Chuck Morse Speaks
The Pilgrims, who established Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620, and who we honor each year on Thanksgiving Day, started out as English religious dissidents who sought separation from the Church of England. The main feature of their faith while in England was their insistence on maintaining a congregation that was separate and independent from the hierarchy of the English Church. The simple and austere form of Protestant worship that the Pilgrims practiced led them to reject the Church of England on the grounds that the King of England’s church was too close in its practice to the Pope’s Roman Catholic Church. The dissident Pilgrims, who insisted on their right to worship freely and who had the courage to defy overwhelming authority at great personal risk, have inspired Americans ever since with their example of courage and their adherence to principle.
The series of events that would eventually lead to the Pilgrim’s establishment of the second English colony in the New World was the coronation of James I as King of England in 1603. King James, who followed Elizabeth I, effectively closed the door on any hope of reconciliation with the religious dissidents in his realm and he began prosecutions of dissidents. The congregation that would eventually find it way to America, meeting at the Scrooby Manor home of William Brewster in Nottinghamshire, decided to respond to James crackdown with a formal severing of all ties to the Church of England in 1607. This audacious move led to more persecutions and arrests by the English authorities. The situation was made more precarious for the Pilgrim Congregationalists when they heard rumors emanating out of London which indicated that their fellow separatists were being imprisoned and left to starve.
These factors led to a boiling point and thus a decision was taken by the congregation to leave England and to settle in the Dutch Republic which was known to maintain a policy of neutrality toward all religions. After several false starts, including a betrayal by an English Sea Captain who was supposed to take them to Holland but who instead turned them over to authorities where they were briefly confined to prison, the Pilgrims finally made their way to Amsterdam and the religious freedom that they sought in 1608. Their stay in Holland was to be relatively short lived.
William Bradford, who was one of the leaders of the Pilgrims and who wrote his classic diary, Of
Plymouth Plantation, which remains the primary source of information for the Pilgrim story, recorded that the new arrivals in Holland, who had become destitute after having spent all their money on their escape from England, had to take on menial jobs in Amsterdam. Yet they had demonstrated to themselves that they had the courage of their convictions to have traveled, en masse, to a foreign land. They proceeded to attempt to practice their faith in a condition of peace and security yet they soon came to the conclusion that their long term future was not to be found in Holland.