They were a small band of humble folk, left-wing Puritans of East Anglia, whose religous meetings were so interfered with that they moved to Leyden in 1609 and fromed an English Congregationalist Church. After ten years they decided to remove to America.
During the first two decades of the 17th century there were several commercial trading parties that undertook to make a settlement in New England, but all failed disastrously. Of all migrations of peoples, the settlement of New England is preeminantly the one in which the almighty dollar played the smallest part. It was left for religous enthusiasms to achieve what commercial enterprise had failed to accomplish.
The democratic civilization of New England is the greatest legacy which Puritanism has left the world. In the general movement toward Puritanism which characterized the reign of Elizabeth there had sprung up a peculiar sect of Christians; which, along with the theology of Calvin and the adoption of many quaint notions of Jewish coloring, had come nearer than any other sect had done toward carrying the Protestant principles consistently into practice. In ecclesiastical policy they had carried the English plan of local self-government so far as to give each congregation full control of its own affairs, leaving the unity of the Church to be maintained only through common allegiance to Christ and common acceptance of the Bible as the rule of faith.
The persecution of these so-called independents was begun in Elizabeth's time, and under James was carried on so vigorously as to drive them to Holland, the classic land of religously liberty. In 1608 an Independent congregation from Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire, fled to Leyden and stayed there for ten years, growing steadily through fresh accessions, until it occured to them that if they could be allowed to settle on the lands of the Virginia Company in America, they might make the beginnings of a great Christian community.
The first detachment of the Independents came over in 1620 in the MAYFLOWER and founded the colony of Plymouth. They aimed at the coast of New Jersey, but by fortunate accidents (storms) reached a point where they were much less likely to be molested, either by the natives or by rival colonists.
They got a new grant the following year from the North Virginia, or Plymouth Company. For a few years this London corporation took charge of the colonization of the new Plymouth: but in 1627 the settlers, wishing to be entirely independent, bought up all the stock of the London corporation, and paid for it by installments from the fruits of their own labor. In 1633 they had paid everything up, and became the undisputed owners of the land they had occupied, so that there was nothing to hinder their prosperity.
If they had landed in New Jersey, they would probably have been molested on the one hand by the Dutch settlers of New Netherlands, and on the other hand, by the Delaware Indians, who had not yet been tamed by the terrible Iroquois. But in the land of Massachusetts they were far removed from all such rivals, and the Indian population about them was very scanty, having been nearly exterminated by a frightful pestilence.
Under these favorable circumstances, freed alike from all neighboring hostility, from the joint-stock company which they had paid up, and from the king who ignored their existance in this new land, the Plymouth colony throve apace until by 1643 it numbered more than three thousand inhabitants.
During their ten-year sojourn in Leiden, the Pilgrims were under the leaderhip og Jean Robinson. As mentioned in the article on the S.A.R. tour of Leiden, they had small homes in the gardens behind pastor Robinson's house, and the enclave became known as "The English Close." Pastor Robinson and many Pilgrims are buried in churches and church yards in Leiden.
They held their worship services in the Chapel of the Beguinage after 1617. They used in worship, and brought to Plymouth, for their services in New England, the Ainsworth Psalter. This Psalter was one specially prepared for the fugitive congregation of Seperatists in Holland by Henry Ainsworth and published in Amsterdam in 1612. (it was also adopted in Salem and used there for about a generation.) It was maintained much longer at Plymouth, certainly until after the Pilgrim settlement merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692. It was then replaced by the better known Bay Psalm book, which was a new American Book published at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640.
The Psalter Ainsworth composed presents a complete new translation in prose which is important because it was made by a competent scholar at almost exactly the same time with the King James or Authorized version of the Bible in 1640.
Henry Ainsworth was born about 1570m studied four years at Cambridge, and after 1610 was recognized as the honored teacher of the principal congregation in Amsterdam. The style of his Psalter is consise and nervous, with not a few quaintnesses and some angularities, but on the whole, fairly well illustrating that virile period when modern English was being forged by such masters as Bacon and Shakespeare into a mighty weapon of expressional force and brilliance.
In Holland the Pilgrims were in close contact with French and Dutch usages of the Reformed Churches in the Low countries. In Ainsworth then, we are not suprised to find a unique blend of styles, including a large proportion of French forms.
After the custom of the time, only the melodies are given. Passeges seem rough and awkward to our earsm and rhymes are harsh. The one aim was to get the whole substance of the prose text into meter. It is safe to assume that more than a majority of all the Psalms are of French origin, since many melodies already in English use were taken from the Genevan Psalters. The mode of the melodies is minor in 3 out of 4 cases. It is most likely the Pilgrims sang in unison, led by the men's voices, since the melodies are set for the tenor.
All the social life of the Pilgrims revolved around the meeting and singing of psalms. Psalmody was so reverently regarded that if a man passed a house where someone withing was humming a snatch of pslam-tune, the chance hearer took off his hat--just as today a devout Italian uncovers his head when a procession passes bearing a bit of the consecrated Host.
As mentioned above, Henry Ainsworth was the honored teacher of the Pilgrim seperatirsts at Amsterdam. But John Robinson was their pastor and had become a leader in the 1608 removal of the Scooby group to Amsterdam. In 1609 he and his flock moved to Leiden, where they set up a church. A brief description of Pastor Robinson's life follows.
John Robinson was an English non-comformist and pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers in Holland. In 1592 he entered Cambridge. In 1595 he received a fellowship and was ordained. Soon thereafter, he became a curate of a church at Norwich. he was a member of the group of seperatists at Gainsborough and a little later (c. 1606) was in the company of seperatists gathered around Willism Brewster at Scooby.
He became their pastor and was leader in the removal (1608) of the Scooby group to Amsterdam, In 1609 he and his flock moved to Leiden where they set up a church, as mentioned above. Robinson actively encouraged the projected emigration (1620) to America and would have accompanied the Pilgrims, had a majority of his congregation gone.
With their settlement at Plymouth, Congregationalism was founded in the New World. Robinson was the author of a number of essays and polemics on the seperatists' position.
William Brewster, whose house and print shop are shown in the preceding article, "Salute to the Netherlands," was among those dissidents who had escaped to Holland, where they gathered themselves together into a body and tried to live as they desired. he had been a leader too, who led them with gentle admonition, courage and faithfulness. During their sojourn in Holland he had used up his own money helping them in all ways.
With Edward Winslow and others, he had set the type and made books with his own hands, which were smuggled into England, so infuriating the King that he had forced the Netherlands government to confiscate the printing press and hunt out this man.
It is difficult for the modern mind to understand the power of that thing called a book--at pages whereon were lines of meaningless black marks; and by so peering at the wonder, a learned man would repeat the stories of man and God, all day if need be, and the next day, and the next, every story different, without hesitation, without the use of memory. Repeat a story and the words are exactly as spoken before. Each preformance was a fresh miracle. The power to read was held by the few, and for the poorer classes, books assumed by the virtue of that wonder some of the nature and power of God himself. For to ten out of twelve men the personal message of God, the source and knowledge of right and wrong, came though the mouth of some other; through the mouths of the powerful on earth and the priveleged with God. The man who laboured was not encouraged to learn how to read.
The immense power of the printed word, as King and Government well aware, could be either a prop of the State or a lever to its destruction. Those who would not conform were silences by impisonment, or death, or fled the country. Every man who could read was a potential revolutionary.
To venture into the New World and live the desired life had been the ideal of his man Brewster and his companions. The little SPEEDWELL was anchored alongside the MAYFLOWER in England, and had brought the Brownists from Holland. Probably the Elder Brewster was smuggled aboard the MAYFLOWER amongst a crowd, as it was less likely to be searched.
Among the settlers on the MAYFLOWER who had come from their homes in England there were seven adults of Brewster's exiled group from Holland. They had been transferred from the SPEEDWELL at Southhampton to the larger vessel. They were: Mr. John Carver and his wife Catherine; Mr. William Brewster, felon, and his wife Mary; young Mr. William Bradford and his wife, Dorothy; and Sam Fuller. The other nine families from Dutch exile traveled on the SPEEDWELL.
Thus began the Pilgrim voyage of removal from Leiden to America.