HISTORY CORNER: The Pilgrim journey from persecution to freedom
Pilgrims celebrating First Thanksgiving in either October or November 1621, attended by about 50 survivors of the original 102 Pilgrims and 100 Wampanoag Indians.
Happy Thanksgiving from the History Corner team: Syd Albright, Mike Patrick, Hillary Main and Joel Donofrio.
The first Thanksgiving dinner was a harvest celebration that took place over three days between late September and mid-November in 1621.
History Club members examine two pages of a 1603 Geneva Bible found hidden for 400 years in the cellar of an English manor house in Bawtry, England, where many of the Pilgrims lived, that very likely were read or belonged to a Pilgrim that came to America on the Mayflower. From left: Dr. Chuck Carter, Sandy Carter, Syd Albright, Jim Ramirez and Larry Telles.
The Geneva Bible, also called Breeches Bible, was the Bible the Pilgrims brought to America aboard the Mayflower, though it was banned as “seditious” by the king after the King James Bible was published in 1611.
Painting by Dutch Renaissance artist Isaac van Swanenburg (1537-unknown) depicting textile workers in Leyden, Holland, like the Separatists, washing hides and grading wool.
Leyden, Holland today where the Separatists (AKA Pilgrims) settled in 1609 after leaving Amsterdam and lived there for 12 to 20 years before returning to England and sailing to America aboard the Mayflower.
No known images of Separatist leader William Bradford exist even though he became the first Governor of Plimouth Plantation after coming to America on the Mayflower and is now an American history icon.
Scrooby Manor in Nottinghamshire, England, was William Brewster’s home before he went to America aboard the Mayflower and was used for illicit church services by the Separatists.
Image depicting William Brewster (1568-1644), religious leader of Plimoth Plantation, with no known portraits of him existing.
Nottinghamshire, location of Scrooby and Bawtry, home of the Pilgrims before they fled to Holland and later to America.
The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts Bay from England 10 years after the Pilgrims and together they formed the Congregational Church in America.
King James I of England (1566-1625) disappointed the Puritans by agreeing to only modest church reforms and was harsh with the Separatists (Pilgrims).
Pilgrims going ashore on Dec. 18, 1620, for the first time after signing the Mayflower Compact aboard the Mayflower anchored in Plymouth Harbor, Mass.
Signing the Mayflower Compact, America’s first governing document, aboard the ship Mayflower before going ashore (Nov. 11, 1620).
The three-masted Mayflower was only 100 feet long and 25 feet wide, with three levels, the main deck, cargo hold and gun deck, with the 102 on board living in cramped and uncomfortable quarters, but most filled with hope of a better life of freedom in America.
Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1935) of Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence (1776), showing a model of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower overhead.
Henry VIII’s feud with the Pope over his wanting a divorce from Catherine of Aragon prompted him to abandon the Catholic Church and start his own Protestant Church of England as the official church — making him head of both state and church.
That didn’t rest well with many who thought his church rituals, vestry, iconography and hierarchy weren’t much different from the Catholics’.
Among the dissidents were the Puritans — a Calvinistic group within the Church of England that simply wanted to “purify” the church from within. Another Puritan group called Separatists preferred to break away and worship on their own “the way the early Christians had.”
King James I, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, made England an increasingly dangerous place, wielding a heavy hand in dealing with those who didn’t agree with him.
They were harassed, fined, jailed and sometimes executed.
For not believing in the Trinity and rejecting the Catholic Church, Bartholomew Legate was burned at the stake at Smithfield in Central London (now a meat market), and Edward Wightman was burned at the stake for heresy in the Lichfield marketplace in Staffordshire.
The Separatists had their martyrs too — Henry Barrowe, John Greenwood and John Penry — all hanged. There were others.
Separatist Richard Clyfton, a parson in nearby Babworth in Nottinghamshire was only suspended for his views, so he moved to Scrooby, where he continued to preach clandestinely.
The Pilgrims who later settled in New England were mostly Separatists from the Scrooby area.
To escape persecution in England, many Separatists moved to Holland, starting in 1609 where they could worship freely.
They first went to Amsterdam, but sadly soon started squabbling about theological matters, riling many from Scrooby who a year later moved to Leiden (Rembrandt’s hometown).
Most of them lived in one-room cottages in Leiden and could only find menial jobs — washing animal hides and grading wool in textile shops, or work as carpenters, soldiers, teachers, pipe makers and hat makers — staying there 12 to 20 years.
Those were times of poverty and hardship for most of them, and they didn’t like seeing their children becoming more Dutch than English — nor did they like the libertine morality of their hosts.
Also, storm clouds of war with Spain were looming.
Time to move on.
By early 1619, a minority of the Leiden Separatists had enough and decided to move to America.
Staying behind in Leiden with those who didn’t go were their pastor, John Robinson, and his wife, Bridget. They would have seven children — two dying young. Robinson died there in 1625.
Those wanting to go to America sent John Carver and Robert Cushman to London to negotiate with officials about their loyalty and orthodoxy, and to recruit merchants to finance a new colony in Northern Virginia.
The ship Speedwell took those who wanted to go to Southampton on the south coast of England to join the Mayflower for the voyage to America.
Three times the two ships departed for America only to return because of leaks on the Speedwell.
Weeks later, they abandoned the Speedwell as unseaworthy — moving passengers and cargo to the already crowded Mayflower. Some passengers stayed in England or returned to Holland.
John Carver would be governor of the new colony and William Brewster its ruling elder. Myles Standish, a professional soldier would protect the colony.
Then on Sept. 6, 1620, the Mayflower headed out to sea for America alone, just as storms were brewing in the North Atlantic.
On board were 102 passengers — 74 males and 28 females — and a crew of about 30.
It was a miserable 66-day voyage. Heavy seas made many seasick and at times it was too dangerous to use the sails, so they just drifted.
A sailor and passenger died at sea.
They finally arrived at Cape Cod on Nov. 9, then headed south to their destination on the Hudson River — then part of Northern Virginia. They missed the Hudson and heavy seas forced them to return to Cape Cod, anchoring in what is now Provincetown Harbor.
While at sea, the first Pilgrim baby was born — a boy named Oceanus Hopkins.
For a month, they explored the area and finally settled on Plymouth as the site for the colony.
Before they went ashore however, men aboard the Mayflower signed the famous Mayflower Compact, an agreement to obey all laws they would create to govern the colony.
It wasn’t long before they were discovered by the Wampanoag Indians led by Chief Massasoit — beginning a friendly relationship. One of the Indians was Squanto who spoke English, having been taken to England by an earlier group.
That first winter was brutal and by spring, 50 of the Mayflower’s 102 passengers had died from the harsh weather, malnutrition and disease.
Only one family didn’t lose at least one member.
On April 5, 1621, the Mayflower and its crew returned to England.
Despite the tragic beginning, the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving that year, joined by their new Indian friends.
“Many of the Indians coming amongst us — and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men,” Edward Winslow wrote.
The following year was a bad year for the crops that they’d planted and the next year was so hot and dry that Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer.
Then the rains came.
Over the years, giving thanks at harvest time became a New England tradition, but it took activist Sarah Josepha Hale to convince President Lincoln to create an official national Thanksgiving holiday.
The Pilgrims suffered greatly those first few years of communal living, with everyone sharing the workload, yet prosperity was still unrealized.
Then Governor Bradford divided the surrounding land into parcels, giving ownership of each to the colony’s families. Soon, productivity soared and the Plimouth Plantation blossomed.
Socialism clearly didn’t work.
In the years that followed, the Pilgrims began a tradition of celebrating the harvest by giving thanks to God.
That was already a daily tradition with the Wampanoag, says Linda Coombs of the Wampanoag program at today’s Plimouth Plantation.
“Every time anybody went hunting or fishing or picked a plant, they would offer a prayer or acknowledgment.”
The following year, the ship Fortune arrived at Plymouth colony but brought an inadequate amount of supplies. With winter just ahead, the colonists only had half of the supplies they needed. Nevertheless, “They all faced it bravely,” William Bradford wrote.
The colonist however did have enough furs and other goods to pay half the debt they owed to the merchant investors in England who financed them and loaded them on to the Fortune.
On their way back to England, the ship was attacked nearing the English coast by French privateers who took all the cargo.
Nine years after that first Thanksgiving, the Puritans arrived and started their own colony in Massachusetts Bay and then joined the Pilgrims to establish the Congregational Church in the New World.
William Bradford served as Governor of the Plymouth Colony intermittently for about 30 years and wrote a journal "Plymouth Plantation" about life in the colony. He died in 1657 at age 67.
William Brewster, the only university-educated member of the colony and its religious leader preached until his death in 1644.
John Carver, the colony’s first governor died working in his field on a hot day the year after they arrived and was succeeded by William Bradford.
Edward Winslow, for a short time governor of Plimouth Plantation, returned to England to join Oliver Cromwell who was Lord Protector of England, having ousted King Charles I. He never returned to Plymouth, and died of yellow fever in 1655 while serving as commissioner of an English naval mission against the Spanish in the West Indies near Jamaica.
Miles Standish learned the Wampanoag language and led several expeditions against hostile tribes — and also helped break up the colony of Thomas Morton at nearby Merry Mount because the Pilgrim colony considered him too “unpuritanical.” Standish died in Duxbury, Mass., in 1656.
The Mayflower lasted until 1624 when it was broken up in England for its timber.
A modern historical full-size replica is docked as a floating and sailing museum at Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts.
The rest of the Pilgrim story is of a growing and free America.
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
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First Thanksgiving menu…
The Pilgrims quite likely did serve turkey at the first Thanksgiving in 1601, because William Bradford wrote that there were wild turkeys in the area. Edward Winslow wrote that the Wampanoag Indians contributed five deer that they’d killed — and possibly garden-grown melons. Fowl fare included ducks, geese and swans.
Their seaside location provided fish, lobster and shellfish, while the Pilgrims grew their own beans, cabbage, carrots, corn, cranberries, garlic, parsnips, squash and spinach.
The native wild plants that the Pilgrims learned how to cook included Jerusalem artichokes, walnuts and chestnuts.
There were also blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries and raspberries — but no potatoes because there weren’t any.
Nor did they eat pumpkin pie, because the colony didn’t have butter or wheat flour and had not yet constructed an oven.
They did hollow out pumpkins and fill them with a custard made of milk, honey and spices and then roast the gourds in hot ashes.
It must have been a chore preparing food for so many mouths at the first Thanksgiving because there were only four surviving English housewives left — but hopefully they were helped by the servants, children and some of the men.
Children on board Mayflower…
On board the Mayflower were four children age 4 to 8 who were sent to America as indentured servants by their legal father, wealthy English landowner Samuel More. He did so after learning that they were born from an adulterous relationship between his wife Katherine and another man. Servants of three of the Pilgrim leaders — Edward Winslow, John Carver and William Brewster — took responsibility for the children as indentured addservants. Within a year, three of the children had died. Only 6-year-old Richard More survived, grew up and became a well-known sea captain.
From Saint to Pilgrim…
The Separatists who founded the Plymouth Colony referred to themselves as “Saints” — not “Pilgrims.” It wasn’t until 200 years later that the word “Pilgrim” was used.
Puritans and the state church…
Starting in the 1600s, the Puritans created religious and social division in England by demanding reforms in the national Church of England and its close resemblance to Catholicism with its traditional festive culture. That included denouncing popular pastimes amusements like watching dogs attack a chained bear — even on Sundays. Puritans also denounced theaters during the Shakespearian Age as places of decadence.
King James in the early 1600s prohibited the Calvinist Puritan ministers from preaching — considering them a national security threat because their demands for cultural, social and religious reforms undermined the king’s authority as both monarch and head of the state church.
First Pilgrim baby…
After the Pilgrims arrived in America, the first baby was Peregrine White, a son born to William and Susanna White in November 1620 aboard the Mayflower, while the ship was anchored in the harbor at Cape Cod. William died three months after arriving and Peregrine’s mom married Edward Winslow.