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  The Story of the Pilgrims I:
From Scrooby to Holland

By Cairril Mills

A history with biographical notes on William White, Susannah Fuller White Winslow, Edward Winslow, Resolved White, Peregrine White, William Bradford, William Brewster, and John Robinson.

Note: All quoted passages are from William Bradford's delightful Of Plymouth Plantation unless otherwise noted.

Mills ancestors on the Mayflower

This biography concerns the Pilgrims as a whole, but is of especial interest to those of us descended from several of the key players.

Susannah and William White came to America with their son Resolved (age 7) upon the Mayflower. We don't know if Susannah and William were part of the Leyden group or boarded the Mayflower when it stopped in England en route to America. Susannah was pregnant at the time of the crossing.

Also aboard the Mayflower were Edward Winslow and William Bradford, both married. Susannah, Edward, and William Bradford all lost their spouses shortly after the crossing. William's wife Dorothy (not a Mills ancestor; we are descended from William's second wife, Alice Carpenter) was swept overboard during a storm while the ship lay in harbor at Cape Cod on 7 Dec 1620. Susannah's husband William White died during the "starving time," the period of the first few months in Plymouth where about one-third of the Mayflower passengers perished. Edward Winslow's wife Elizabeth died about a month after William White.

Susannah gave birth to Peregrine White while the Mayflower was still at anchor in Provincetown Harbor. With an infant and an active 7-year-old already on her hands, it was important for her to marry again. Likewise, Winslow was expected to marry as quickly as possible. And so Edward and Susannah were the first Pilgrims to be married in Plymouth Colony, with the ceremony performed by William Bradford. Susannah went on to bear five children to Edward, two of which survived childhood.

The Pilgrim story is one of challenges facing a religious and cultural minority which wants to preserve its identity. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, Christianity split into many different groups, with varying creeds and desires. Puritans were Protestants who wished to reform the Church of England along Calvinist lines. Separatists were Puritans who believed there was no point in trying to reform the C of E and wanted to maintain a separate religion and way of life from dominant English society. The Pilgrims were an even smaller subset of Separatists because of the influence of their pastor, John Robinson. He was the founder of what would later be called "Congregationalism," which was a type of bare-bones Protestantism where each congregation had total autonomy. He also preached tolerance, which made the Pilgrims far more reasonable, just, and fair than their Massachusetts Bay compatriots.

The kernel of the Pilgrim group was born in the tiny hamlet of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire in north-central England. In 1606 a group of believers joined into a "gathered" community, forming a simple church congregation around a Covenant. At this time it was treasonous to join voluntary associations or to form a church outside the Church of England. The Scrooby congregation was not unique, but it was still a courageous one.

Over time, informants reported the Scrooby meetings to the attention of the Bishop of Lincoln and Archbishop of York, who began to persecute the participants. "For some were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their [persecutors'] hands; and the most were fain to flee and leave their houses and habitations, and the means of their livelihood."

The congregation eventually determined to emigrate to Holland, "where they heard was freedom of religion for all men." The congregation knew some people who had emigrated to Amsterdam and felt they would have a better chance at not only practicing their religion but developing a more Christian culture within their community.

The discussion to emigrate was lengthy and controversial. Bradford lays out the difficulties:
    "But to go into a country they knew not but by hearsay, where they must learn a new language and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear [expensive] place and subject to the miseries of war, it was thought by many an adventure almost desperate; a case intolerable and a misery worse than death. Especially seeing they were not acquainted with trades nor traffic (by which that country doth subsist) but had only been used to a plain country life and the innocent trade of husbandry."
It was also against the law for Catholics or dissenting Protestants to leave the country. But under the Covenenant, if the majority voted to emigrate, all must go or be relieved of their Covenant bonds. Some did leave the congregation rather than risk emigration.

Because it was illegal to emigrate, the Separatists relied on bribery to escape the country. "And yet were they often times betrayed, many of them; and both they and their goods intercepted and surprised, and thereby put to great trouble and charge...." The whole enterprise was extremely dangerous, and many of the Separatists suffered in the undertaking.

Part II: The Leyden Years >

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