Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton

The Pilgrims

It was in the time of "good Queen Bess" that Sir Francis Drake had, if report be true, visited the Land of the Bays.

It was during this reign also that oppressions about religion began in England.

Laws were made by the queen and her bishops, imposing severe penalties on those who refused to conform to all the rules of the English church.

Prayers were to be read from a book, and there were many ceremonies which some people did not like at all, and yet were forced to observe.

Those over sixteen years of age, who refused to go to the church assigned them by the bishop, were cast into prison, and if they stayed away three months they might be put to death.

In 1602 several persons in the north of England met together at Scrooby, to pray to God as they saw fit, and when this became known, they were thrown into prison and persecuted in so many ways, that they resolved to seek a home in Holland, where they might worship as they pleased.

By the time they were ready to go, James I. was king in England. He was even more severe about church going than Queen Elizabeth had been; and when he learned that this new sect was planning to leave England, set guards to watch the ports and harbors day and night.

After many efforts to escape the vigilance of the police" twenty-two families succeeded in embarking for Holland, and because they wandered from place to place, they were called Pilgrims.

These Pilgrims settled at last on a tract of land in the city of Leyden, where they built a house for each family, and lived to themselves and worshipped as they pleased.

Now, Holland was proud of her reputation as a refuge for heretics from all over Europe, and because these Pilgrims were honest and industrious, they were treated kindly and greatly respected by the good burghers of Leyden.

The little colony soon increased in numbers, and among those who came were young Edward Winslow and John Carver, who brought their brides from England. These two men became, later on, very prominent in American colonial affairs.

The Pilgrims lived twelve years in Leyden, and were noted for their intelligence and thrift; but they were the subject of many a jest back in England, and were called the "pinched fanatics of Leyden" by the gay courtiers of King James.

Now, during all these years it was very difficult for the English to become accustomed to the strange customs and language of the Dutch; and try as hard as they might, some of them could not make enough money to keep the wolf from the door.

The boys were going off to sea, or joining the army, for want of anything else to do, and the children were fast learning the Dutch language and ways of living.

The Pilgrims were still greatly attached to England, and wished to find a home where they might live in the dear old English way, and at the same time be free to worship as they pleased. They planned to go to South America, and then they thought they would go to the new colony in Virginia; but when they heard of a beautiful river which Henry Hudson had discovered while on a voyage for the Dutch, they said this was the promised land for which they had sought; and as King James claimed the river on account of the discoveries of the Cabots, they resolved to obtain his permission to settle on its banks.

So they sent Elder William Brewster to England to act as their agent in the matter.

At first they were refused the right to settle in America, because they were Pilgrims, but after spending much time and money, they were allowed to plant a colony on the Hudson.

And so the youngest and strongest of the Pilgrim band in Leyden were chosen to go across the sea, under the guidance of Elder Brewster, to prepare the way for the rest.

Several of the richest of them sold their estates, put their money together and bought the little ship Speedwell in Amsterdam; then, with friends in England who wished to join them, they hired the Mayflower, a larger ship, and soon the Speedwell sailed out of the little harbor of Delft Haven to meet the Mayflower at Southampton. As these young Pilgrims disappeared in the mists of the sea, they were followed by the prayers of the Leyden congregation, who had accompanied them to the little seaport town to say good-bye. It was a sad parting; for it was a long and dangerous voyage to America, and they knew not if they might ever meet again. In a few days the Speedwell and the Mayflower set their sails against the wind; but the Speedwell was found to be leaky, and both ships put into port, where they lay at anchor eight days for repairs.

Again the sails were set; but the shattered Speedwell could not make headway, sailed back to Plymouth, and was finally abandoned as unseaworthy. The most zealous of her passengers went on board the Mayflower; and on the sixth of September, 1620, one hundred and two brave men and women and children set their faces toward the sea.

Some one said that God sifted a whole nation, that he might send choice grain into the wilderness, and I think you will agree with this saying when you know what these people accomplished in America during the next few years.