In the century after the Protestant Reformation, small bands
of English citizens began to question whether the Reformation had gone far
enough. Many believed that the Church of England, conveniently founded by Henry
VIII during the Reformation period, was rife with corruption and unbiblical
practices. These Englishmen, nicknamed “Puritans”, desired a return to the
simple, straightforward practices of the New Testament church. They hoped to
work within the Church of England to bring about this change.
There was a smaller, more radical subset of Puritans who
believed the only real pathway to free worship was through separation from the
Church (“Separatists”). The Church authorities were more suspect of this group
for their open rebellion.
When King James I took the throne, the Separatists became
outlaws. They were arrested and imprisoned, and had their possessions confiscated. They began to meet for worship in secret. When the persecution became
too great, they began leaving in groups for Holland.
Life in their new home of Leyden, Holland was difficult. They were foreigners.
They had not established businesses or trade. Their children were growing more
worldly, thanks to the influences of the culture.
And so they began to turn their thoughts to the New World. There was much talk of Virginia at this time. It seemed like the
perfect place to make a new start. As devout Christians, seeking God’s will in
every step they took, the Separatists prayed for guidance. William Bradford,
the future governor of Plymouth,
It was answered that all great and honorable actions are
accompanied with great difficulties, and must be enterprised and overcome with
answerable courages. It was granted that the dangers were great, but not
desperate, and the difficulties were many, but not invincible [they had heard
some horror stories from the Jamestown
colony]…and all of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience,
might either be borne or overcome… (But) their condition was not ordinary.
Their ends were good and honorable, their calling lawful and urgent, and
therefore they might expect the blessing of God in their proceeding; yea,
though they should lose their lives in this action, yet they might have comfort
in the same, and their endeavors would be honorable. (From Willliam Bradford’s
book Of Plymouth Plantation.)
So, it was determined that they would sail for the New World. They negotiated a charter to help with
expenses through a London Adventurer named Thomas Weston. A ship, The Speedwell, was purchased to take
them to Southampton, where they would join the Mayflower for the voyage across
the Atlantic. (See
the original copy of the Mayflower Passenger list here.)
Original Mayflower Passenger List
While these trusting Puritans had been preparing for their
short trip from Holland to England, Thomas
Weston had played fast and loose with their contract. He quietly convinced one
of the Puritans to agree to revised (and unfair) terms. Presenting these terms
to them just before departing on the Mayflower, Weston was surprisingly
rejected by the Puritans! In order to compromise with the Adventurers, the Puritans extended their original
7-year indenture to an undetermined amount of time to pay back the investment.
Before they departed, a letter from Pastor John Robinson
(who had stayed behind with the main congregation in Holland) was read to the departing Puritans.
His admonition would echo into the future of a nation they could not even
“…whereas you are to become a body politic, using amongst
yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminency
above the rest” [i.e. no Gentlemen on the passenger list], they would have to
choose their leaders from among equals. “Let your wisdom and godliness appear
not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the
common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in
their lawful administrations…” (Read the entire letter
They were being instructed to form a civil government, of
the people, by the people, and for the people!
In August 1620, they finally set sail for the New World. These Puritans had become Pilgrims.
As I stated in Part 1, everything you need to know about the Puritans (Pilgrims) and their world-changing actions is written down by the very people who lived it. The Primary Sources are available for free on the web. An incredible website, Caleb Johnson's MayflowerHistory.com has compiled links to each one. There are letters, sermons, books, and official records that detail the entire story of this amazing little band of Pilgrims. I have cited specific quotes where necessary.