Pilgrim History

A portion of a book written by R. Walton, a Richmond Family researcher


Text format has been modified from the original document for convenience of reading on the web page.
Used with permission from the author.

"The 'Pilgrims' were a group of English Calvinist religious dissenters, known as Separatists, who fled persecution under Queen Elizabeth I and her successor King James I, taking up residence in Leyden, Holland in 1609. Many of the group immigrated to America on the MAYFLOWER (1620), the FORTUNE (1621), the ANNE and the LITTLE JAMES (1623) and the second MAYFLOWER (1629). They provided the leadership in the establishment of the colony "New Plymouth" as well as about half the colony's population. The term 'Pilgrims', was first used in 1596 in the 'Confession of Faith' they adopted and, in later references, to their own idea of life on earth as a pilgrimage towards heavenly bliss."

Queen Elizabeth I wanted to firmly establish the Church of England as THE CHURCH and she attempted to have all religious groups conform to the Anglican Church. The Puritans, another group in the Anglican Church, wanted to purify" the church of all Roman Catholic ceremonies and practices and bring about further reforms. Both groups wanted to be a church unto themselves but they were being persecuted for their attempts to run their churches the way they wished rather than the way the bishops of the Anglican Church wanted the churches run.

Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. The majority of Englishmen were now Protestant and the Bible was the most read book. Shakespeare, music, poetry all flourished during her reign. Songs were created and sung by the common man as he worked. Elizabeth, however, had no children so the reign of the Tudor's came to an end with her death. Her successor was James I born in 1566. He was already King James VI of Scotland. His mother was Mary, Queen of Scots. She had tried, unsuccessfully, to oust Elizabeth. With the reign of James I, the House of Stuart came to power. He persecuted both Catholics and the extreme Protestant Puritans and Separatists. He believed he had the divine right to rule as he pleased to the extent that he ruled without parliament for seven years (1614-1621). He finally gave in, however, and agreed to let Parliament share in government but he died shortly after.

It was during the end of Elizabeth's years as Queen and the beginning of James' reign that the Separatists left England, fleeing to Holland where there was more acceptance of different religious beliefs and, from 1620 on to America. Despite his treatment of the non-conformists, it was during James' reign, and with his support, that the version of the Bible we know as the King James Version was translated. His son, Charles became King (1625-1649) and proved to be far more uncompromising than his father. It was during his reign that Reverend William Walton and his fellow Puritans educated at Cambridge began to fear for their lives. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, inflamed anti-Puritan feeling and caused a big wave of emigration of Puritans to America. Mayflower
Mayflower and Speedwell in Dartmouth Harbor by Wilcox
The Separatists had already immigrated to America by this time because, even though they were safe in Holland, they were not well off financially. They had mostly worked in existing trades, or if they qualified by virtue of having graduated from Cambridge or Oxford in England, taught at the University. They also published religious pamphlets, which annoyed King James when these materials were smuggled into England. This caused a problem with the Dutch because the English Ambassador complained. As time went on, the hard work, aging Separatists, increased poverty and the feeling the Separatists had that the Dutch did not sufficiently respect the Sabbath caused them to consider going to America. They wanted to spread the word of God to remote parts of the world and felt they should go to America where they might convert the Indians and thus bring their religion into this New World.

According to Eugene Stratton, author of "Plymouth Colony, its History and People" those who left Leyden were not known as Pilgrims at this time. William Bradford writing his history many years later first applied the word to them. In preparation, the Separatists in Leyden who wished to go to America, bought one ship, the SPEEDWELL, and chartered another, the MAYFLOWER. They left Leyden and embarked on the SPEEDWELL on July 31, 1620. They met the MAYFLOWER from London and sailed together from Southampton to Plymouth in Devon. After taking on all necessary provisions, they departed on the trip to America. The SPEEDWELL, unfortunately was not seaworthy and both boats therefore turned back to Plymouth. Some Separatists (Pilgrims) returned to Leyden but others were determined to get to America and departed on the MAYFLOWER on September 6, 1620.

Two of our ancestors, Thomas Rogers and Henry Sampson (grandfather of Anna Sproat Richmond [wife of Ebenezer Richmond] were on board the Mayflower. Among the 102 passengers who arrived in America, were Separatists, Strangers and Adventurers. The non-Separatists were people who came from various backgrounds but most had been farmers. There was one doctor in the group who got very little sleep because of so much illness. Fortunately he did have some medicines with him. The Adventurers were looking forward to a new and exciting life in an unknown world. It was necessary to include passengers who were not Separatists because of the tremendous cost of the journey, which the Separatists could not have funded by themselves.

There were social problems on board the ship because of the diversity of backgrounds. Especially did the crew find it difficult to deal with and understand the Separatists (Pilgrims). However, all passengers showed much courage on the trip and learned to respect each other's differences. Fortunately, the women had brought whatever was needed for cooking and the men their guns and tools for building and farming in the New World. There was not room for much else. Their diet was mostly dry biscuits called 'hard tack' and for meat they had salted beef. They could also catch fish. The passengers from Holland brought dried peas, beans, cheese and even some butter. They did not have anything to cook on that resembled a stove as you know it. They had to build charcoal fires in metal boxes if they wanted hot food. Due to the terrible weather, however, it was far too dangerous to have a fire so they ate cold food. Beer was the main drink for all, including the children, because the water they had brought became contaminated and unsafe to drink. What food and beer that was left towards the end of the journey became inedible causing much hunger. The Mayflower was a cargo ship and was not equipped for 102 passengers and 30 crew members to sleep comfortably. As you can imagine, it was very crowded and most of the people slept in an area with virtually no light or air.

The Mayflower's intended destination was the northern Virginia territory at the mouth of the Hudson River that we know today as Manhattan. The first month out of England the trip went well. There were good sailing winds and calm seas but, by October, the wind became stronger and storms more frequent. No one really knows for sure why Capt. Christopher Jones went to Cape Cod instead of Virginia and many theories have been suggested. Eugene Stratton writes that one reason was that they wanted to be outside the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church, which was the established church in Virginia. However, Mr. Stratton states, "Bradford and Winslow went to their graves maintaining that they arrived at New England either by accident or by the treachery of Capt. Christopher Jones." Mayflower Storm
Mayflower at Sea by Margeson
The Mayflower reached the tip of Cape Cod (now Provincetown, Massachusetts) on Saturday 11 November 1620 after 66 days at sea. They remained at Provincetown for 36 days before leaving for Plymouth across Cape Cod Bay. While in Provincetown, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men. It was an agreement concerning their self government in the new land.

Of the 102 passengers who arrived in Provincetown, 29 were females (18 married women who accompanied their husbands; 7 unmarried daughters with their parents, 3 young unmarried women, and one little girl who came with Edward Winslow's family). There were 73 males but only 41 signed the Compact because 32 were under age (17 were minor sons of passengers, 5 were boys who did not come with their own parents, 2 were seamen hired to stay one year before returning to England and 8 were servants, who were not free agents). Thus, every male passenger of legal age (41 men) signed the Compact. Besides the 102 passengers there was also a crew of about 30 sailors.

Several of the men went out to survey the bay and land abutting the bay. To do this, they used a small boat called a "shallop". One might wonder why the Pilgrims did not settle on Cape Cod once they found fresh water ponds and land already cleared for planting by the Indians. There was much discussion as to where to settle. Winter had set in, many people were sick and there was little food so a decision had to be made quickly. There was fighting with the Indians on the Cape but the guns scared the Indians away. Finally, the small shallop returned to the Mayflower. On December 11, 1620 the Mayflower sailed into Plymouth. This was the place Captain John Smith had discovered and named six years before. Everyone was so happy to be able to go on shore even though they continued to live on The Mayflower while the men started exploring on land to find a place for the Pilgrims to live. The main thing was that they had found a new home! There was a good harbor, rivers, fields cleared for planting and they saw no enemy Indians. The "Rock" we now call Plymouth Rock was the only good landing place and to this day everyone believes that was where the Pilgrims landed." Gradually houses were built for the families and a "Common House" for storage of tools and as shelter for those who did not have houses. The weather was so bad it took 26 days to build this "Common House". On Sunday's the Pilgrims worshipped God, sang Psalms and listened to long sermons by William Brewster.

There was no Christmas celebration on December 25, 1620. This Christmas Day was devoted to hard labor! "The Pilgrims utilized all their holiday energies felling trees 'in order to avoid any frivolity on the day called Christmas'." "The Pilgrims interpreted the Bible literally, and nothing in the Scriptures mentioned having a good time at Christmas. While the rest of the Christian world celebrated the Lord's birthday, the Pilgrims chopped wood. Governor William Bradford had to reprimand several of the colonists who took Christmas Day off 'to pitch ye barr, and play at stoole ball and such like sports." Mr. Pelton writes in his article on this subject; "Although we think of Pilgrims as ideal Americans, actually they were a cantankerous group of fervent believers who had little or no tolerance for those who had different opinions or ideas."

By the spring of 1621, half of the Pilgrims including Thomas Rogers, had died and were buried. The doctor had run out of medicines and it was not till the women were able to plant and harvest their herbs that a cure for headaches or cuts was again available.

Finally in March an Indian came to make friends. He spoke English and his name was Samoset. Gradually more Indians came to visit. One - Squanto - stayed and helped the Pilgrims learn to catch fish and hunt for game. He also showed them, which wild plants were safe to eat and which were not. He even told them when it was time to plant corn. Eventually, Chief Massasoit came to meet with Governor Carver (He was the first Governor of the colony until his death in April,1621). They made a peace treatyand agreed to live peacefully. This treaty lasted 54 years.

It was not till the end of March 1621 that all the Pilgrims had a place to live. Today, this original village the Pilgrims built has been re-created in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is called Plimoth Plantation. There one can see how the Pilgrims slept, cooked, ate, and the kind of work they all did (including the children). There were no schools but all the children learned to read at home or from someone in the colony who could teach them. The Bible was the main book read by all. Everyone has heard about the rules all had to live by (i.e. go to church on Sunday, work hard, not steal or get drunk, etc.). Punishment was severe.

Finally, on the 5th of April 1621, Capt. Jones sailed the Mayflower back to England. By October 1621, the Pilgrims had much to be thankful for and they had a celebration that Americans have celebrated ever since which is called "Thanksgiving Day". Plymouth Colony may not have been the first ever such celebration in North America but it is a day of tradition and there is no better place to experience it than in Plymouth, "America's Home Town". It is a great day to be in Plymouth. Thousands of people take part in the public Thanksgiving meal at Plymouth Memorial Hall every year and eat the traditional turkey with cranberry sauce with all the fixings. When there one cannot forget that the Pilgrims - 50 colonists out of 102 survived that first winter along with Massasoit and his 90 Indians celebrated their feast over a three-day period because for them it was truly a joyous time of thanks for all their good fortune.

During the first ten years other colonists joined those at Plimoth Plantation and also built new settlements near by. Thus problems arose that had to be dealt with. William Bradford was elected the second Governor and he proved himself an able leader in keeping things moving smoothly. Until 1630, Plymouth Colony was the largest single settlement in New England. I t was in 1630 that the great migration of Puritans took place. Puritans and Pilgrims are frequently confused as I have stated earlier in this chapter. To repeat what I said earlier, the Puritans were Protestants in England who had one common idea - they wanted to purify the Church of England and do away with Priests, fancy robes, colored windows in churches and religious music. They emulated the religious principles of the French Religious leader and reformer - John Calvin. They took the Bible literally. For a long time all Puritans were opposed by officials of the Church of England and also by the English Government. Many changes had taken place in the church during Henry VIII's time when, about 1536, power was taken away from the Roman Catholic Church in England. Even the changes he made did not satisfy the Puritans who also wanted to abolish priesthood and bishops. During the reign of King James I some Puritans completely broke away from the Church of England. These Puritans were non-conformists. Reverend William Walton was one of these. Had he not come to America, it is very possible he could have been beheaded because of his religious beliefs. He and many of his fellow ministers had been trained at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and it is largely this group of Puritans who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1630 on. To review the definition of the Pilgrims - first called Separatists - we know they were also very religious and that most of them were not as well educated as the Puritans. Like the Puritans they wanted to set up their own congregations but the English authorities did not approve and persecuted them including sending them to prison. In 1607-08 many of them went to Holland and formed a congregation there. They spent some time in Amsterdam and then later moved to Leyden where most of them lived for the eleven years prior to their sailing to America. As you read about each of the families in your ancestry you will learn that, despite coming from different backgrounds, there were also similarities.

Reverend William Walton was a Puritan and a Non-Conformist, John Richmond was a member of the aristocracy but not a supporter of King Charles who believed in the Divine Rights of Kings. After disagreeing with Parliament, Charles ruled without it for more than a decade. This eventually lead to the British Civil War with Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads fighting Charles and the Cavaliers. John Richmond was a supporter of Cromwell and, as such, had to leave Taunton for the more neutral Newport, Rhode Island until he decided to go back to England and become one of Cromwell's soldiers.

Thomas Rogers was from Northamptonshire area of England. He was a businessman as well and was probably well aware of the rich resources in America and the business advantages they would eventually offer. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to take advantage of this. All three men were well educated and they came to America because they were seeking freedom and liberty that was not available in the England of that time.


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