English Pilgrims Settle At Plymouth Part I. 

Author: Barry, John S.
1620

No event in American history is more famous throughout the world, and
none has been followed by results more potent in the making of this country,
than the settlement of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. This pioneer company, which
founded the second English colony in the New World, was composed of Puritans
who had left the Church of England, and were known as Independents or
Separatists.




In the later years of the sixteenth century the tyranny of the
Ecclesiastical Commission drove multitudes of English churchmen into the ranks
of the dissenters. At last this tyranny, and the threats of King James I,
caused some of the Independents to leave the country.

An Independent Church, mainly composed of simple country people, was
formed in 1606 at Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire. At its head were John
Robinson, the pastor, and William Brewster, often called Elder Brewster, who
was postmaster at Scrooby. Robinson was distinguished alike for his learning
and his tolerant spirit. Another leader was William Bradford, then but
seventeen years old. He was afterward Governor of Plymouth colony for thirty
years, and was its historian.

For some time the members of this Church quietly endured persecution at
the hands of the King's officers. Then they began to talk of fleeing to
Holland, whither other dissenters and already escaped. In 1607 some of the
Scrooby congregation unsuccessfully attempted the flight. A few months later
they succeeded in reaching Amsterdam, where they intended to remain. But
finding the English exiles there involved in theological disputes, they acted
on Robinson's advice and sought a more peaceful home in Leyden.

Here, about three hundred in number, they arrived in 1609, soon after
Spain had granted Holland the Twelve Year's Peace, after the long Netherland
wars. For eleven years the Pilgrims, as they were already called, remained in
their new home, living by various employments. During that time the colony
increased to more than a thousand souls.

For several years the exiled Pilgrims abode at Leyden in comparative
peace. So mutual was the esteem of both pastor and people that it might be
said of them, "as of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the people of Rome: it
was hard to judge whether he delighted more in having such a people, or they
in having such a pastor." With their spiritual, their temporal interests were
objects of his care, so that he was "every way as a common father to them."
And when removed from them by death, as he was in a few years, they sustained
"such a loss as they saw could not be easily repaired, for it was as hard for
them to find such another leader and feeder as the Taborites to find another
Ziska."

Eight years' residence, however, in a land of strangers, subjected to its
trials and burdened with its sorrows, satisfied this little band that Holland
could not be for them a permanent home. The "hardness of the place"
discouraged their friends from joining them. Premature age was creeping upon
the vigorous. Severe toil enfeebled their children. The corruption of the
Dutch youth was pernicious in its influence. They were Englishmen, attached
to the land of their nativity. The Sabbath, to them a sacred institution, was
openly neglected. A suitable education was difficult to be obtained for their
children. The truce with Spain was drawing to a close, and the renewal of
hostilities was seriously apprehended. But the motive above all others which
prompted their removal was a "great hope and inward zeal of laying some good
foundation for the propagating and advancing of the Gospel of the Kingdom of
Christ in these remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but as
stepping-stones to others for performing of so great a work."

For these reasons - and were they frivolous? - a removal was resolved
upon. They could not in peace return to England. It was dangerous to remain
in the land of their exile. Whither, then, should they go? Where should an
asylum for their children be reared? This question, so vital, was first
discussed privately, by the gravest and wisest of the Church; then publicly,
by all. The "casualties of the seas," the "length of the voyage," the
"miseries of the land," the "cruelty of the savages," the "expense of the
outfit," the "ill-success of other colonies," and "their own sad experience"
in their removal to Holland were urged as obstacles which must doubtless be
encountered. But, as a dissuasive from discouragement, it was remarked that
"all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and
must both be enterprised and overcome with answerable courages. It was
granted the dangers very great, but not invincible; for although there were
many of them likely, yet they were not certain. Some of the things they
feared might never befall them; others, by providence, care, and the use of
good means might in a great measure be prevented; and all of them, through the
help of God, by fortitude or patience might either be borne or overcome."

Whither should they turn their steps? Some, and "none of the meanest."
were "earnest for Guiana." Others, of equal worth, were in favor of Virginia,
"where the English had already made entrance and beginning." But a majority
were for "living in a distinct body by themselves, though under the general
government of Virginia." For Guiana, it was said, "the country was rich,
fruitful, and blessed with a perpetual spring and a flourishing greenness";
and the Spaniards "had not planted there nor anywhere near the same." Guiana
was the El Dorado of the age. Sir Walter Raleigh, its discoverer, had
described its tropical voluptuousness in the most captivating terms; and
Chapman, the poet, dazzled by its charms, exclaims:

"Guiana, whose rich feet are mines of gold,
Whose forehead knocks against the roof of stars,
Stands on her tiptoe at fair England looking,
Kissing her hands, bowing her mighty breast,
And every sign of all submission making,
To be the sister and the daughter both
Of our most sacred maid."

Is it surprising that the thoughts of the exiles were enraptured in
contemplating this beautiful land? Was it criminal to seek a pleasant abode?
But as an offset to its advantages, its "grievous diseases" and "noisome
impediments" were vividly portrayed; and it was urged that, should they settle
there and prosper, the "jealous Spaniard" might displace and expel them, as he
had already the French from their settlements in Florida; and this the sooner,
as there would be none to protect them, and their own strength was inadequate
to cope with so powerful an adversary.

Against settling in Virginia it was urged that, "if they lived among the
English there planted, or under their government, they would be in as great
danger to be persecuted for the cause of religion as if they lived in England,
and it might be worse, and, if they lived too far off, they should have
neither succor nor defence from them." Upon the whole, therefore, it was
decided to "live in a distinct body by themselves, under the general
government of Virginia, and by their agents to sue his majesty to grant them
free liberty and freedom of religion."

Accordingly John Carver, one of the deacons of the Church, and Robert
Cushman, a private member, were sent to England to treat with the Virginia
Company for a grant of land, and to solicit of the King liberty of conscience.
The friends from whom aid was expected, and to some of whom letters were
written, were Sir Edwin Sandys, the distinguished author of the Europae
Speculum; Sir Robert Maunton, afterward secretary of state; and Sir John
Wolstenholme, an eminent merchant and a farmer of the customs. Sir Ferdinando
Georges seems also to have been interested in their behalf, as he speaks of
means used by himself, before his rupture with the Virginia Company, to "draw
into their enterprises some of those families that had retired into Holland,
for scruple of conscience, giving them such freedom and liberty as might stand
with their likings."

The messengers - "God going along with them" - bore a missive signed by
the principal members of the Church, commending them to favor, and conducted
their mission with discretion and propriety; but as their instructions were
not plenary, they soon returned, bearing a letter from Sir Edwin Sandys,
approving their diligence and proffering aid. The next month a second embassy
was despatched, with an answer to Sir Edwin's letter, in which, for his
encouragement, the exiles say: "We believe and trust the Lord is with us, and
will graciously prosper our endeavors accordingly to the simplicity of our
hearts therein. We are well weaned from the delicate milk of our
mother-country and inured to the difficulties of a strange and hard land. The
people are, for the body of them, industrious and frugal. We are knit
together in a strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord, of the
violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue whereof we hold
ourselves strictly tied to all care of others' goods. It is not with us, as
with others, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause
to wish themselves at home again."

For the information of the council of the company, the "requests" of the
Church were sent, signed by nearly the whole congregation, and, in a letter to
Sir John Wolstenholme, explanation was given of their "judgments" upon three
points named by his majesty's privy council, in which they affirmed that they
differed nothing in doctrine and but little in discipline from the French
reformed churches, and expressed their willingness to take the oath of
supremacy if required, "if that convenient satisfaction be not given by our
taking the oath of allegiance."

The new agents, upon their arrival in England, found the Virginia Company
anxious for their emigration to America, and "willing to give them a patent
with as ample privileges as they had or could grant to any"; and some of the
chief members of the company "doubted not to obtain their suit of the King for
liberty in religion." But the last "proved a harder work than they took it
for." Neither James nor his bishops would grant such a request. The
"advancement of his dominions" and "the enlargement of the Gospel" his majesty
acknowledged to be "an honorable motive"; and "fishing" - the secular business
they expected to follow - "was an honest trade, the apostle's own calling";
but for any further liberties he referred them to the prelates of Canterbury
and London. All that could be obtained from the King after the most diligent
"sounding" was a verbal promise that "he would connive at them and not molest
them, provided they conducted themselves peaceably; but to allow or tolerate
them under his seal" he would not consent.

With this answer the messengers returned, and their report was
discouraging to the hopes of the exiles. Should they trust their monarch's
word, when bitter experience had taught them the ease with which it could be
broken? And yet, reasoned some, "his word may be as good as his bond; for if
he purposes to injure us, though we have a seal as broad as the house-floor,
means will be found to recall or reverse it." In this as in other matters,
therefore, they relied upon Providence, trusting that distance would prove as
effectual a safeguard as the word of a prince which had been so often
forfeited.

Accordingly other agents were sent to procure a patent, and to negotiate
with such merchants as had expressed a willingness to aid them with funds. On
reaching England these agents found a division existing in the Virginia
Company, growing out of difficulties between Sir Thomas Smith and Sir Edwin
Sandys; and disagreeable intelligence had been received from Virginia of
disturbances in the colony which had there been established. For these
reasons little could be immediately effected. At length, after tedious
delays, and "messengers passing to and fro," a patent was obtained, which, by
the advice of friends, was taken in the name of John Wincob, a gentleman in
the family of the Countess of Lincoln; and with this document, and the
proposals of Mr. Thomas Weston, one of the agents returned, and submitted the
same to the Church for inspection. The nature of these proposals has never
transpired, nor is the original patent - the first which the Pilgrims received
- known to be in existence. Future inquirers may discover this instrument, as
recently other documents have been rescued from oblivion. We should be glad
to be acquainted with its terms, were it only to know definitely the region it
embraced. But if ever discovered, we will hazard the conjecture that it will
be found to cover territory now included in New York.

Upon the reception of the patent and the accompanying proposals, as every
enterprise of the Pilgrims began from God - a day of fasting and prayer was
appointed to seek divine guidance; and Mr. Robinson, whose services were ever
appropriate, discoursed to his flock from the words in Samuel: "And David's
men said unto him, See, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more if we come
to Keilah, against the host of the Philistines?" Next followed a discussion
"as to how many and who should go first." All were ready and anxious to
embark; but funds were wanting to defray their expenses. It was concluded,
therefore, that the youngest and strongest should be the pioneers of the
Church, and that the eldest and weakest should follow at a future date. If
the Lord "frowned" upon their proceedings the first emigrants were to return,
but if he prospered and favored them they were to "remember and help over the
ancient and poor." As the emigrants proved the minority, it was agreed that
the pastor should remain in Holland, and that Mr. Brewster, the elder, should
accompany those who were to leave. Each party was to be an absolute church in
itself; and as any went or came they were to be admitted to fellowship without
further testimonies. Thus the church at Plymouth was the first in New England
established upon the basis of Independent Congregationalism.

Early the next spring Mr. Weston visited Leyden to conclude the
arrangements for "shipping and money," and Messrs. Carver and Cushman returned
with him to England to "receive the money and provide for the voyage." The
latter was to tarry in London, and the former was to proceed to Southampton;
Mr. Christopher Martin, of Billerrica, in Essex, was to join them; and from
the "county of Essex came several others, as also from London and other
places."

Pending these negotiations, the property of those who were to embark was
sold, and the proceeds were added to the common fund, with which vessels,
provisions, and other necessaries were to be obtained. But Mr. Weston already
half repented his engagements, and, more interested in trade than in religion,
he informed his associates that "sundry honorable lords and worthy gentlemen"
were treating for a patent for New England, distinct from the Virginia patent,
and advised them to alter their plans and ally with the new company. At the
same time their agents sent word that "some of those who should have gone fell
off and would not go; other merchants and friends that professed to adventure
their money withdrew and pretended many excuses: some disliking they went not
to Guiana; others would do nothing unless they went to Virginia; and many who
were most relied on refused to adventure if they went thither." Such
discouragements would have disheartened men of a less sanguine temperament,
and for a time the Pilgrims were "driven to great straits"; but as the patent
for New England had not passed the seals, it was deemed useless to linger
longer in uncertainty, and they "resolved to adventure with that patent they
had."

Their greatest hardship was the compact with the merchants. The Pilgrims
were poor and their funds were limited. They had no alternative, therefore,
but to associate with others; and, as often happens in such cases, wealth took
advantage of their improverished condition. By their instructions the terms
on which their agents were to engage with the adventurers were definitely
fixed, and no alteration was to be made without consultation. But time was
precious; the business was urgent; it had already been delayed so long that
many were impatient; and to satisfy the merchants, who drove their bargain
sharply and shrewdly, some changes were made, and by ten tight articles the
emigrants were bound to them for the term of seven years. At the end of this
period, by the original compact, the houses and improved lands were to belong
wholly to the planters; and each colonist having a family to support was to be
allowed two days in each week to labor for their benefit. The last is a
liberty enjoyed by "even a Wallachian serf or a Spanish slave"; and the
refusal of the merchants to grant so reasonable a request caused great
complaint; but Mr. Cushman answered peremptorily that, unless they had
consented to the change, "the whole design would have fallen to the ground,
and, necessity having no law, they were constrained to be silent." As it was,
it threatened a seven years' check to the pecuniary prosperity of the colony;
but as it did not interfere with their civil or religious rights, it was
submitted to with the less reluctance, though never acceptable.

At this critical juncture, while the Pilgrims were in such perplexity,
and surrounded by so many difficulties, the Dutch, who were perfectly
acquainted with their proceedings, and who could not but be sensible that the
patent they had obtained of the Virginia Company, if sanctioned by the
government of England, would interfere seriously with their projected West
India Company, and with their settlement at New Netherland, stepped forward
with the proposals of the most inviting and apparently disinterested and
liberal character. Knowing that but a portion of the Church were preparing to
embark for America, and that all would be glad to emigrate in a body,
overtures were made to Mr. Robinson, as pastor, that he and his flock, and
their friends in England, would embark under the auspices of the Lords
States-General, themselves should be transported to America free of expense,
and cattle should be furnished for their subsistence on their arrival. These
are the "liberal offers" alluded to in general terms by early Pilgrim writers,
and which are uniformly represented as having originated with the Dutch,
though recently it has been suggested, and even asserted, that the overtures
came from the Pilgrims themselves. But there is an inherent improbability in
this last representation, arising from the fact that much time had been spent
in procuring a patent in England, and in negotiating with the adventurers for
the requisite funds, and an avowed object with the Pilgrims in leaving Holland
was to preserve their nationality. They had no motive, therefore, to
originate such a proposition, though when made to them by the Dutch it may
have proved so attractive that they were willing to accept it upon certain
conditions, of which one was that the government of Holland should guarantee
to protect them.

This concession was enough for the merchants to act upon. "They saw at
once that so many families going in a body to New Netherland could hardly fail
to form a successful colony." But the political part of the question they were
unable to decide. They were ready to expend their capital in carrying the
emigrants to New Netherland and in supplying them with necessaries; but they
had no authority to promise that the Dutch government would afford to the
colonists special protection after their arrival there. "They therefore
determined to apply directly to the general government at The Hague."

The Prince of Orange was then in the zenith of his power; and to him, as
stadtholder, the merchants repaired with a memorial, professedly in the name
of the "English preacher at Leyden," praying that "the aforesaid preacher and
four hundred families may be taken under the protection of the United
Provinces, and that two ships-of-war may be sent to secure, provisionally, the
said lands to this government, since such lands may be of great importance
whenever the West India Company shall be organized."

The Stadtholder was too wary a politician to approbate immediately so
sweeping a proposal, and referred it to the States-General. For two months it
was before this body, where it was several times discussed; and finally, after
repeated deliberations, it was resolved "peremptorily to reject the prayer of
the memorialists." Nor can we doubt the wisdom of the policy which prompted
this decision. It was well known in Holland that the English claimed the
territory of New Netherland. The Dutch had hitherto been tolerated in
settling there, because they had not openly interfered with the trade of the
English. But should they now send over a body of English emigrants, under the
tricolored flag, designed to found a colony for the benefit of the Batavian
republic, the prudent foresaw that a collision would be inevitable, and might
result disastrously to the interests of their nation. Mr. Robinson and his
associates, though exiles, were Englishmen, and would be held as such in
Holland or America. Hence, had the Pilgrims emigrated under the auspices of
the Dutch, and had James I demanded of them the allegiance of subjects, they
would have been compelled to submit, or the nation which backed them would
have been forced into war. There was wisdom, therefore, in the policy which
rejected the memorial of the merchants.

In consequence of the disaffection of Mr. Weston, there were complaints
of his delay in providing the necessary shipping; but at last the Speedwell,
of sixty tons - miserable misnomer - was purchased in Holland for the use of
the emigrants; and the Mayflower, of a hundred eighty tons - whose name is
immortal - was chartered in England, and was fitting for their reception. The
cost of the outfit, including a trading stock of seventeen hundred pounds, was
but twenty-four hundred pounds - about twelve thousand dollars of the currency
of the United States! It marks the poverty of the Pilgrims that their own
funds were inadequate to meet such a disbursement; and it marks the narrowness
of the adventurers that they doled the sum so grudgingly, and exacted such
securities for their personal indemnity. There were some generous hearts
among the members of this company - true and tried friends of the exiles in
their troubles - but many of them were illiberal and selfish, and had very
little sympathy with the principles of their partners.

As the time of departure drew near, a day of public humiliation was
observed - the last that the emigrants kept with their pastor - and on this
memorable occasion Mr. Robinson discoursed to them from the words in Ezra:
"And there, at the river, by Ahava, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble
ourselves before God, and seek of him a right way for us, and for our
children, and for all of our substance." The catholic advice of this excellent
man was worthy to be addressed to the Founders of New England:

"We are now ere long to part asunder; and the Lord only knoweth whether
ever I shall live to see your faces again. But, whether he hath appointed
this or not, I charge you, before him and his blessed angels, to follow me no
further than I have followed Christ; and if God should reveal anything to you
by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to
receive any truth by my ministry; and I am confident that the Lord hath more
light and truth yet to break forth out of his holy Word. For my part, I
cannot but bewail the condition of the reformed churches, who are come to a
period of religion, and will go no further than the instruments of their
reformation. The Lutherans, for example, cannot be drawn to go beyond what
Luther saw; and whatever part of God's will he hath further imparted to
Calvin, they will rather die than embrace; and so the Calvinists stick where
he left them. This is a misery much to be lamented, for, though they were
precious shining lights in their times, God hath not revealed his whole will
to them; and were they now living, they would be as ready and willing to
embrace further lights as that they did receive.

Remember also your church covenants, and especially that part of it
whereby you promise and covenant with God and one with another, to receive
whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to you from his written Word.
But take heed what you receive for truth, and examine, compare, and weigh it
well with the Scriptures. It is not possible that the Christian world should
come so lately out of such thick anti-Christian darkness, and that full
perfection of knowledge should break forth at once. Shake off, too, the name
of Brownists, for it is but a nickname, and a brand to make religion odious,
and the professors of it, to the Christian world. And be ready to close with
the godly party of the kingdom of England, and rather study union than
disunion - how near you may, without sin, close with them, than in the least
manner to affect disunion or separation."

At the conclusion of this discourse those who were to leave were feasted
at their pastor's house, where, after "tears," warm and gushing, from the
fulness of their hearts, the song of praise and thanksgiving was raised; and
"truly," says an auditor, "it was the sweetest melody that ever mine ears
heard." But the parting hour has come! The Speedwell lies at Delfthaven,
twenty-two miles south of Leyden, and thither the emigrants are accompanied by
their friends, and by others from Amsterdam who are present to pray for the
success of their voyage. "So they left that goodly and pleasant city, which
had been their restingplace near twelve years. But they knew they were
Pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, and quieted their spirits."

The last night was spent "with little sleep by the most, but with
friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of
true Christian love." On the morrow they sailed; "and truly doleful was the
sight of that sad and mournful parting; to see what sighs and sobs and prayers
did sound among them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches
pierced each other's hearts; that sundry of the Dutch strangers, that stood on
the quay as spectators, could not refrain from tears. Yet comfortable and
sweet it was to see such lively and true expressions of dear and unfeigned
love. But the tide, which stays for no man, calling them away that were thus
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; and then, with mutual embraces and many tears, they
took their leave one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of
them."

At starting they gave their friends "a volley of small shot and three
pieces of ordnance"; and so, "lifting up their hands to each other, and their
hearts for each other to the Lord God," they set sail, and found his presence
with them, "in the midst of the manifold straits he carried them through."
Favored by a prosperous gale they soon reached Southampton, where lay the
Mayflower in readiness with the rest of their company; and after a joyful
welcome and mutual congratulations, they "fell to parley about their
proceedings."

 

Part II

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