Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Pilgrims in Holland

The English Separatist congregation, known to history as the Pilgrims, was known as the Scrooby
Congregation before they made their way across the Atlantic in the Mayflower. Named for the Scrooby Manor, which was the Nottinghamshire English home of one of their leaders William Brewster, the congregation had gathered at the Brewster home for meetings and services while in in England. King James I, following the more lenient Queen Elizabeth I in 1602, rejected the demands of the separatists across England who sought independent religious congregations and who had accused the Church of England of being too much like the Roman Catholic Church.

Thus King James began to institute policies that were contrary to the wishes of the separatists as he
strengthened his central control over the Church of England and added various elements to English
worship that appeared to emulate Catholicism. The King and the separatists soon reached the point where they were not to be reconciled. Thus under pressure from the King and subject to increasing persecution by the English authorities and from the Anglican Bishop of York, the Scrooby Congregation chose to flee England and settle in Holland in 1608.

Life in Holland proved to be a mixed blessing for the pilgrims who first lived in Amsterdam and then
moved to the smaller city of Leiden. On the one hand, they could finally worship in peace and without fear of reprisal as the Dutch Republic maintained a neutral posture with regard to religious practice. On the other hand they had spent all of their money on getting out of England and were therefore reduced to working menial jobs with little opportunities for advancement. Additionally, after nearly ten years of living in Holland, the younger generation was starting to assimilate into the Dutch culture and to speak the Dutch language. This did not sit well with the English Pilgrims who valued their separate identity as Englishmen almost as much as their right to worship according to their conscience. Additionally, the Pilgrim community was concerned over the looming possibility of war breaking out between Holland and Spain.

Thus in 1617, Robert Cushman and John Carver, representatives from the Pilgrim community in Holland arrived in London where they launched a series of negotiations with the English government seeking permission to settle in the northern part of Virginia Colony, specifically at the mouth of the Hudson River where New York City would eventually be located. England had previously established Jamestown in Virginia in 1607 and there was great interest within English government and investment circles in expanding English presence on the Atlantic shore of North America. The Pilgrim representatives in London also began negotiations with the long established English guild of merchant investors known as the Company of Merchant Adventurers. By July of 1620, Cushman and Carver had successfully concluded their negotiations and the Pilgrims were ready to begin their historic voyage to the New World.

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