One Small Candle – Pilgrims in America
Four hundred years ago, one hundred and two passengers on the Mayflower landed in America and established the settlement of Plymouth. Known today as the Pilgrims, they were seeking a land where they were free to worship God according to the Bible. They laid a foundation for freedom and liberty, and the light of their faith continues to shine four hundred years later.
In 1820, on the 200th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing, Daniel Webster urged, “Let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light, and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society, and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary.”
King James’ Rule over the Church
In 1534, the English Parliament declared King Henry VIII and his successors head of the Church of England, thus separating England from the Roman Church. Under Henry, however, the Church of England continued many of the forms and practices of the Roman Church.
When King James I ascended the throne in 1603, many hoped he would bring a greater reformation to the English church, but James was intent on ruling the church through his appointed bishops. Some who wanted to follow the Bible protested the use of the Prayer Book, the required liturgy, and the rule of the bishops. James threatened, “I will make them conform. Or else harry them out of the land.” Any worship outside of the Church of England was a criminal act. Ministers who did not subscribe to the Prayer Book or the authority of the bishops were removed from the church. In 1604, 300 preachers were suspended from their offices.
- The Workes of the Most High and Mightie Prince, James By the Grace of God, King of Great Britaine, France and IrelandvDefender of the faith, &c. edited by Bishop James Montague. London: Robert Barker and John Brill, 1616
King James considered himself a scholar and wrote numerous works. In 1616 Bishop Montague collected some of King James’ writings and speeches for his son Prince Charles (later King Charles I). Among those were a Paraphrase on the Book of Revelation, Demonology, Basilikon Doron (a treatise on government escribed as a “royal gift”), True Law of Free Monarchies, a Discourse on the Gun Powder Plot treason, and a Defense of the Right of Kings. The Separatists were loyal to King James’ civil rule in government, but they did not believe he had authority over the Church, where Jesus Himself was the head.
Those who thought the Bible should set the model for church organization and worship did not believe the King should have authority over the church. The Bible said nothing about a hierarchy of bishops and archbishops appointed by the king, or the royal regulations for the liturgy and vestments of the ministers. Encouraged by II Corinthians 6:17, “come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,” some separated from the Church of England and began meeting in private for worship. They did not follow the Book of Common Prayer, but used only the Bible in their worship. These Separatists, as they came to be called, covenanted together in congregations made up of those who professed Jesus as King of the Church. Since any worship outside of the Church of England was illegal and criminal, the Separatists were watched night and day, persecuted, imprisoned, and in some cases executed. As the persecution intensified, many fled to the Netherlands, where they could worship freely according to the Scriptures.
- The Book of Common Prayer with the Psalter or Psalms of David of that translation which is appointed to be used in churches. London: Robert Barker, 1614
Following England’s break with the Church of Rome, in 1549 a prayer book was written to be used in the Church of England which included morning and evening prayers, ceremonies for Holy Communion, baptism, confirmation and marriage, as well as a funeral service and prayers for the sick. Selections of Bible readings were also included. The prayer book was revised in 1552 and 1604, and it was required that the Book of Common Prayer be used in all churches.
The Separatists believed the Bible should be the only book used in Christian worship and objected to the use of The Book of Common Prayer. They believed it omitted a great part of the Scriptures, while including the Apocrypha and many false practices from the Church of Rome. 09.1057 Donald Brake Collection
- Ecclesiastical History, containing the acts and monumentes of things passed in every kinges time, in this realme, especially in the Church of England principally to be noted, with a full discourse of such persecutions, horrible troubles….John Foxe.London: Peter Short, 1596
This is the 1st volume of the 5th edition of John Foxe’s work, popularly known today as the Book of Martyrs. Often relying on primary sources and court documents, Foxe dramatically told the story of the persecution of Christians from the days of the apostles to the time of Queen Mary.
Numerous woodcuts vividly illustrated the torture Christians endured for their faith. For Foxe, history was a struggle between good and evil, truth and error. His sweeping overview of all church history saw God’s Providence preserving and building His Church in spite of persecution and opposition. The Separatists shared Foxe’s Providential interpretation of history as they often faced opposition and persecution for their faith.
The illustration here is of the bones of John Wycliffe being dug up, burned, and tossed into the river 41 years after his death, a condemnation decreed by the Church Council of Constance. Believing the Christian’s faith should be grounded in Scripture, the 14th century scholar John Wycliffe had translated the Bible into English. 2018.53 Dunham Endowment Donation
- Institutionis, Christian Ae Eeligionis. Johannis Calvini. Geneva: Johannem Vignon, Petrum & Jacobum Chouet, 1617.
The English who we now call Pilgrims found a guide for their Christian faith in the French Protestant reformer John Calvin. Calvin first published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. In ensuing years, after his move to Geneva, he expanded the work. In the Institutes, Calvin made the Scriptures the source of his comprehensive theology. He exhorted, “Let us not take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by His Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word.”
When the Pilgrims looked into the Scriptures as Calvin exhorted, they did not find many practices of the Church of England … such as bishops appointed by the king, special vestments for the clergy, or a liturgy as in the Book of Common Prayer. They separated from the Church of England to form congregations which would follow the Bible more closely. 09.42 John Hellstern Collection
From Scrooby to the Netherlands
In 1606, a group of Separatists began to meet secretly in Scrooby Manor, in Yorkshire.
The Manor was the house of William Brewster. The people joined together, freely making a covenant under the Lord “in the fellowship of the gospel to walk in all His ways made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them.” John Robinson became the preacher of the congregation. When the Archbishop of York began arresting and imprisoning members of the Scrooby congregation or those supporting them, many of the people chose to take refuge in the Netherlands. In 1607 and 1608, several groups of the Scrooby congregation left England for Amsterdam.
After being arrested in London and then in Ireland for his Separatist beliefs, Henry Ainsworth moved to the Netherlands in 1597, where he helped establish the first English church in Amsterdam. In 1607, Ainsworth’s The communion of the saints explained that a true church does not include the people of an entire nation, as the Church of England held, but a church was a congregation of individuals who had made a confession of faith in Jesus. Ainsworth was a noted Hebrew scholar whose many works continued to be published and studied in the following centuries. Ainsworth’s The Book of Psalmes was the song book the Pilgrims brought with them to America. It included both a prose and metrical translation of the psalms. Ainsworth himself died in Amsterdam in 1622.
- Annotations upon the Five Bookes of Moses, the Booke of the Psalmes, and the Song of Songs. Henry Ainsworth. London: M. Parsons for John Bellamie, 1639.
Henry Ainsworth, leader of the Separatist English Church in Amsterdam, was a noted Hebrew scholar whose annotations on the Pentateuch, Psalms, and Song of Songs continued to be published and studied in ensuing centuries. An able apologist for the authority of the Scriptures, Ainsworth compared and explained the Hebrew words and sentences “by the ancient Greek and Chaldee versions, and other Records and Monuments of the Hebrews: But chiefly by conference with the holy, Scriptures, Moses, his words, laws, and ordinance, and other legal ceremonies heretofore commanded by God to the Church of Israel, are explained.” The Scripture on the title page was Luke 24:44: “All things must be fulfilled, which are written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalmes.” 2015.18 Bill Chamberlin Collection
Pilgrim William Brewster – Diplomat, Publisher, Preacher
Educated at Cambridge, William Brewster became secretary to William Davison, who was ambassador to the Netherlands and then secretary of state under Queen Elizabeth. Traveling in the Netherlands, Brewster became more familiar with the Reformed Church. When Davison fell out of favor, Brewster returned to his birthplace of Scrooby. His manor house at Scrooby became the meeting place of a Separatist congregation in 1607. When authorities began searching out and arresting the Separatists, Brewster went into hiding and then fled to Holland.
In Leiden Brewster taught English to students at the University of Leiden, and in 1616 established a printing press, along with Edward Winslow and Thomas Brewer. The pilgrim press published religious books and pamphlets, sending them into England. The English ambassador discovered the location of the press and persuaded the Dutch to shut the press down. Thomas Brewer was arrested and imprisoned, but Brewster went into hiding and was not found by the authorities. The seizure of the printing press was an important event which stirred Brewster and the Separatists to find a place where they could truly live in freedom.
Brewster was an elder in the Separatist congregation in Leiden and was the Pilgrim preacher for the first years in America. His sermons were noted for their exposition of the Scriptures. At the time of his death, almost 400 books were listed in his will, most being theological works.
- Testamenti Veteris Biblia Sacra. London: Henry Middleton, Thomas Vautrolkerius, 1581.
Latin being the common language of learning in that day, a good Latin translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and the Greek was important to many in the Reformation. The Italian Immanuel Tremellius, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a noted Hebrew scholar, first published his Latin translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in 1569. Theologian Francisco Junio, Tremellius’ son-in-law, helped in the translation, which included numerous annotations. The New Testament translation from the Greek into Latin was done by Theodore Beza, the Reformed theologian who succeeded John Calvin in Geneva.
Pilgrim William Brewster owned the 1580 first English edition of this Biblia Sacra; the Dunham’s copy is the 1581 second edition. 09.1015 Donald Brake Collection
- Iesu Christi Domini Nostri Novum Testamentum. Theodore Beza. Geneva: Henricus Stephanus, 1589, 3rd folio edition.
Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was Calvin’s successor in Geneva. He was a leading Greek scholar and first rector of Calvin’s Geneva Academy, where he also taught Greek and theology. In 1556 Beza published an annotated Latin translation of the Greek New Testament with critical commentary on variant readings of the Greek text among different manuscripts. In 1565 Beza’s Latin translation was published with his edition of the Greek text and the Latin Vulgate. Beza’s Greek text and translations were important resources used by the translators of the 1611 King James Bible.
Pilgrim Williiam Brewster had a 1582 edition of Beza’s text in his library. 09.1168 Donald Brake Collection
- Perth Assembly. David Calderwood. Leiden, 1619; 2019 reprint
Perth Assembly was one of the last books printed by William Brewster’s pilgrim press in Leiden. The book was critical of the articles of the 1618 Perth Assembly, which forced an episcopal form of church government on the Church of Scotland. Printed in Leiden and smuggled into Scotland, the book angered King James, who ordered an international manhunt for the writer and printer. William Brewster went into hiding and sailed to America on the Mayflower the following year. 2020.20
Synod of Dort
A theological controversy arose in Holland shortly after the Separatists arrived from England. Leiden theology professor Jacobus Arminius disputed many of the teachings of John Calvin on the nature of grace, the atonement, predestination, and human works and free will in salvation. While the Calvinists believed that God was sovereign in salvation, the Arminians, as they came to be called, rejected predestination. Numerous debates were held at the University of Leiden on the subject, with Pilgrim pastor John Robinson participating in favor of the Calvinist position.
In 1618-1619, a Synod was held at Dort to examine the theological controversy. 26 delegates from 8 foreign countries were among the participants. In addition to issuing 5 canons supporting the sovereignty of God in salvation (on the doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace , and the perseverance of the saints), the Synod of Dort initiated an official Dutch translation of the Bible.
The violence which broke out over the theological dispute was one incentive for the Separatists to leave Holland for a land where they could worship freely.
- Biblia, dat is De Gantsche H. Schrifture vervattende alle de Canonijcke Boecken des Ouden en des Niuwen Testaments. Dordrecht, Amsterdam: Hendrick and Jacob Keur, Marcus Doomick, 1682.
The Synod of Dort not only issued canons on the important issues of man’s depravity, election, atonement and grace, but also supported an official Dutch translation of the Bible. Translators were appointed, and the States-General funded the project. The States Bible, translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek was first published in 1637. The language of the States Bible became the standardized form of Dutch.
The map at the front of the Bible reflects the geographical knowledge in the 1680s. 09.16 Donation of John & Karen Dudinger
Embarkation of the Pilgrims
Robert Weir’s painting of the Pilgrims on board the Speedwell as they get ready to leave the Netherlands shows them in prayer. William Brewster holds the open Bible. John Carver, the Pilgrim’s first governor, is to Brewster’s left, and Pilgrim pastor John Robinson to Carver’s left. Miles Standish and his wife Rose are in the right foreground. The presence of women and children shows that the Pilgrim migration was truly a family affair. The sail at the top left has “God is with us” on it, and the rainbow symbolized the new world and new beginning for these Pilgrims.
Departure from the Netherlands
The 12 year truce the Netherlands had with Spain was ending in 1621, and the possibility of war loomed. The religious conflict between the Calvinists and Arminians had intensified, sometimes erupting in violence in the streets. At the instigation of the English ambassador, William Brewster’s printing press was destroyed and attempts were made to arrest Brewster. In addition to these events, many of the English were concerned their children were learning Dutch ways rather than being English. After twelve years in the Netherlands, many of the Separatists thought they needed to find another place to make their home. Land in America beckoned, not only as a place to make a home, but as an area for the gospel to expand.
They Knew They were Pilgrims
William Bradford described the English leaving the Netherlands for America, “So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”
Bradford’s words reflected the Scripture in Hebrews 11:13-16, which originally spoke of those early pilgrims Abraham and Sarah, “All these died in faith, and received not the promises, but saw them afar off, and believed them, and received them thankfully, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things, declare plainly, that they seek a country. And if they had been mindful of that country, from whence they came out, they had leisure to have returned. But now they desire a better, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”
Books Among the Pilgrims
In this painting of the signing of the Compact in the cabin of the Mayflower, notice there are books scattered around. Many of the Pilgrims brought books with them to America. Of course the Bible was the most important of their books, and theological works predominated in their libraries, but works of horticulture, law and science were also included. Myles Standish had a number of military books. Many of the Pilgrims had works by Henry Ainsworth and the Puritan William Perkins. The library of William Brewster consisted of almost 400 books, and other Pilgrims had books numbering in the hundreds.
The Mayflower arrived at the American coast far north of the Virginia colony where they had permission to settle. Since they would not be under any government’s control, some of the hired non-Separatists thought they could strike out on their own and leave the colony, which would have been disastrous for the colony. Before disembarking the Mayflower the Pilgrims wrote up an agreement for self-government, patterned after the covenants used in forming their congregations. Beginning, “We whose names are underwritten,” they declared they had undertaken the colonization, “for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our king and country.” They called God as a witness and committed to “covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation.” This was a government of equal laws for the people. Forty-one men signed this covenant, which established a self-governing colony in America.
Winston Churchill called the Mayflower Compact “One of the remarkable documents in history.” It was a forerunner of the U.S. Constitution, beginning “We the people of the United States….”
- The Bible Translated according to the Ebrew and Greeke. London: Christopher Barker, 1592.
This 1592 edition of the Geneva Bible is the same edition William Bradford, long time governor of the Plymouth colony, brought to America on the Mayflower. The Geneva Bible, first published in 1560, was the first English study Bible and favored by the English followers of the Reformation. It included “most profitable Annotations upon all the hard places,” as well as two concordances. One contained the interpretation of the Hebrew, Chaldean, Greek, and Latin words and names throughout Scripture. The second was what we now consider the traditional concordance, of English words and places where they can be found in the Old and New Testament.
Governor Bradford’s 1592 Geneva Bible is in the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. 2020.19 Archie Dunham Endowment.
Alden and Standish
Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, not all of the Separatists sailed from Holland. 9 of the 24 families were from England. John Alden and Myles Standish, heroes in Longfellow’s famous poem, were two non-Separatists who shared the faith of the Pilgrims and became leaders in the Plimoth colony.
Myles Standish was among the English soldiers serving alongside the Dutch in their war with Spain. The Separatists hired him in Leiden to come to America as their military advisor. Standish and his wife Rose both came on the Mayflower, though Rose died the first winter. One of few well men during that winter, Standish tirelessly cared for others in their great sickness.
John Alden, a young man of 21, was hired as part of the Mayflower’s crew as a cooper, or barrel maker. With his winsome ways and useful skills, the Pilgrims encouraged him to stay in America with them. Alden became an important leader in the colony, serving on the Governor’s council and other positions for sixty years.
- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old Testament, and the New London: Bonham Norton, Robert Barker, and John Bill, 1619-1620
This 1619-1620 quarto of the King James Version of the Bible is the same edition as that which John Alden brought to America on the Mayflower. It includes sections from The Book of Common Prayer, as well as the two concordances found in William Bradford’s Geneva Bible.
John Alden’s Bible is in the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This copy in the Dunham Bible Museum collection has the printer Robert Barker’s signature on the title page. The volume once belonged to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George III, who married the Landgrave of Hesse-Hamburg in Germany. 09.327 John Hellstern Collection
- The Courtship of Miles Standish. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1858, 1st American edition.
Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a descendant of pilgrims John Alden and Priscilla Mullins and said his poem about their marriage was in part based on family tradition. Longfellow’s poem is rich with Scriptural allusions and references, reflecting the importance of the Bible to the Pilgrim settlement.
The Alden and Standish families both settled in Duxbury and remained close associates, with John and Priscilla Alden’s daughter Sarah marrying Myles and Barbara Standish’s son Alexander. On Loan
- Of Plimoth Plantation. William Bradford. Boston: Wright & Potter, Printing Co., 1899.
William Bradford was governor of Plymouth Plantation for over 30 years. His journal provides a detailed description of the people and events of the colony. Often drawing parallels between events in the colony and events in the Bible, Bradford saw God’s Providence working in the everyday affairs of the Pilgrims.
Bradford’s manuscript came to be kept in the Old South Meeting House in Boston. By 1780, the manuscript had disappeared, apparently taken by a British soldier during the British occupation of the city during the American Revolution. Sixty years later it was found in the Bishop of London’s library at Lambeth palace. In 1897, the manuscript was formally returned and presented to the Governor of Massachusetts. The manuscript today is in the State Library of Massachusetts in the State House in Boston. On loan
William Bradford Learns Hebrew
In his later life, William Bradford, governor of Plimoth Plantation, learned Hebrew.
Some of his practices in writing Hebrew are on the flyleaf of his manuscript history Of Plimoth Plantation. This includes a triangular note in which he wrote, “Though I am growne aged, yet I have had a longing desire, to see with my own eyes, something of that most ancient language, and holy tongue, in which the Law, and oracles of God were write; and in which God, and angels, spake to the holy patriarks, of old time; and what names were given to things, from the creation. And though I cañot attaine to much herein, yet I am refreshed, to have seen some glimpse here-of; (as Moses saw the Land of canan afarr of) my aime and desire is, to see how the words,and phrases lye in the holy texte; and to dicerne somewhat of the same for my owne contente.”
Edward Winslow & the “First Thanksgiving”
Edward Winslow is the only Pilgrim whose portrait made from life we have; today it is in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth. In Leiden, Winslow helped William Brewster with his printing operations. Winslow’s letter to a friend described what has come to be known as the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, “Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn…our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labor; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside , served the company almost a week at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.”
Thanksgiving – a National Holiday
In 1621, the 50 surviving Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest in
America. Ninety native Americans joined in the harvest festivities, with games and sports being played while the bounteous food of the harvest was enjoyed. Later colonists customarily set aside special days to thank and praise God for His Providence.
During the American Revolution and the early days of the country, the government called for special days of Thanksgiving or prayer for special occasions, such as after important military victories. In 1789, George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation, noting “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…” Other Presidents and state governors periodically made calls for days of Thanksgiving.
Sarah Joseph Hale, a writer and editor, campaigned for the creation of a national day of Thanksgiving. At Hale’s prompting, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called for a national “day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…” Thanksgiving has been an annual national holiday since Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863.
National Monument to the Forefathers
A statue of Faith is on the top of the monument. The open Bible in her hand indicates the Bible is the standard for the Pilgrims’ personal lives, their families, their church, and society. Faith’s raised forefinger points to Heaven.
Around the monument are four key figures symbolizing principles guiding the Pilgrims in their colony:
- Morality looks heavenward with the 10 commandments in her hand. Under Morality are carvings of a Prophet and Evangelist. Preaching the Gospel is shown by Evangelist taking seed from the Bible and sowing it.
- Law is shown with one hand extended in mercy. Under Law are Mercy and Justice.
- Education is depicted as a woman, emphasizing the importance of the mother instructing the children in the home. Underneath Education are Youth and Wisdom.
- Liberty is shown with a slain lion, possibly depicting the death of tyranny. Underneath Liberty are Peace and the Overthrow of Tyranny.
Other sections of the monument include a list of the Mayflower passengers, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, and the peace treaty with the Indians.
The Pilgrim Mother Monument
The settlement at Plymouth was unique at that time in that it was a colony of families. Earlier colonization by Spain and by the English at Jamestown had all been by men. However, 29 of the Mayflower passengers were women – 18 were married, 10 were children, and 1 was a female servant. There were 24 family units. Over half the Pilgrims died during the harsh first winter, including 14 of the 29 women. Four whole families lost everyone; 16 families lost at least one person. Amazingly, only 6 of the children died.
The Pilgrim Mother monument shows the Pilgrim mother standing with her Bible in hand, the source of her strength as well as the teaching and training of her children. The monument is a fountain, indicating the family is the fountain of society. The inscription on the monument says, “They brought up their families in sturdy virtue and a living faith in God without which nations perish.”
“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many…” William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation