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In the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry VIII created the Church of England. Henry's partiality to the lopping of heads, at the rate of 4.5 for every day of his rule, failed to make headlines at the time. Probably because any sign of disagreement was met with the axe. You can well imagine how the Separatists and Puritans would have been treated, had Henry caught them.


On 12 February 1609 the city government of Leiden granted 100 of the English religious refugees permission to settle in Leiden. About 11 years lateriIn 1620, a group of these radical refugees left for America as Pilgrims and founded the Plymouth Colony there, one of 13 colonies in America. Most of the roughly hundred Pilgrims who found refuge in Leiden had previously lived off small-scale agriculture in England. Upon arrival in Leiden, they could immediately start working in the city’s textile industry – among the largest in Europe at the time.



Most Pilgrims had little trouble integrating into this dynamic, multicultural society, and as a result their leaders feared that the group would eventually lose its religious and cultural identity. The establishment of a private colony to which they could retreat and where they could sustain their pure faith community became an increasingly enticing solution. Moreover it was economically attractive for many to leave the arduous textile industry, and build up a new life and home by cultivating new lands in North America.

Many of the Separatists originally came from Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. William Brewster was one of them. It is believed that Brewster founded a Separatist church in his family home, Scrooby Manor. Brewster strongly influenced a local young man, William Bradford. Bradford’s diary, Of Plimoth Plantation, is an account of his group’s story, including their persecution in England which made it impossible for them to lead a peaceful life.


Many councils in England today, still persecute planning dissidents, those who do not conform and will not pay what they consider to be outrageous bribes and taxes. One notable council is Wealden in Sussex, though other heavy handed local authorities are frequently labeled Gestapo Councils by the media. Sadly, the USA is no longer the land of the free, with many of their agencies, FBI, Homeland Security, Inland Revenue Services, making life difficult for their citizens. History repeats itself.



John Smyth, the minister of different Separatist group from Gainsborough, decided that he and his congregation would emigrate in pursuit of freedom of religion. However, leaving England without permission was punishable, and so they quietly slipped away from Gainsborough and re-emerged in Amsterdam.

The Scrooby congregation also chanced an escape to the Netherlands via Boston, Lincolnshire. During the Autumn of 1607 they secretly traveled to Scotia Creek, near Boston, where they had chartered a boat to smuggle them out of the country. To their horror, they soon found out that they had been betrayed by the captain. They were seized and imprisoned in Boston. After a month of captivity, most of them were released.

Despite this, the Scrooby Separatists were not deterred. The next year, they travelled North to board a ship in Immingham. And once again, they were pursued. Though this time, the men succeeded in fleeing to the Netherlands. The women and children were aboard a different boat, which was seized. In the end, they were released and then finally reunited in Amsterdam.




At the time of the Separatists’ arrival in the Netherlands, the so-called Twelve Years’ Truce had just been signed. The truce made a temporary end to the hostilities between Spain and the Netherlands, and marked the start of a relatively calm period. Following a disagreement with the John Smyth group, the Scrooby group moved from Amsterdam to Leiden. Their pastor, John Robinson, sent a message to Leiden, requesting to admit some hundred men and women into the city. The city authorities agreed to welcome them, on the condition that they would abide by the rules.

They started a new life in the tolerant city of Leiden. They remained a close-knit community, and many of the group lived together, married among themselves and worked together. Many of them found a job in the flourishing textile industry. Their children were baptised at the Pieterskerk, the Hooglandse Kerk or the Vrouwekerk, as they were not permitted to have a church building of their own. They would often gather at John Robinson’s house, located next to the Pieterskerk.

Life in Leiden was tough for the Separatists. They came from rural England and were not accustomed to the urban setting they found themselves in. Many of them found it hard to adjust to the changes in their work, and earned very little. The parents among them also worried about their children losing touch with their English roots under the influence of the Dutch.


The Pilgrims carried over a number of customs from Leiden. One of these customs is civil marriage. In the early days, they had no-one who could conduct church weddings, so civil marriage was a good alternative. They also adopted Leiden’s administrative structure of small, self-regulatory districts. Last but not least, it is believed that the first Thanksgiving was inspired by the annual “Leidens Ontzet” celebration.


After some 12 years, close to the end of the Twelve Years’ Truce, a number of Separatists were determined it was time to move again. They contacted the congregation which had remained in England, and decided they would all travel to Virginia, America to set up a new community there. They would found a new town where they could live and practice their religion as they wished.

They realised it would be an expensive journey. In order to raise the money they needed, the Separatists made a deal with the Virginia Company, a business with the objective to establish colonies in North America. The Company needed people to populate the colonies and send them trading goods. The Separatists would work hard to pay back the money invested by the Company.





SHARING FOOD - “Enemies could sit down together and meet over food.” This painting depicts the first Thanksgiving in November 1621, a celebration of a bumper harvest and acceptance of a different diet in a new land. To the Wampanoag, the celebration is actually a time of mourning, for when the settlers almost wiped out their tribe.






On 16 September 1620, the Mayflower set sail with approximately 30 crew and 102 passengers on board, alongside the Speedwell. Almost half of them were Separatists, or “Saints”. They had chosen this name to emphasize the fact that they were part of a specific group with particular views. All others were referred to as “Strangers”, as this is how the Saints regarded anyone who was not part of their group, and did not understand their faith. The 'Strangers' were a group of skilled workers who were sent along by the investors to help build the colony.


The original wooden 30-meter Mayflower took 66 days to carry the Pilgrims, Founding Fathers from the U.K. to what is now the U.S.










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