In the fall of 1620, a lone ship anchored in the Cape Cod Bay. Aboard were 102 Pilgrims- English Separatists, sailors, women and children- who had crossed the ocean in search of new lives. They had faced hardship and loss, but upon arriving in this strange New World, they were hopeful. Once influential English citizens, they turned that back on their native land, because they wanted something England was reluctant to grant them- religious freedom.
The Church and the Sovereign
Early in the sixteenth century many countries and their leaders began to challenge the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Even, King Henry VIII, with his own personal and political agendas, tested the authority of the Pope and the Vatican. By 1536, King Henry was the proclaimed Head of the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) and dissolved all monasteries and abbeys. With the head of the government and the head of the church merged into one body, the Crown controlled every aspect of daily life. The faith of the sovereign was the mandated faith of the people. This proposition did not set well with many of the days Protestant reformers.
The Church of England, under penalty of law, required all their people to attend church on Sunday and have no other religious leaders that were not ordained by the Crown. However, during this period in history, many English Christians had turned their back on the more pompous and complicated worship of the Anglican Church. They argued that the sacraments and rituals were not in line with the simplicity of the Holy Scriptures. These Christians were Puritans and they desired a change in the religious practices of England and of the authority over such practices that the Crown held.
Puritans and the Separatists
The Puritans continued to challenge the political and religious policies of the Crown- namely the Stuart rulers King James I and his son, King Charles I. However, the Puritan Party was experiencing internal conflict. One particular, minority faction, sought simply to leave England and start afresh in another country. This faction felt that reformation of the Anglican Church was impossible. In either case, Church of England became less tolerate of the Puritans and they were often harassed, imprisoned and even executed for what many considered challenges to the Divine Right of the Crown.
In spite of the dangers, these Puritan Separatists continued to worship under the leadership of their pastors and found common ground in the Scrooby Manor home of William Brewster. However with the congregation having been previously targeted by the authorities, this congregation of Puritans began planning their escape from England. By 1607, the Scrooby Separatists hoped for a new life in a new land that tolerated their religious practices.
Life in Holland
Holland offered a new start for the Separatists. During the European age of religious wars and many oppressed people fled to the Dutch Republic and many settled in its port City of Amsterdam. Lutheran-Protestant Germans, Iberian Jews from, Belgian merchants, and the French Huguenots all sought safety in Amsterdam. The English Separatists emigrated. And, by August 1608, almost 150 of Scrooby Manor Separatists, which included women and children, found their way to Amsterdam, Holland.
The Separatists began to have internal stiff. There were ideological differences. And, living in Holland had not brought the prosperity that these lawyers and pastors once had in England. Afraid of losing their religious and cultural identities as Englishmen and women, the Separatists began to plan for another journey- to the New World.
History tells us that these Separatists, 102 strong arrived in the New World on November 21, 1620- over one decade after leaving England. The success of their new colony inspired other Puritans and immigrants to make the treacherous journey across an angry ocean to find similar freedoms- religious and political.
In an era of religious intolerance, Puritans, thinking that they could not reform the Anglican Church from within, fled their homes in search of more religious freedom and better lives. In this age, few countries were tolerant of their religious beliefs and few countries offered them opportunities for prosperity. Just as much as religious intolerance motivated these English Separatists, these future Pilgrims’ lives in Holland inspired them to move on settled in a new and untested World.
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