Let’s start back in the year 1534. This year the King of England, Henry the 8th, separated his kingdom from the Roman Catholic Church and created The Church of England. He wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, due to the fact that after many years of marriage she had not produced an heir for him. However, according to the Roman Catholic Church she had done nothing that would permit a divorce. So in order to get his way, he created The Church of England and placed himself as the head.
By the 1600’s we have 2 groups of people speaking out against the church. The first group we refer to as the Puritans. This group of people believed that the things being taught within the church were wrong, but they believed that they could stay within the church and "purify" it. Many of them held their church positions and this group was seen as a pretty harmless group by the Church.
The second group we know as Separatists. This group of people believed that the church could not change, so they "separated" themselves from it and began their own worship services. The problem with this is that the King was the head of the church and when one spoke against the church they were speaking against the king. This was treason and not looked well upon – even punishable by death. This being said the Separatists were persecuted for standing against the Church. William Bradford in his book "Of Plymouth Plantation" says, "… they (the Separatists) were not long permitted to remain in peace. They were hunted and persecuted on every side… Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty, and most were obliged to fly and leave their homes and means of livelihood."
To escape the persecution a group of separatists, under the partial leadership of William Bradford, moved to Leyden, Holland, they have been referred to as The Leyden Group. In 1609 they received permission from Holland to settle there. There the group found religious freedom but it wasn't a place of their own. They were poor immigrants in this new home. Because they were immigrants they were only allowed to work manual labor jobs. The Separatists had to work 12 to 15 hours a day in very physically demanding jobs to simply survive. Many Separatists chose to stay in England and face persecution because they were not willing to face starvation in Holland. According to William Bradford’s writings, this new lifestyle led to the Separatists dying younger and younger. Their children were not happy and they were often tempted by the worldly values surrounding them in this land – like most, they wanted to fit in with the culture around them. They were also facing the possibility of harsh persecution in Holland as well. In 1609 Holland and Spain signed a temporary peace treaty. This treaty was put in place for 12 years. As this time came closer and closer to ending the Separatists were concerned that Spain would take over Holland. This could lead to the possibility of Spain trying to wipe out anyone who stood against the Roman Catholic Church as they had done several times throughout history. The Separatists soon made plans to travel across the ocean to America, where they could find the freedoms they desired.
Eventually, they found a London merchant named Thomas Winston who represented a group of adventurers from London who had heard about the Separatists and wanted to help them, and knew this would be a profitable adventure for himself. The Separatists entered an agreement with these adventurers. The agreement stated that the Separatists would work for seven years and pay back the loan given to them by the adventurers.
The Separatists prepared for their journey. They sold their houses and prepared for a trip back to England on an old freighter named the Speedwell. This ship was to pick them up at Delftshaven and take them to Southhampton, England. There they would join a larger ship named the Mayflower.
Another group of people joined the Separatists on their journey. These people were referred to as Strangers. The "Strangers" were common people - servants, craftspeople, and farmers.
On August 5, 1620, the people we refer to as the Pilgrims – made up of the Separatists and Strangers – set sail for the New World. But the Speedwell began having trouble, and twice both ships had to return to port. The second time, they returned to Plymouth, England and there the captain of the Speedwell decided he would not be going on the trip.
At this point, there were several people who decided not to continue on the voyage. William Bradford compared this time to the time in the Bible when God prepared Gideon’s army for battle by thinning it out: "and thus, like Gideon Army, this small number was divided, as if the Lord thought these few too many for the great work He had to do." (William Bradford)
Finally, on September 6, 1620, the Pilgrims set sail. There were 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower. The Mayflower was not a passenger ship, but a cargo ship. The boat was only 80 feet from one end to the other; at the widest point, the boat was only 24 feet wide! For seven weeks – the trip should have only taken a few weeks - the Pilgrims huddled in the damp and dark gun deck. This was an area about the size of the volleyball court (58ft x 24ft) and only about 4 ½ feet high. The first several days of their journey began with a prosperous wind, however, many of the Pilgrims were afflicted with sea-sickness.
TO BE CONTINUED...