As we approach Thanksgiving and reflect on the historic pilgrimage of the "first-comers" from Europe to New England almost 400 years ago, the story of the Pilgrims who came on the Mayflower is told year after year. But who were they?
The majority of the passengers were Separatists who believed the doctrines of the Anglican Church were corrupt beyond repair. They did not see any hope for the church to be reformed to the true gospel of Christ and sought to form a new church, separate from the Church of England. The number of dissenters had been growing steadily since The Geneva Bible, the first translation of the Holy Scriptures from Latin to English was printed in 1560. The King James Bible, published in 1611, also played a major role in the movement, allowing the people to read the Scriptures for themselves, rather than being limited to what the Church of England was teaching.
Not only was being a Separatist in England illegal, but the people were forced to attend the Anglican Church services or face steep fines. If fines were left unpaid, it resulted in confiscation of property and/or imprisonment. These penalties may have caused some to abandon their convictions and conform to the crown's demands, but a group from the town of Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire, continued in the faith holding Bible studies and worship services secretly until they were discovered and had no choice but to flee. They sought a place where they could practice a true and pure Biblical religion without interference and in 1608, led by William Brewster and John Robinson, they escaped to Amsterdam, Holland, where they could do just that. There they remained for several years, until doctrinal disputes between them and other Separatists began to arise, prompting the Scrooby bunch to move to Leiden, Holland. There they were permitted by the University of Leiden to hold services in one of their chapels, therefore referred to as "Members of the Leiden Congregation".
This interactive Google Map shows the University of Leiden, where our Pilgrim ancestors once walked. Use the arrows to navigate and take a look around!
The Scrooby pilgrims remained there until they saw the opportunity to start their own colony in the New World. They wanted to set an example as a "City upon a hill" for all the world to see what a nation serving God could accomplish with his blessing.
Note: There are several good films and documentaries you can watch to find out more about their tribulation and journey to freedom. (These are currently free for those who have Amazon Prime):
American Experience: The Pilgrims (2015) [Link]
The Pilgrim Fathers - A Perilous Voyage & The Founding of a New Nation [Link]
Mayflower: The Pilgrims Adventure (1979) [Link]
This list of passengers was printed in "Catalogue of the historical collection and pictures in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth", by the Pilgrim Society, 1903. The members of the Leiden Congregation have been marked with a red circle (by me).
The second largest category of passengers were those recruited by the London Merchant Adventurers. They were mostly Non-Separatists who did not seek to start a new church, but instead hoped to reform or "purify" the Church of England from within, thus called Puritans.
The third category were a number of single men were also employed by the Mayflower Company to perform certain tasks. John Alden, for example, was hired a Cooper, in charge of maintaining the wooden barrels used to store food and water on the ship. Myles Standish was hired to guard and protect the colony.
Finally, there were an unknown number of crewmen on the ship, including Capt. Christopher Jones.
Of the 108 known passengers and crewmen, 53 died during the voyage or within the first year. Today there are over 35 millions descendants of Mayflower passengers. Are you one of them? Tell us below!
To learn more about each of the Pilgrims, click here.
Catalogue of the historical collection and pictures in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, by the Pilgrim Society, 1903. [Link]
U.S. History for AP Students [Link]
Course Notes: Puritans [Link]