William Brewster


William Brewster was born in Yorkshire, England and raised in Scrooby Manor, where his father had served as the estate bailiff and postmaster for the Archbishop of York. The young man studied at Cambridge for a short time before serving under William Davison, a well-known court official who only a few years later lost the favor of Queen Elizabeth after he played a key role in the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. After Davisonís disgrace, Brewster returned to Scrooby, where he assumed his fatherís old position of postmaster.

Brewsterís plan of settling down was only successful for a short time, however. His brother James was at that time a rather unorthodox Anglican priest, and within a few years of Williamís return, James had already begun to separate his congregation from church practices and beliefs. By 1602, the dissenters began to meet in Scrooby Manor, and a few years later the Separatist Church of Scrooby was formed.

By the 17th century, England was not yet a country of religious toleration, and the Separatists understood that they could only truly be free to practice their beliefs in the more liberal atmosphere of Holland. Unfortunately, emigration from England was at that time also illegal, and on their first attempt the congregation was arrested before they could escape. One year later, they tried again and were successful, and Brewster was soon selected as ruling elder of the congregation. Once in Holland, he taught English for a time before partnering with Thomas Brewer to print and publish religious books that were sold in England. This business lasted until pressure from English authorities led to Thomasí arrest. Brewster escaped, and in 1620 he joined the first group of Pilgrim sailing for America aboard the Mayflower. At Plymouth, William served as senior elder, religious leader, and advisor to Governor William Bradford. Only a year after his arrival, he helped establish a treaty between the settlers and the Pokanoket tribe, meeting with their leader Massasoit to discuss the terms of their agreement. He was granted land in 1632 and removed himself from Plymouth to live on his own farm until his death in 1644. Four of the islands in Boston Harbor still bear his nameóGreat Brewster, Little Brewster, Middle Brewster, and Outer Brewster.

Key events during the life of William Brewster:

Served under William Davison.
Returned to Scrooby Manor and worked as a postmaster.
Creation of the Separatist Church of Scrooby.
Failed in an attempt to secretly emigrate from England.
Successfully sailed to Holland.
Helped Thomas Brewer print religious books for sale in England.
Arrived at Plymouth Colony aboard the Mayflower.
Son Jonathon came to Plymouth.
  Treaty with the Pokanoket tribe.
Daughters Patience and Fear reached America on the Anne.
Was granted lands in Duxbury and created a farm there.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
William Brewster and Friends  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
The Mayflower  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
Brewster, 1560-1644  in  Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages  by  George Hodges
Royal Guest  in  Stories of the Pilgrims  by  Margaret B. Pumphrey

Image Links

Massasoit and his Warriors
 in King Philip

Short Biography
Massasoit Indian chief who befriended the pilgrims and lived in peace with them for forty years in Massachusetts.
Mary Stuart Queen of Scotland. Deposed and exiled. Held captive and executed by Queen Elizabeth.
Elizabeth I Led England through tumultuous age of reformation and discovery. Reigned 45 years.
Philip Sidney Favorite of Queen Elizabeth's court. Was a poet, soldier, courtier, and adventurer.
King Philip Leader of the Wampanoags who led the first serious uprising against the white settlers in New England.