Pilgrims were refugees from English society
ASHS Column for 11 23 06
Jerry Simmons

    The 21 st Century brought with it a realization by many Americans that there is a subtle change in the makeup of the population. An influx of immigrants has been gradually gaining numbers until it seems an overwhelming task for the laws of this nation to be obeyed. Of course, I am talking about the immigrants who are here illegally; those who don’t bother to register or attempt to gain lawful citizenship.
    A fresh start is all that immigrants desire, if the truth be told. However, this country was built on laws intended to make society work in a civilized
manner. But if laws are not enforced, why bother
making laws to begin with?
    Oppression and poverty are two reasons people
to wish to flee their native land. Religious
persecution is another. Most of the first immigrants
to this land, the Pilgrims, believed they had the
chance for a fresh start here, regardless of the risk.
    This is likely what the first of these religious
reformers felt as they fled England’s shores to live
in the Netherlands. Such a desperate move as
leaving home behind would cause an emotional
rollercoaster filled with fear – and hope.
    They were first called Separatists before they
were called Pilgrims. In search of a more purified
religious experience which the Church England
wouldn’t provide, they believed the Church of
England was still too much like Catholicism and
not like New Testament churches. "The first
wave of Separatist pioneers—that little band
of believers sneaking away from England in 1607—would eventually be known as Pilgrims," according to the November 2006 issue of the Smithsonian. They "established a network of secret religious congregations" …. "challenging the authority of the Church of England."
    These zealots did not dress as did the Puritans, in black and white, with stovepipe hats. Their clothes resembled the English countryside; the earth tones of green, brown and russet corduroy. The magazine goes on to say, "While they were certainly religious, they could also be spiteful, vindictive and petty—as well as honest, upright and courageous, all part of the heritage they’d leave for their descendants in America."
    William Brewster and William Bradford, both leaders in the New World, were strangers until they met around 1602, Brewster 37 years of age and Bradford only about 13. Brewster became the orphaned Bradford’s mentor, traveling with him to hear the preaching of Clayton Clyfton. The sermons likely consisted of real Bible scripture, how believers had a right to read and discuss the Bible; services were not the domain of a priest, and anyone could speak (pray) directly to God.
    When a group of conspirators, assumed to be Catholic, attempted to blow up the English Parliament and with it King James I, suspicion was placed on the Separatists. In 1604 King James issued 141 canons, or rules, which were directly intended to weed out nonconformists in religious beliefs. If one did not obey the rules of the Church of England’s laws, James was determined to "make them conform, or I will hurry them out of the land or do worse."
    It became dangerous to worship in public so secret meetings were held. However, others took notice if one did not attend the Church of England’s services. Even so, it seems these people were resolute in their desire to worship the way they believed God intended.
    It was clear they were going to have to leave the country if they were to survive. But they had to have a license just to leave the country. Since that was a tremendous obstacle, they decided to sneak out, which ended in failure. A ship they’d arranged to meet them had a captain who notified authorities, and they were immediately jailed.
    Relieved of all their possessions, they were taken to the center of town and ridiculed by the townspeople. Then hauled before a court of sorts, and soon after were released on bail. Since most had sold their homes and property to go to the Netherlands, there was nowhere for them to go.
Another attempt to escape was made a year or so later, but things went bad then, too. The timing of the congregation’s arrival went awry, boats got stuck in the mud, some of the men were separated from the women, who were arrested and then released; then a hurricane-like storm blew the ship almost to Norway instead of to Holland.
    Others managed to escape in smaller groups, and they eventually were allowed to settle peacefully in Amsterdam and they joined another congregation who’d managed their escape some time before.
    Skipping ahead 12 years: In July of 1620, two ships set sail from Plymouth, England but the smaller ship, the Speedwell, developed a series of leaks and the other ship, the Mayflower, turned back with it. Repairs were made and the two little ships set sail once more, only to return to port for more repairs.
    Finally 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower, including both Brewster and Bradford, set out for a grueling voyage across the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. At last, two months later, November 9, 1620, they spotted what we know today as Cape Cod. There anchored at today’s Provincetown Harbor, the 41 men on board signed the Mayflower Compact, which years later, John Quincy Adams would call the "genesis of democracy in America." It set the stage for the rule of the land.
With winter upon them, they found sources of food with Native Americans’ assistance and they built homes. They made a crop in 1621 and then celebrated what we call the first Thanksgiving after harvest.
    Their faith that they were serving an Almighty God helped them survive the journey from religious persecution in England and led them to create a basis for the republic in which we live today. These early Americans brought with them "honesty, integrity, industry, rectitude (morality), loyalty, generosity, self reliance, and a distrust of flashiness—attributes that survived down through the generations."
    And so should we ever remember the hardy character of these people and the millions who followed.
    I know we all have blessings to be thankful for. Let’s not forget the struggles they survived and yet the determination of those who here before us to live a good life.
    Help us celebrate Thanksgiving at the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society’s Boxcar Barbeque Saturday, November 25. There’ll be food and drink and entertainment galore for the whole family, beginning about 9 a.m.. Come help us raise funds for our operating expense to carry us through to the New Year. We’ll be glad to see you and you’ll be glad you came!
    Y’all come.

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