Increasing persecution of the small Separatist congregation at Scrooby persuaded the early Pilgrims to leave their native England in 1608 for the more tolerant lands of Holland. Although free to worship God according to conscience, the new arrivals (numbering about 125) had many obstacles to overcome. The first was the grim face of poverty coming upon them. Their alien status precluded them from owning private property. Even working their landlord’s fields twelve to fifteen hours per day gave no opportunity for economic advancement. If physical poverty weren’t enough, the pressing possibility of their children playing the part of the prodigal was a heavy burden. William Bradford wrote: “But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents.”
Another cause for alarm was with regard to the twelve year treaty between Spain and the Netherlands which was due to end in 1621. Over half of Leyden’s 100,000 inhabitants had succumbed to disease or starvation during her last siege in 1574.
A third motivation for leaving Holland was seen in the potential for missionary activity in faraway lands; again, Bradford wrote: “A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
If any reasons for the Pilgrim quest are given in public school history books, it is certain that the last two are avoided like leprosy. The usual explanation rendered is “seeking religious freedom” which they had found in Holland. History revisionists are desperate to hide the true cornerstones of America.
Due to limitations of resources Robert Cushman and John Carver were dispatched to London in hopes of securing a patent from the famed Virginia Company. Such a contract would underwrite the prohibitive cost of the passage. In a follow-up letter to sir Edwin Sandys, signed by John Robinson, pastor of the Leyden Church and his assistant William Brewster, a five point outline was submitted, highlighting the strengths and convictions of the applicants.
The constraints of space forbid all five to be published, but the last one is an excellent summary of Pilgrim character: “Lastly, it is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again. We know our entertainment in England and Holland. We shall much prejudice both our arts and means by removal; who if we should not hope to recover our present helps and comforts, neither indeed look ever, for ourselves, to attain unto the like in any other place during our lives, which are now drawing towards their periods.”
Needless to say, the Virginia Company was impressed. Not a trace of a “caravan entitlement” mentality could be located. The godly integrity of our nation’s forefathers can be summed up in that one simple phrase –“it is not with us as with other men.”
It was the great desire of Pastor John Robinson to lead his entire flock to America, but only a third of the congregation were fit enough for such a journey, therefore he remained behind with the majority. William Brewster, a teaching elder, provided leadership for the historic endeavor. While Mr. Cushman was in London negotiating with Captain Christopher Jones of the Mayflower, a smaller second vessel was purchased and fitted in Holland. The Speedwell, it was hoped, would provide invaluable service to the new colony. Especially for fishing.
After a series of on shore setbacks, they finally set sail in August 5, 1620, but experienced the Speedwell taking on water after only three days at sea which forced their return to the nearby port of Dartmouth. After a week of recaulking her, they departed again only to encounter the same mysterious leaks. Those deemed the weakest limped back to London in the Speedwell. Bradford took comfort in the Biblical precedent: “And thus, like Gideon’s army, this small number was divided, as if the Lord by this work of His providence thought these few too many for the great work He had to do.”
On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower embarked on her epic voyage with 102 souls on board, 41 Separatists and 61 others. The difficulties that followed will require another column, but a simple review of them is very revealing: apparently, the Pilgrims were going to have to live by the words emblazoned across the Mayflower’s sails ---“In God We Trust.”
It has occurred to this backwoods preacher that the tail end of this American experiment is increasingly demanding the same faith!