by divers friends there dwelling’.  However, there are strong local traditions that hospitality and fellowship were offered to the Pilgrims and passengers by the local Christian community – especially those of Puritan and Separatist sympathies.  It is said that at least four buildings were used by the visitors.  These were the ‘Island House’ (at the quay corner of New Street on the Barbican), the cellars now used as a warehouse by Hawker’s (on the Coxside of Sutton Harbour), the Palace Court (whose ruins now stand in the grounds of the College of Art and Design), and the ‘Prysten House’ or ‘Priests’ House’ by St. Andrew’s Church.  The historian of the latter claims that the Pilgrims held a dedication service inside the Church before sailing, whilst the officers of Old George Street Baptist Church, which is thought to have originated about 1620, hold that its founding fathers were hosts to the Pilgrims.

      Also two conjectures have been made by historians.  These cannot be verified by documentary evidence but are possibly true.  The first is that the Pilgrim leaders had discussions with Sir Ferdinando Gorges, governor of the local Fortress (whose foundations the Citadel is built upon) and other members of the Plymouth Virginia Company.  A gentleman’s agreement was made for the Mayflower to head for New England, north of the area chosen when they left Southampton.  In the event, as we shall see they did not settle in the region offered by the London Virginia Company, but in ‘New Plymouth’ – so named six years earlier by sailors from Plymouth – and they eventually received a patent from the Plymouth Company.

      The second assumption is that the Pilgrims met and had discussions with local ‘adventurers’ who knew the American coastline.  After all, Plymouth was the centre for the exploration of the coast and fishing grounds of New England.  Their general knowledge of the area came from Description of New England (1616) by Captain John Smith, who is said to have offered to sail with the Pilgrims.  But they only made use of his maps.

      At last, on September 6th, the Mayflower sailed out of Plymouth Sound, heading Westward.  There was a favourable wind for several days.  This caused the ship to roll and ‘many were afflicted with sea-sickness’.

      However, the Mayflower was sound, stout and chunky.  Before her Atlantic voyage, she had been carrying goods across the North Sea and from Mediterranean countries.

      On board were 102 passengers and their belongings, and a crew of thirty.  Only 41 of the passengers – 9 women, 16 men and 16 children – were Pilgrims from Leyden.  Of the rest, 38 were planters from the London area, signed on by Weston.  They were going to find or make a better life in a new land.  Religious freedom was not their aim.

      There were two other groups.  Five men – a cooper, two seamen and two master mariners – were on a one-year contract, being employed directly by the adventurers in London.  And there were 18 indentured labourers, brought along by the planters for the heavy work – felling trees, clearing fields and building houses.  Their indenture lasted for seven years and they were virtually slaves.

      Much to the astonishment of the crew, only one passenger died on the voyage.  He was William Butten, an indentured servant.  Usually such calamities as storms, scurvy and fever claimed the lives of up to one third of any passenger list during a two- or three-month Atlantic crossing.

      And there was a birth – Oceanus Hopkirk.

      For the most part, however, the voyage must have been dreary and cold.  The food was a monotonous diet of dried fish, salt beef, cheese and beer.  Below deck, there was not sufficient room for proper exercise.  When the winds blew and the sea became rough, the ship was tossed about like a dinghy.  Her sails were torn and her timbers groaned.

      During one particularly violent spell, one of the main beams cracked and slipped out of place.  Some of the crew were sure that the ship was about to break up.  However, one of the Pilgrims had brought from Holland what he called ‘a great iron screw’.  It was probably similar to a modern car jack, but bigger.  This screw he put under the beam to force it back, then a post was wedged into position and the beam was good as new.

      Bradford, who interpreted all events in relation to the providence of God, tells the story of one sailor whom he believed God punished.

There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the seamen, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would alway be contemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily with grievous execrations; and did not let to tell them that he hoped to help cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey’s end, and to make merry with what they had; and if he were by any gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly.  But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.  Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.

      He also recorded how a young man named John Howland, a manservant to leading Pilgrim John Carver, came up on deck for some fresh air.  The ship rolled badly and he was thrown into the sea.  He managed to grasp the ‘topsail halyards’ which hung overboard and though sinking he held on until pulled back on board with a boat hook.

      Thus we see the judgment and mercy of God.


Chapter Nine – A Country Found

      At daybreak on November 9th, they sighted the Highlands of Cape Cod.  As Bradford puts it, ‘they were not a little joyful’.

      It seems the Pilgrims were intent on settling near the Hudson River, as the Master turned southward and the Mayflower followed the coastline for about seven hours.  Then suddenly ‘they fell amongst dangerous shoals and roaring breakers, and they were so far entangled therewith as they conceived themselves in great danger’.  The helm was put hard over and they sailed back towards the open sea, where they spent the night.

      Next day, the Mayflower rounded the curved tip of Cape Cod and entered what is now known as Provincetown harbour.  The journey from Plymouth had taken 65 days, and from Delft Haven, four months.

      ‘Being thus arrived in a good harbour, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element’.

      While the Pilgrims thanked God for His covenant kept, some fellow-planters were declaring they could ignore their contract having arrived in New England and not Virginia.  Others disagreed and there was a real threat of trouble even before anyone had stepped ashore.  The official permission from the London Virginia Company required they first report to Jamestown and proceed from there to their allotted territory.  Yet as we have already seen the landing in New England may have been deliberate – the captain taking the counsel of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, using the northern trade route as did the ships from Plymouth, with New Plymouth the place of God’s appointment.

      Meeting this crisis, the Pilgrim leaders decided to draw up a document for all to sign.  Brewster and his brethren made full use of their knowledge of church covenants and of legal terminology.

      As soon as the ‘Mayflower Compact’ was drafted and adopted by the Leyden saints, it was read publicly to all on board.

In the name of God, Amen.  We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James ... do solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic... to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws ... as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony (see Appendix 2).

      Men were then invited to go to the poop deck and sign it.

      Lacking present concepts of civil rights, it nevertheless was a revolutionary document for its day.  There would be no nobility, such as ruled in England.  Power and privilege for the few born into the right families was definitely out.  The beginnings of modern democracy were there.

      While the planters were framing their constitution, the sailors were examining the shallop – the boat brought for exploration and fishing.  It was ‘much bruised and shattered with foul weather’.  So the long boat had to be used.

      Sixteen volunteers, armed with muskets, set off in search of fresh water and food.  On the sandy shore behind Cape Cod they found neither fresh water nor signs of human life.  However, they did see in the distance a large inlet which they took to be a river mouth.  They returned with a boatload of juniper, which when it was burned ‘smelled very sweet and strong’.

      The next day was the Lord’s Day, spent on board, with the Pilgrim leaders taking services of worship.  On Monday, the women were taken ashore, escorted by an armed guard, to do the family washing.

      Winter was coming, so there was no time to lose.  The sixteen men, led by Captain Miles Standish, were put ashore on the Tuesday.  Each man had a musket, sword and breast-plate.  They marched towards what they believed was the river.  After covering about a mile of the broad white beach, they spotted five or six Indians with a dog.  As soon as the Indians saw them, they fled to the woods – with the planters in hot pursuit.  They wanted to ask about food and water, but the Indians had gone.

      When night came, they pitched camp and bedded down.  Next morning, they picked up the trail again and wandered up and down the hills and valleys of the area in which there is now the town of Truro.  Finally, they found a spring of cool, fresh water and in ‘their great thirst’ it tasted ‘as pleasant unto them as wine and beer had been in former times’.

      Nearby, they discovered patches of cleared ground, used by the Indians as settlements and cornfields.  Here they noticed several curious heaps of sand.  They dug into one of these but hastily replaced the sand when they realised it was a burial mound.  Then they moved on to the river mouth or inlet.  Either way it was large enough to act as a harbour.

      Returning along the shore of the Bay, they came across a meadow.  On it were more sand-heaps.  Once again, they began to dig – and found a large basket filled with corn and beans.  They took as much as they could and left the rest as found.  They vowed they would repay the Indians next year.

      To the Pilgrims, the finding of seed was a special act of providence.  Bradford likens their arrival back on board the Mayflower to the return of the Israelites to the camp of the twelve tribes with the first fruit from Eschol in the land of the Canaanites (Numbers 13:23–26).

      Ten days later, twenty-four planters and nine crew, under the command of Captain Jones, set off on a second expedition.  They examined the inlet and found it was a tidal estuary, too shallow for ships.  Then they went back to the meadow.  Everything was covered in snow.  They dug into the mounds of sand and found much more seed.  Carrying as much as their pockets and utensils would hold – sufficient to plant several fields the following Spring – they returned to the Mayflower.

      Some of the Pilgrims wanted to make this area their new home but others had misgivings.  So a third expedition went to examine a possible haven across the bay.

      Ten men set off in the shallop.  It was bitterly cold and their wet clothing froze.  They landed in what is now called Wellington Bay.  A group of Indians watched them arrive, then quickly disappeared.  After a night ashore, they resumed their journey.  As they were returning to the boat they came across a large black fish, about fifteen feet long – the Howling Whale – which the Indians had been cutting up.  This species of fish with ‘flesh like a swine’ proved a major food supply for the settlers.

      Later that day, they made contact with the Indians and had their first experience of hostile bows and arrows.  This was the first of several testing encounters.  On the next day, their little boat was caught in a gale and nearly sank.  Finally, they came to Thievish (Plymouth) Harbour and put ashore on what is now Clark’s Island.

      This was a Friday.  No more exploration was undertaken until Monday when the harbour was examined.  They discovered that it would accommodate ships.  It was surrounded by cornfields, streams and other natural amenities.  The report they brought back next day ‘did much comfort the hearts’ of the whole company.

      Four days later, the Mayflower anchored in Thievish Harbour.  The weekend was spent quietly with suitable arrangements for worship on the Sabbath.

      Afterwards, says Bradford, ‘They took a better view of the place, and resolved where to pitch their dwelling; and the 25th day began to erect the first house for common use to receive them and their goods’.

      John Carver was nominated to be the first governor, an appointment which normally would be made by the Crown – thus becoming the first New World governor to be named by colonists in a free election.

      With the settlement of New Plymouth, the basis of a new society was laid and another epoch in the eternity of Christ’s Pilgrim Church was begun.  By faith, the Pilgrims, like Abraham, sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, looking forward to the city with lasting foundations whose architect and builder is God.  Three hundred and fifty years later, their spiritual descendants still seek ‘that better country – the heavenly one’, believing that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who wishes to come to God must believe that God exists, and that He rewards those who search for Him.’ (Hebrews 11:6.)


Appendix 1 – A Letter by John Robinson

read at Southampton, August 1620

Loving and Christian Friends,

      I do heartily, and in the Lord, salute you all: as being they with whom I am present in my best affection, and most earnest longings after you, though I be constrained, for a while, to be bodily absent from you.  I say, constrained: God knowing how willingly much rather than otherwise, I would have borne my part with you in this first brunt, were I not, by strong necessity, held back for the present.  Make account of me in the meanwhile, as of a man divided in myself, with great pain, and as, natural bonds set aside, having my better part with you.

      And though I doubt not but, in your godly wisdoms, you both foresee, and resolve upon, that which concerneth your present state and condition, both severally and jointly; yet have I thought (it) but my duty, to add some further spur of provocation unto them who run already, if not because you need it, yet because I owe it in love and duty.

      (1)  And first, as we are daily to renew our repentance with our God, special, for our sins known, and general, for our unknown trespasses: so doth the Lord call us, in a singular manner, upon occasions of such difficulty and danger as lieth upon you, to a both more narrow search, and careful reformation, of our ways in his sight, lest he (calling to remembrance our sins forgotten by us, or unrepented of) take advantage against us; and, in judgment, leave us for the same to be swallowed up in one danger or other.  Whereas, on the contrary, sin being taken away by earnest repentance, and pardon thereof from the Lord sealed up unto a man’s conscience by his Spirit, great shall be his security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses, with happy deliverance from all evil, whether in life or in death.

      (2)  Now next after this heavenly peace with God and our own consciences, we are carefully to provide for peace with all men, what in us lieth, especially with our associates: and, for that end, watchfulness must be had, that we neither at all in ourselves do give, no, nor easily take offence being given by others.  Woe be unto the World for offences!  For though it be necessary (considering the malice of Satan, and man’s corruption) that offences come; yet woe unto the man, or woman either, by whom the offence cometh! said Christ (Matt. 18:7).  And if offences, in the unseasonable use of things in themselves indifferent, be more to be feared than death itself, as the Apostle teacheth (I Cor. 9:15), how much more in things simply evil, in which neither honour of God, nor love of man, is thought worthy to be regarded.

      Neither yet is it sufficient that we keep ourselves, by the grace of God, from giving offence; except withal, we be armed against the taking of them, when they are given by others.  For how imperfect and lame is the work of grace in that person who wants charity to cover a multitude of offences, as the Scripture speak.

      Neither are you to be exhorted to this grace, only upon the common grounds of Christianity, which are, That persons ready to take offence, either want charity to cover offences, or wisdom duly to weigh human frailty; or lastly, are gross, though close, hypocrites, as Christ our Lord teacheth (Matt. 7:1–3).  As indeed, in mine own experience, few or none have been found, which sooner give offence, than such as easily take it; neither have they ever proved sound and profitable members in societies, which have nourished in themselves that touchy humour.

      (3)  But, besides these, there are divers special motives provoking you, above others, to great care and conscience this way.

      As, first, you are, many of you, strangers as to the persons so to the infirmities one of another, and so stand in need of more watchfulness this way, lest when such things fall out in men and women as you suspected not, you be inordinately affected with them, which doth require at your hands much wisdom and charity for the covering and preventing of incident offences that way.

      And, lastly, your intended course of Civil Community will minister continual occasion of offence and will be as fuel for that fire, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance.  And if taking offence causelessly, or easily, at men’s doings be so carefully to be avoided, how much more heed is to be taken that we take not offence at God himself, which yet we certainly do, so oft as we do murmur at his Providence in our crosses, or bear impatiently such afflictions as wherewith he pleaseth to visit us.  Store we up therefore patience against the evil day! without which, we take offence at the Lord himself in his holy and just works.

      (4)  A fourth thing there is carefully to be provided for, to wit, That with common employments, you join common affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding (as a deadly plague of your both common and special comfort) all retiredness of mind for proper (i.e. for one’s own personal) advantage, and all (persons) singularly affected any manner of way.  Let every man repress in himself, and the whole body, in each person (as so many rebels against the common good) all private respects of men’s selves not sorting with the general conveniency!  And as men are careful not to have a new house shaken with any violence before it be well settled, and the parts firmly knit, so be you, I beseech you, brethren, much more careful that the House of God, which you are, and are to be, be not shaken with unnecessary novelties, or other oppositions, at the first scaling thereof.

      (5)  Lastly, whereas you are to become a Body Politic, using amongst yourselves Civil Government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminency above the rest to be chosen by you into Office of Government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love, and will diligently promote, the common good; but also in yielding unto them all due honour and obedience in their lawful administrations.  Not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinances for your good, nor being like unto the foolish multitude, who more honour the gay coat than either the virtuous mind of the man, or glorious ordinance of the Lord.

      But you know better things, and that the Image of the Lord’s power and authority, which the Magistrate beareth, is honourable in how mean persons soever.  And this duty you both may the more willingly, and ought the more conscionably to perform, because you are, at least for the present, to have only them for your ordinary Governors which yourselves shall make choice of for that work.

      (Conclusion)  Sundry other things of importance I could put you in mind of, and of those before mentioned in more words, but I will not so far wrong your godly minds, as to think you heedless of these things, there being also divers among you so well able to admonish both themselves and others, of what concerneth them.

      These few things, therefore, and the same in few words, I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that he (who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of water, and whose Providence is over all his works, specially over all his dear children for good) would so guide and guard you in your ways (as inwardly by his Spirit so outwardly by the hand of his power) as that both you, and we also for and with you, may have after matter of praising his name, all the days of your, and our, lives.

      Fare you well in him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest!

      An unfeigned well-willer of your happy success in this hopeful voyage,

J(ohn) R(obinson).


Appendix 2 – The Mayflower Compact

In ye name of God Amen.  We whose names are under-writen, the loyall subjects of our dread Soveraigne Lord King James, by ye grace of God, of Great Britaine, France, & Ireland, king, defender of ye faith, etc. Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutually in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine ourselves to-geather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.  In witnes whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye.11.of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne Lord King James of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth.  Ano:dom: 1620.

                                          John Goodman               George Soule

John Carver                      Samuel Fuller                Edward Tilley

William Bradford            Christopher Martin       John Tilley

Edu’ard Winslow             William Mullins            Francis Cooke

William Bruester            William White               Thomas Rogers

Isaac Allerton                  Richard Warren             Thomas Tinker

Myles Standish                John Howland                John Ridgdale

John Alden                       Stephen Hopkins           Edward Fuller

John Turner                      Degory Priest                Richard Clark

Francis Eaton                   Thomas Williams          Richard Gardiner

James Chilton                  Gilbert Winslow            John Allerton

John Crackston                Edmund Margeson        Thomas English

John Billington                Peter Brown                   Edward Doty

Moses Fletcher               Richard Britteridge        Edward Leister


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