The Origins of Pilgrims

Olivia Bettorf
ombettorf@lc.edu


Hear ye, hear ye, Turkey Day may have already come and passed, but I still have some thoughts. The day of giving of thanks comes around only once a year, to be with one’s family and sometimes friends dear to their heart. A day that gives permission for everyone to receive three servings of a big meal, plus two desserts! The day where we learned in our young days of elementary school, that this was the day of peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

The Pilgrims with buckles on their shoes and hats, you remember them, right? We would impersonate them for our little school parties. But do you remember in High School when we learned that Pilgrims didn’t have buckles on their shoes or hats!? Instead, we learned about the true origins of the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony. Strap into the time machine folks, because we’re about to take a trip back to 1620!

It all started when King Henry VII and his daughter Elizabeth I wanted to change the Church of England by making it less like the Roman Catholic Church. Those who wanted to purify the church were called Puritans. However, there was another group that was considered very radical and went even further than them.

These extremists were called Separatists, or the Pilgrims, and thought the new Church of England was beyond reform. They were rude snobs and demanded the formation of new, separate church congregations.

Fun Fact of this article, this opinion was very dangerous because in England during the 1600s, it was illegal to be part of any church other than the Church of England!

Soon the Separatist church congregation established the Plymouth Colony in New England, which was originally centered around the town of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, England. Others who refused to follow the Church of England’s teachings were harassed, fined or even sent to jail. They chose to flee to the Dutch Netherlands to escape the cruelty of the Church of England. In the Dutch Netherlands, they could practice their own religion without fear of persecution from the English government or its church.

Even though they had religious freedom, their new life in the Netherlands wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. The Separatists had to leave their homeland and friends to live in a foreign country without a clear idea of how they would support themselves. The congregation stayed briefly in Amsterdam, then moved to the city of Leiden.

They remained for about the next 11 or 12 years. Most people found work in the cloth trades, while others worked other jobs like carpenters, tailors, and printers. Their lives required hard work, even young children had to work jobs. Some of the older children were tempted by the Dutch culture and left their families to become soldiers or sailors. Their parents feared that they would lose their identity as English people and to make matters even worse, the congregation worried that another war might break out between the Dutch and Spanish.

So they decided to move again to America! With 102 passengers on the Mayflower.

In 1620 on Dec. 16, after 66 days of traveling by boat on the Mayflower, the Separatists landed in what would now be near the present day of New York City but at the time was Plymouth, and then started to build their town! Sadly, there were only 52 that survived one year at Plymouth because everyone was getting very sick. It didn’t help that their intake was salty seafood, either. Then entered the Native Americans. They saw the Separatists struggling and helped them learn how to plant vegetables and other things like that. You might recognize this part as the story of how we started Thanksgiving.

Then the theory of when the sailors went back to England and came back to Plymouth, and none of the villagers were there.

“Wait! Olivia, why do we call them Pilgrims instead of Separatists? You haven’t gotten to that part yet, this is just boring history stuff!” Good question you have there, reader!

We call them Pilgrims because a Pilgrim is a person who goes on a long journey, often with a religious or moral purpose, and especially to a foreign land. The by the 1800s the term became popular and applied to all the Mayflower passengers. Even to other people arriving in Plymouth in those early years, so the English people who settled Plymouth in the 1620s are generally called the Pilgrims.

And that kids, is why we call the Separatists the Pilgrims, instead of their actual name! Now, who wants leftover turkey?

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