For a while I lived in Retford in Nottinghamshire. Along with Lincolnshire and Yorkshire this area became known as Pilgrim Country. Since it is Thanksgiving Day this week, over the Pond I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the key players from Pilgrim Country.
Near to Retford is the village of Babworth. The church there under the leadership of Richard Clyfton became one of the centres of religious dissent during the early part of the seventeenth century. Many of those who eventually set sail in The Mayflower came from hereabouts.
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth I had made many reforms of the Church of England but for some it was not enough; they wanted to abolish the church hierarchy and many of the rituals that derived from the Catholic church. A group know as Separatists went further, calling for a clear separation between the church and the state.
When King James came to the English throne in 1603 he followed the Catholic religion and made Non-Conformism including Separatism a crime of sedition. Anyone who participated in Non-Conformist worship of any kind could expect to lose their livelihood which meant in effect, poverty and often imprisonment.
Richard Clyfton supported the Separatist view. It was his preaching and inspiration that attracted two others – William Brewster, from nearby Scrooby and William Bradford from Austerfield.
William Brewster had studied at Peterhouse, Cambridge and then entered the service of William Davison who was the ambassador to the Netherlands. This provided him with his first opportunity to learn more about Non-conformist religion. Brewster returned home to Scrooby for a time and it was there that he encountered both Richard Clyfton and William Bradford.
When Conformists denounced Richard Clyfton as a Separatist (who thus was deprived of his living) the Brewsters at Scrooby Manor took him in. There they created their own clandestine church whose congregation included William Bradford.
William Bradford was a teenager when he first met Brewster at Scrooby Manor. They became friends and when the move to Holland was proposed Bradford determined to join it.
At that time Non-Conformists were subjected to a range of pressures-fines, imprisonment, close supervision and so, in 1607 many of Clyfton’s congregation decided to flee to Holland, a more religiously tolerant country. Clyfton joined them a year later.
It was William Brewster who organised the flight to Holland.
At that time emigration without permission was illegal and the group travelled cautiously,always haunted by the threat of arrest and betrayal. They set off over the Lincolnshire Wolds, heading for Boston a small port on the Lincolnshire coast. They skirted the town itself and boarded a Dutch ship whose captain had agreed to take them to Holland. He betrayed them. They were all arrested and brought before a court. Surprisingly the court dealt with them quite leniently and most were released fairly soon.
The following year they tried again but nothing was ever easy for them. The men had walked to an agreed embarkation point whilst their women and children travelled in a barge down the river Trent. The men boarded. Unfortunately the captain of the ship saw a group of armed men approaching his ship. Putting two and two together, he knew he would face arrest if caught with his passengers so he set sail leaving the women and children behind. They were all arrested but for once the Authorities realised they had nothing to gain by keeping them in prison. All were granted permission to emigrate.
Exactly where they embarked from is not known. The writings of William Brewster refer only to a creek somewhere on the coast between Grimsby and Hull. One possibility was Killingholme Creek, near Immingham where a memorial stone to their endeavours stands.
They made it to Leiden in Holland where they gained the freedom to worship as they chose. Bradford lodged with the Brewster family, first in Amsterdam and then Leiden where the lived in the graphically named Stink Alley and took what work they could find.
However they were still not free from the persecutions of the English Crown and a further worry was the behaviour of the youngsters in the group. Bradford wrote:
“Many of their children…were drawne away by evill examples into extravagante and dangerous courses.”
When Brewster published highly critical comments about James, King of England and the Church, King James launched a manhunt for him. He promptly disappeared and went underground. According to some sources Brewster gave himself up to the Dutch who refused to send him to certain death in England. Instead they told King James that they had arrested the wrong man and released him.
These events spurred the congregation to move farther from England. They looked to the New World – America.
In Holland, in 1620 they boarded The Speedwell and set out for Southampton to meet their other ship, The Mayflower one of whose passengers was to be William Brewster who came out from hiding.
Further delays ensued – The Speedwell proved to be unseaworthy and both ships were forced to return first to Dartmouth and then after another unsuccessful attempt, back to Plymouth. Eventually, The Mayflower now overloaded with additional passengers set sail from Plymouth on September 6, 1620 with 102 passengers and about 30 crew members.
The weather still worked against them and they landed on the shores of Cape Cod in mid-November 1620 rather than at the designated site on the Hudson River. In the ensuing weeks the would-be settlers explored their new territory looking for a site for the permanent settlement. It was not until December 1620 that The Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbour – the settlers opting to use the name of their departure point in England for their new home.
Richard Clyfton never made it to the New World – he remained in Amsterdam where he died in 1616. Brewster died in April 1644 and Bradford in May 1657 both having played significant roles in the colony.
To those in the New World – have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day on Thursday.