Leiden Pilgrims is a religious society that began circa 1608 with the arrival of various English Separatists fleeing religious persecution in England under King James I for their non-conformity to the dictates and practices of the Church of England.

Location[edit | edit source]

This group was based in 1608-1630 in the dutch city of Leiden, South Holland, Netherlands.

Leiden is known as the place where the Pilgrims (as well as some of the first settlers of New Amsterdam)[1][2] lived (and operated a printing press)[3] for a time in the early 17th century before their departure to Massachusetts and New Amsterdam in the New World.[4]

English Origins[edit | edit source]

Scrooby2017a.jpg

Scrooby Separatists were a mixed congregation of early English Protestants / non-conformists founding living in the border region of of South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. They were called "Separatists" because of their rebellion against the religious authority of the Church of England, the official state religion. In 1607/8 the Congregation emigrated to Netherlands in search of the freedom to worship as they chose. Shortly after that they were the basis of the group to sail in the Mayflower to the New World.

It was to Leiden in 1609 that around 300 English religious dissidents fled hoping to live free from religious persecution. England was a Protestant country but many Puritans believed the Church of England, under the control of the monarch, had not been sufficiently reformed of its Catholic tendencies.

Calvinist Religious Views[edit | edit source]

The Pilgrims' leadership came from the religious congregations of Brownist English Dissenters who had fled the volatile political environment in England for the relative calm and tolerance of 16th–17th century Holland in the Netherlands.

The Pilgrims held Wikipedia:Calvinist religious beliefs similar to the Wikipedia:Puritans but, unlike many Puritans, maintained that their congregations needed to be separated from the English state church.

As a separatist group, they were also concerned that they might lose their English cultural identity if they emigrated to the Netherlands, so they arranged with English investors to establish a new colony in North America. The colony was established in 1620 and became the second successful English settlement in North America (after the founding of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607). While seeking religious freedom for their own group, the Pilgrims exhibited intolerance to other faiths.[5] The Pilgrims' story became a central theme of the history and culture of the United States.[6]

By this time, non-English European colonization of the Americas was also under way in New Netherland, New France, Essequibo, Colonial Brazil, Barbados, the Viceroyalty of Peru, and New Spain.

History[edit | edit source]

They lived in Leiden, Holland, a city of 100,000 inhabitants,[7] residing in small houses behind the "Kloksteeg" opposite the Pieterskerk. The success of the congregation in Leiden was mixed. Leiden was a thriving industrial center,[8] and many members were well able to support themselves working at Leiden University or in the textile, printing, and brewing trades. Others were less able to bring in sufficient income, hampered by their rural backgrounds and the language barrier; for those, accommodations were made on an estate bought by Robinson and three partners.[9]

William Bradford (1590-1657) wrote of their years in Leiden:

For these & other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair & bewtifull citie, and of a sweete situation, but made more famous by ye universitie wherwith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned man. But wanting that traffike by sea which Amerstdam injoyes, it was not so beneficiall for their outward means of living & estats. But being now hear pitchet they fell to such trads & imployments as they best could; valewing peace & their spirituall comforte above any other riches whatsoever. And at length they came to raise a competente & comforteable living, but with hard and continuall labor.[10]


The Netherlands, however, was a land whose culture and language were strange and difficult for the English congregation to understand or learn. They found the Dutch morals much too libertine, and their children were becoming more and more Dutch as the years passed. The congregation came to believe that they faced eventual extinction if they remained there.[11]

Decision to leave Holland[edit | edit source]

By 1617, the congregation was stable and relatively secure, but there were ongoing issues that needed to be resolved. Bradford noted that many members of the congregation were showing signs of early aging, compounding the difficulties which some had in supporting themselves. A few had spent their savings and so gave up and returned to England. It was feared that more would follow and that the congregation would become unsustainable. The employment issues made it unattractive for others to come to Leiden, and younger members had begun leaving to find employment and adventure elsewhere. Also compelling was the possibility of missionary work, an opportunity that rarely arose in a Protestant stronghold.[12]

Reasons for departure are suggested by Bradford when he notes the "discouragements" of the hard life which they had in the Netherlands, and the hope of attracting others by finding "a better, and easier place of living"; the children of the group being "drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses"; the "great hope, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world."[12]

Edward Winslow's list was similar. In addition to the economic worries and missionary possibilities, he stressed that it was important for the people to retain their English identity, culture, and language. They also believed that the English Church in Leiden could do little to benefit the larger community there.[13]

At the same time, there were many uncertainties about moving to such a place as America. Stories had come back from there about failed colonies. There were fears that the native people would be violent, that there would be no source of food or water, that exposure to unknown diseases was possible, and that travel by sea was always hazardous. Balancing all this was a local political situation that was in danger of becoming unstable. The truce was faltering in what came to be known as the Eighty Years' War, and there was fear over what the attitudes of Spain might be toward them.[12]

Candidate destinations included Guiana, where the Dutch had already established Essequibo, or somewhere near the existing Virginia settlements. Virginia was an attractive destination because the presence of the older colony might offer better security and trade opportunities. It was thought, however, that they should not settle too near, since that might too closely duplicate the political environment back in England. The London Company administered a territory of considerable size in the region. The intended settlement location was at the mouth of the Hudson River. This made it possible to settle at a distance which allayed concerns of social, political, and religious conflicts, but still provided the military and economic benefits of relative closeness to an established colony.[14]


Notable Individuals[edit | edit source]

Title page of a pamphlet published by William Brewster in Leiden

  1. William Brewster (1567-1644) had been teaching English at Leiden University. Brewster acquired typesetting equipment about 1616 in a venture financed by Thomas Brewer, and began publishing the debates through a local press.[15]
  2. John Robinson (1567-1625) enrolled in 1615 to pursue his doctorate. There he participated in a series of debates, particularly regarding the contentious issue of Calvinism versus Arminianism (siding with the Calvinists against the Remonstrants).[16] John and three partners arranged for the purchase of an estate in Leiden to house many of the English refugees.
  3. Robert Cushman (1577-1625) went to England in 1619 to solicit a land patent for the group to migrate to America.
  4. John Carver (1565-1621) went to England in 1619 to solicit a land patent for the group to migrate to America.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society – Access Denied". Newyorkfamilyhistory.org. http://www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org/modules.php?name=Sections&op=printpage&artid=40. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "The Pilgrim Press". Pilgrimhall.org. 18 May 2005. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/pilpress.htm. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Dutch Door to America". Americanheritage.com. April 1999. http://www.americanheritage.com/content/dutch-door-america. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "America's dark and not-very-distant history of hating Catholics". The Guardian. September 16, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/12/america-history-of-hating-catholics. 
  6. ^ Davis, Kenneth. C.. "America's True History of Religious Tolerance". Smithsonian. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/?=&no-ist=&page=1. Retrieved September 16, 2016. 
  7. ^ John (1895). The Pilgrim Fathers of New England and their Puritan Successors. Reprinted: 1970. Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications. pp. 118.
  8. ^ Harreld, Donald. "The Dutch Economy in the Golden Age (16th – 17th Centuries)". Economic History Services. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/Harreld.Dutch. Retrieved November 11, 2008. 
  9. ^ "Contract of Sale, De Groene Poort". Leiden Pilgrim Archives. Archived from the original on October 13, 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20071013140858/http://pilgrimarchives.nl/html/pilgrims/regestenen/152.htm. Retrieved November 11, 2008. 
  10. ^ Bradford (1898), Book 1, Chapter 3.
  11. ^ Bradford writes: "so as it was not only probably thought, but apparently seen, that within a few years more they would be in danger to scatter, by necessities pressing them, or sinke under their burdens, or both." (Of Plimoth Plantation, chapt. 4)
  12. ^ a b c Bradford (1898), Book 1, Chapter 4.
  13. ^ Winslow (2003), pp. 62–63.
  14. ^ Brown, John (1970). The Pilgrim Fathers of New England and their Puritan Successors. Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications. pp. 194.
  15. ^ Griffis (1899), pp. 561–562.
  16. ^ See the Synod of Dort.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Scrooby2017a.jpg

Scrooby Separatists were a mixed congregation of early English Protestants / non-conformists founding living in the border region of of South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. They were called "Separatists" because of their rebellion against the religious authority of the Church of England, the official state religion. In 1607/8 the Congregation emigrated to Netherlands in search of the freedom to worship as they chose. Shortly after that they were the basis of the group to sail in the Mayflower to the New World.

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