From Scrooby, Nottinghamshire to New Englnd, 1620
For the start of this tale let me take you back to when jolly old England was under the rule of a monarch who needed a son but whose wife bore him only a daughter and so he divorced himself from her and divorced England from Rome, the Church in England became the Church of England and the monarch was its only head on Earth.
But many learned and true Christians were dissatisfied with England’s reformation. Tindale had been their saintly martyr giving to the plough boy the holy scriptures in her mother tongue. They had hoped for a return to the kind of church as it was when Paul preached to the world, but alas, the Church of England still continued Roman traditions of crucifixes, praying to saints, feast days and the mass. So there began a revolt by those who became known as puritans.
Now listen here and learn, there is a misunderstanding about puritans; they did not consider themselves pure from the customs, sins and temptations that all of us are susceptible to, but pure from the influence of the Roman church. They denounced its creeds, feast days, crosses and mass, for them there was no three in one but Father Son and Holy Spirit and the Holy Scripture was the supreme authority and upon this rock He would build each congregation, as the gospel correctly translated, tells us.
Now some puritans tried to purify the English church from within, others decided that was not possible and so they became known as separatists. Of these, two gave their life for this cause, namely Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood who on the 6th of April 1593, rather than denounce their beliefs, submitted themselves to the hangmen’s noose.
Now upon the death of the virgin queen, Elizabeth the first, James the sixth of Scotland, by rightful succession was crowned King James the first of England. Under his reign, it was hoped that he who was used to Scottish Presbyterian squabbles, he who initiated the new translation of the Holy Word, might support the puritans and separatists might be free to live and worship according to their beliefs, but alas, because of Catholic plots and skulduggery it was not to be.
But there is a land, just a hundred or so miles from England’s eastern shores that did allow these freedoms, the sovereign lands of the Netherlands or Holland as we call it and it was to here separatists first set sail for freedom.
Now it is from the small village of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, where in 1607 one of these congregations of separatists regularly gathered for their simple worship. These were the heroes and heroines of our tale who uprooted themselves and set their sights on Amsterdam in Holland. But was their journey an easy flight? Indeed it was not. On their first attempt they sat in the dead of night on a ship off the shores of Boston waiting high tide and for the captain to weigh anchor only to see a skiff approach laden with officers of the law. They had been betrayed, no doubt for pieces of silver, their quest was thwarted. But a year later they tried again, this time with a Dutch ship. But due to weather and tides and a mismanaged rendezvous only some successfully completed the voyage. It was not until 1609 when the whole congregation were finally united in their new home, but was all well here?
No, there was division and sin in the congregation they had joined and so in 1611 they moved south to Leyden where for the next eight years they lived, loved, bore children, though most died at birth, worked and worshipped. But this was Holland; their children were beginning to speak Dutch and beginning to follow Dutch customs and fads which were of concern to Christian parents. Also, the employment offered to these migrants was only the most poorly paid jobs. There had to be another place where these faithful Christians could realise the vision they had of a community living and working in peace and Christian charity.
Now before we proceed any further with our tale, who were the key leaders of this band of English folk? The first Pastor was Richard Clifton, but he stayed in Amsterdam when the main body moved to Leyden. He was superseded by one John Robinson and it was he who on whom the spirit of the Lord rested, he who inspired the great adventure that was to lie ahead. Sadly, like Moses of old, he only saw in vision the hope of a New World community, but someone had to stay behind, shepherd the flock and organise the migration if the first pioneers were successful.
Then there was William Brewster and his wife who were so much the leaders of those who were to leave all behind and they were the adopted parents of the young man who would become the chosen governor of the colony, William Bradford.
William Bradford was born of a wealthy yeoman farming family in Austerfield, Yorkshire but was orphaned by age 7. When just a lad of 12 years he first heard the preaching of Richard Clifton, joined the Scrooby separatists and was taken in by the Brewsters.
Now all ye here who are of a romantic disposition, there is a story recorded in the journals of young Will even a love story. But alas, I have not time to tell it. If you are interested I can give you good reading, faithful to his journals that will strum your heart strings.
One other of these men of Scrooby to mention is John Carver, another stalwart who for a short while becomes the first governor of the colony, but all as yet is still only a vision in the mind of John Robinson.
Now my patient audience, a vision is one thing, seeing that vision become reality is another and I will not bore you with all the politics and bureaucracy that lay ahead for this venture to happen, but two more characters I must introduce to you who have a prominent place in this historical narrative.
But first I must remind you learned historians of that British explorer, one Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame. He had explored the north eastern shores of the new world and in 1607 established the first permanent English colony in Virginia, after her majesty, and of course its main town was named after her successor, that is Jamestown. But this colony was not organised on charitable, peaceful, Christian principles and so serious conflict with the native inhabitants ensued. So where were the Scrooby saints to set sail for? There were Spanish colonies, but they would put them right back under Rome and its churches powers. The best offer at first came from the Dutch themselves, but what would that accomplish for their posterity? They might as well stay in Holland. The only other place was the area north of Virginia, explored by Captain Smith, namely, New England! But who would finance the venture. At this precise time there came knocking on John Robinson’s door one Thomas Weston. He was a trader in cloth and wanted to invest in a New World Colony. He offered an exciting plan:
•A Joint stock company with two kinds of shareholder Merchant Adventurers and Planters
•It would offer to the Merchant Adventurers Shares at £10 each
•Each Planter over age of 16 would be given 1 share
•All profits would remain in the joint stock company for 7 years
•After 7 years profits would be shared with the shareholders
•Planters would then keep the property and land they had worked
•Planters could also work 2 days a week for themselves.
This looked like a great offer and it was accepted. Later, however, terms were not honoured but at least the offer got the venture underway. So Thomas Weston, though he later turned out to be a rather unscrupulous tyrant, must be accorded the credit for his timely arrival in Holland.
The second man who has become the stuff of myth and legend was one Miles Standish, a Lancashire man. (See Henry Longfellow’s epic poem) He was of no strong religious conviction but was an experienced military captain and Will Bradford, though devoutly pacifist, recognised the value of this mans experience. And so it turned out, when the colony faced a crisis under threat of massacre from the Massachusetts Indians, he offered to settle their differences with a duel. Actually it was three young braves onto only him, but in single handed combat he defeated all three and the crisis was averted.
Well, you patient listeners, in my story we still have not left the shores of Holland and we all know the Pilgrim Fathers left from Plymouth, England. Two ships were hired for the voyage, the Speedwell from Holland and of course the Mayflower. But you say, I have not heard of the Speedwell, and that is not surprising. It was totally unseaworthy and although it made it to Plymouth, after two attempts at crossing the Atlantic it was finally abandoned and the Mayflower, now somewhat over crowded began the voyage to New England.
The Mayflower finally left Plymouth on 6th September 1620 with 102 passengers plus crew all crowded onto the one ship. The voyage was an arduous one with storms, babies being born and serious damage to the ship which is repaired through heavenly inspiration. One piece of cargo which was almost abandoned because of its weight was a printing press. The main component of this press was a powerful screw. When the main beam of the ship broke in the storm the screw was employed to jack up the beam so it could be repaired. This won the admiration of the captain and crew who up to this time had little respect for these radical Christians.
Now it must not be assumed, ye people of today, that all aboard were of the same religious persuasion. Although the Scrooby saints had organised the venture and had the controlling interest, half were simple settlers headed for the New World with only worldly motives and ambitions. So the Pilgrims, as they have come to be known, drew up a document called the Mayflower compact which all agreed to so that the colony would have law and order. This document, it is said, was the precursor to the American Constitution
Now this voyage, if they had left sooner, would have taken 4 weeks, but land was not sighted until they had been 9 weeks at sea. They sighted Cape Cod on the 9th November 1620. This meant that winter was upon them and they had not found the place to set up base. An expedition went ashore at Cape Cod, but it was hazardous and unsuitable. But one of the sailors on the ship had been on Captain John Smith’s voyage and knew there was a place further into the bay of Cape Cod. After exploring in a smaller boat they found what became the Plymouth of New England and Plymouth Rock, a natural place for landing and getting ashore.
But all ye who gather to celebrate harvest with thanksgiving, that winter of 1620 and 1621 was dire in the extreme. There was not time to build much accommodation on shore; just one cabin 20’ by 20’. Most of the company had to live on board. By March of 1621 half had perished through sickness.
Despite this, the colony survived, established a settlement, planted crops and built homes and what we celebrate on the last Thursday of November is their harvest of 1621. So, to finish let me describe to you that first harvest thanksgiving.
‘Plymouth Colony, autumn 1621. The harvest had been good, Will thought, as he looked at the food piled up in the storehouse, good enough to get them through the winter. They would have to be careful, but he was satisfied with their first year. Not only did they have a good store of grain but they also had apples and plums and other wild fruit and the women had dried as much as they could over the cooking fires. The men caught fish and fowl which were plentiful and hunted deer. What they could not eat immediately they salted, for, of course, boiling sea-water produced salt.
‘I think it is time for a feast,’ Will suggested to Brewster. Brewster agreed, ‘An excellent notion. It will make them feel as if they have achieved something, make them feel good, and also we can invite Massasoit and his braves. It will help our good relations with them.’
Will sent Squanto to Massasoit with a message, and the women began the task of making ready for the feast. Four men went out fowling, and they came back with wild turkeys and other birds. Massasoit came with rather more people than Will had expected. He had with him some ninety men.
‘How are we going to feed all this lot?’ Will asked John Allerton, aghast. That was the trouble with the Indians. If they thought there was the chance of a free meal, they would take advantage.
Massasoit and his people stayed for three days, feasting and dancing their strange dances, and singing in their odd chanting way. The English also demonstrated how they danced the roundels and reels common in England and had Indian braves and women dancing around with them in a ring. They sang, too. Not psalms, for they were for religious worship, but common folk songs with rousing choruses, which the Indians enjoyed a good deal. Conversation flowed easily in such happy conditions, Squanto and Samoset interpreting, and Edward Winslow began to get the hang of the Indian language, trying it out on Massasoit himself with great hilarity. However, when Will dared to suggest that they had nothing more to feed them with, thinking that perhaps Massasoit and his people might take the hint and go home, Massasoit went out with some of his men and killed five deer which they brought back to the plantation. The Indians knew how to feast! At last Massasoit went his way in peace, satisfied, and the English too felt happier in their new home, safe with the Indians who they had come to view as friends.’
O ye, o ye, o ye! All ye who gather here for this time of thanksgiving give ear, I pray thee, for the tale I have to tell is one of heroic valour and noble spirit. It is one of stalwart men and devout women to whom we all owe so much. For theirs was an epic venture that at times hung by a thread but was a knot in the thread that brought about the great restoration that we are now part of. Their cause was so great and yet in those far off days was so looked down upon, their cause being one of liberty to worship and serve their Lord and Redeemer in purity and truth.
Massasoit, leader of the
Squanto and Samoset were natives who spoke English. One of the most important skills they taught the settlers was how to plant and grow corn by using fish bones as a fertilizer.