Monday, February 2, 2015

The Pilgrims in England and Holland: What Happened Before They Stepped on That Rock

Noelle Granger

By Noelle Granger







Catalina has generously offered me a guest post on her blog. Since she and her followers are interested in history, I thought I would write about the Pilgrims. I have written posts about the Pilgrims on my own blog, but have barely scratched the surface of their incredible story. My intense interest in these folks comes from the fact I grew up in Plymouth, surrounded by their history, and was one of the first tour guides at  Plimoth Plantation.

Every year, the Pilgrims are trotted out, cardboard replicas clad in dull clothes and wearing tall black hats and shoes with buckles – heroes who braved a transatlantic crossing to celebrate the first Thanksgiving. Heroic, yes. Cardboard, no. The first Thanksgiving? You can call it serendipity or the work of God. The Pilgrims were real people and they did not wear buckles. In this post, I’d like to dispel some misconceptions about their life before the Mayflower sailed.
Aren’t Puritans and Pilgrims the same? No. I don’t know how many times I have read this, so I will clarify:  the Pilgrims and the Puritans were separate religious groups. The Pilgrims settled the Plimoth Colony beginning in 1620 and were Separatists, breaking from the Anglican Church. The Puritans settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (the later Boston area) in 1630. They were dissatisfied with the Church of England but most remained within the Church, advocating further reforms. John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was such a Puritan.
Did the Pilgrims leave England because they were persecuted for their practice of religion? Yes. The Pilgrims left England for Leiden, the Netherlands, in 1609 because the 1559 Act of Uniformity demanded that all British citizens attend services and follow the traditions of the Church of England. The Pilgrims felt the Anglican Church recapitulated the same corrupt order of the Catholic Church and sought to leave it completely (hence the other name for them – Separatists) and practice their religion in their own way. They were persecuted for their views, along with the Catholics.

Weren’t the Pilgrims happy in Leiden? Not exactly. The Separatists had never intended to stay in Holland permanently; while their religion was tolerated, jobs were few and they experienced financial difficulty.  We’ve all heard the story that the Pilgrims ultimately left Holland because their children had become more Dutch than English, speaking Dutch and adopting Dutch customs. While this might have been a contributing reason, in point of fact the Separatists knew the year 1621 would mark the end of the long truce between Spain and Holland. If war was renewed and Spain conquered Holland, they would be hunted down for their Protestant faith by the Spanish Inquisitors. They had to leave.
How did the Pilgrims finance their voyage and settlement? This is something not many people even think about. The Pilgrims needed money, which they didn’t have, to finance their plans. English investors, known as adventurers, provided the finance. They formed a joint stock company with the colonists in which the merchants agreed to risk their money on the adventure, hence they were called adventurers, while the Pilgrims would invest their personal labor, for a period of seven years.
During that time, all land and livestock were to be owned in partnership; afterwards the company would be dissolved and the assets divided. To help insure the success of the colony, the merchants recruited additional emigrants to participate in the colonizing venture. It’s the reason the colony was chronically short of food and didn’t really prosper until after the company dissolved.
Wasn’t their ship the Mayflower? Yes, and no. The Leiden group of Separatists bought a small ship, the Speedwell, for the voyage and to be used in their new home. They sailed to England in July of 1620 and there, with the money from their investors, hired (not bought) a larger vessel, the Mayflower. Preparations were finally complete on August 5, when the two ships sailed from Southampton. As most people know, the Speedwell developed serious leaks and they had to turn back, twice as it turns out. The Mayflower finally sailed alone, on September 6, from Plymouth, England, some of the Pilgrim having been left behind.
September is not the time to be sailing westward on the Atlantic, and their delayed departure had a definite impact on what was to come.
I am looking forward to continuing this adventure, and my thanks to Catalina for hosting me!

Noelle Granger

I started writing as a way of letting my children know where I came from and what shaped me.  I grew up in a small coastal Massachusetts town, where the Pilgrims just happened to have landed some 340 years earlier.  My family and I lived in a 100 year old house that was three stories high, square and unyielding even to hurricane force winds, and its many windows reflected the sky and ocean.  At night, you fell asleep to the sound of waves or the lonely fog horn on Gurnet lighthouse.  My seasons were spent on or in the water, so sailing and swimming are themes in some of what I write, with New England overtones.  For the last thirty years, I have lived in North Carolina, a place I’ve come to love, and that New England accent has acquired a Southern lilt.
I had a long and active career in academia, and if you want to know more about that, you can Google me. For now, I am just a writer trying to find her voice.
Noelle Granger
Writing as N.A. Granger, Author of Death in a Red Canvas Sail and Death in a Dacron Sail (soon to be released)

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