Times 1066

Mayflower Pilgrims Sail from Plymouth

Autumn 1620 - The Separatists, who escaped from Scrooby in Nottinghamshire 12 years ago, did not find the religious tolerance that they hoped for in Holland. Deciding to emigrate again, they have sailed from Plymouth, Devon, bound for Virginia in the New World. They perceive themselves as pilgrims.
Mayfower at Plymouth
  • One good reason why the Separatists wanted to venture to the New World was the prospect of war breaking out between Spain and Holland.
  • They did consider going to Guiana where Sir Walter Raleigh prophesied a golden City of Eldorado but finally decided to go to Virginia.

Those Separatists who arrived in Amsterdam in 1609 moved on a year later to Leyden, 'a fair and beautiful city', though to a congested area of the old city. Work was difficult to find initially but the Separatists persevered and over the years their congregation has flourished. Their able pastor, John Robinson, used the garden of his large house to build 21 tenements for English families. William Bradford became a fustian worker - a weaver of thick twilled cloth; and like the rest of the Leyden congregation, William Brewster took many menial jobs before he was able to earn money teaching. He and John Robinson both taught at Leyden University.

With the help of Reynolds, a master printer, and his young assistant Edward Winslow, Brewster began to print anonymous Puritan pamphlets which were smuggled to England. King James's government ruled these pamphlets as treasonable and when the Leyden magistrates heard of it, Brewster went into hiding.

Religious Strife

Three years ago (1617), many of the Separatists began to wonder if there was any improvement in their lives since they were still overshadowed by persecution and religious strife. William Brewster had to go in hiding. Edward Winslow said: 'How hard the country was . . . How grievous to live from under the protection of the State of England. How like we were to lose our language, and our name, of English. How little good we did, or are likely to do, to the Dutch in reforming the Sabbath. How unable to give such education to our children as we ourselves have received.'

William Bradford wanted to spread the Christian gospel in some distant part of the world - in truth to be a pilgrim. Having noted that the twelve year truce between Spain and Holland would expire in 1621, William also realised a new war would turn Leyden into a bloody battleground.

Thoughts of the Separatists turned to a 'New England' far across the Atlantic ocean: 'They cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations . . . for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.'


North America seemed to offer the the pilgrims the best prospect for settlement where they could organise themselves independantly. Other Englishmen have sailed to and settled in this New World. In 1607 the pioneer English colony was founded at Jamestown by the Virginia Company of London. One of its members has written: 'The voyage is not long or tedious. six weeks at ease will send us thither.' Tobacco growing has started there and expectations are high that the colony will prosper.

A member of the colony has glowingly written: 'The country itself is large and great, the air and climate sweet and wholesome, much warmer than England and very ageeable to our natures. It is inhabited with wild and savage people that live and lie up and down in troops, like herds of deer in a forest . . . They are generally very loving and gentle and do entertain and relieve our people with great kindness. The land yieldeth naturally for the sustentation of man abundance of fish, both scale and shell, of land and water-fowls infinite store, of deer, rein and fallow, stags, conies, and hares, with many fruits and roots good for meat.'

The writer makes no mention that during the first winter at Jamestown half the settlers starved to death; nor of the terrifying tales going round Europe about Red Indian savages 'who are cruel and barbarous, and treacherous, furious in their rage and mercless when they get the upper hand - not content to kill, they delight in tormenting people in the most bloody manner possible.'


Despite their doubts about the long sea voyage and the land itself - maybe fruitful and fit for habitation but peopled by savages differing little from wild beasts - most of the Leyden Separatists wanted to emigrate to New England 'in a separate community under the general government of Virginia.' By a majority decision, they opted 'to undertake the enterprise and prosecute it by the best means they could.'

Robert Cushman and John Carver were sent to ask the Virginia Company in London to sponsor their voyage. The Virginia Company, needing more colonists, welcomed their approach and assured them that King James would agree to their departure and allow them freedom of worship in their own home. Negotiations were protracted and to support their case, Cushman and Carver presented the Seven Articles, a statement of belief that attempted to minimise their differences with the Church of England. King James announced his approval and even took a personal interest in it.

'This is a good and honest motion,' His Majesty said, and then asked: 'What profits might arise in the part we intended?'


The King: 'So God have my soul! 'Tis an honest trade! It was the Apostles own calling.'

Speedwell and Mayflower

Having gained permission to found a settlement, the pilgrims 'found God going along with them.' and merchants and other non-Puritans were invited to sail with them across the Atlantic. Owing to high costs and risks involved, the pilgrims had to sign a seven-year contract - most of the first year revenues to be handed over to the merchant-adventurers.

Captain SmithPrincess PocahontasThe pilgrims declined an offer of the services of Captain Smith, whose firm leadership saved Jamestown from disaster in its early days. The captain became the hero of the romantic story of the Indian Princess Pocahontas who saved him from death at the hands of her tribe. Daughter of an Indian chief, Pocahontas proved that all Indians were not savages by embracing Christianity and marrying an Englishman. She sailed with her husband to England and died off Gravesend in 1617.


Brewster to Lead

MayflowerWilliam BrewsterThe pilgrims decided that Pastor John Robinson should stay behind and William Brewster (pictured right) would lead the party. A small ship named Speedwell (60 tons) was purchased with the intention of keeping it in the New World to help them fish and otherwise benefit the colony. A larger vessel, the Mayflower (190 tons) (picture left) was hired solely for the voyage. After a farewell feast of tears and singing of psalms, 66 pilgrims sailed from Delfshaven in the Speedwell and 4 days later on 26 July 1620 in Southampton, they found their sister ship the Mayflower awaiting them.

Further compromises had to be made with investors and some provisions were sold to clear their debts. Both ships set sail on 5 August - the Mayflower holding about 80 passengers and the Speedwell about 40 - even though the pilgrims' money had run out and they were desperately short of supplies: 'little butter, no oyle, not a sole to mend a shoe nor every man a sword to his side, wanting many muskets and much armour.' The Speedwell was soon found to be leaking and both ships put into Dartmouth 'to have her mended at great expense and loss of time and a fair wind.'

The two ships set sail again but the Speedwell began to leak again. After sailing beyond Land's End the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy and both ships turned back to put into Plymouth.

It was resolved for the Speedwell to turn back to London carrying those who 'were thought least useful and most unfit to bear the brunt of this arduous adventure.'

The Mayflower set sail for Virginia on 6 September 1620 with 102 passengers and 30 crew in cramped conditions - the ship was only 90 feet from stem to stern and 20 feet in beam. Her timbers carried a sweet smell since she had once been used as a wine trader.

For Next Page of Pilgrim Fathers click Colony

Lord Byron
Eric Coates
Alan Sillitoe
Alma Reville Hitchcock
Fred Karno
Augustus C. Gregory
Sherwood Spirit
Nottingham Castle
Pilgrim Fathers
Sherwood Foresters
General Booth
Captain Ball, VC
Harold Larwood
Tommy Lawton