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Who were the Pilgrim Fathers?

Updated on June 18, 2010
William Bradford and the Pilgrim Fathers
William Bradford and the Pilgrim Fathers
The Guild hall, Boston
The Guild hall, Boston
The tiny cell which held ten men
The tiny cell which held ten men
Inside one of the cells
Inside one of the cells

Religious beliefs

When my children asked me 'Who were the Pilgrim fathers?' The only answer I could give them was that they were a bunch of guys who got themselves locked up for having different religious beliefs, and they wanted to go to another country where they could practice their religion without fear of being killed for it.

There is so much in Boston to commemorate the Pilgrim Fathers: The Pilgrim Hospital, The nickname of the local football team -'The Pilgrims', Pilgrim Frozen Foods, the list goes on. Then of course there is the Pilgrim Fathers memorial at Fishtoft, on the bank of the River Haven, which was erected in 1957. It's sort of a local beauty spot where families go with a picnic. There's a memorial stating that this is the site where the Pilgrim fathers set off to a new world, and a few benches and a grassy area overlooking the river. Its also a lovely place to go star-gazing because there's no light pollution. I remember going up there late one night to watch a meteor shower and it was pretty amazing. To be honest, I never had anything more than a mild curiosity about these guys who had deserved to have a memorial erected for them. In my opinion, it was a little overdue if it was only erected in 1957, seeing as they sailed from Boston in 1620.

Being a naturally curious person - and also living in Boston - I decided to do a bit of detective work and this is what I found.

The year was 1607 and King James the 1st. was on the English throne. At that time the country was divided between Roman Catholicism and Protestant (also known as Church of England) The Puritan movement was what could be described as an extremist protestant sect that was known as the separatists.They had their own ideas and wanted the freedom to practice their own religion, but many priests and clergy were against this. Laws were passed to prevent them from practicing and the penalty for breaking these laws was execution.

The Pilgrims - as they became known- came from all over middle England,- Nottingham, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Two men named William Bradford and William Brewster, along with about a hundred separatists arranged a passage on a Dutch ship to take them to a new life in Holland, where they would be free to practice their own religion. In those days emigration was illegal without first obtaining permission from the relevent authorities and even then it was difficult to obtain.

Unbeknown to them, the captain of the ship had betrayed them and reported them to the authorities and upon boarding the vessel they were immediately put under arrest. They were imprisoned in Boston, some of them were sent to the town gaol and the rest held at the Guild Hall, where they were kept in the most apalling conditions. There are two small cells in the Guild Hall, designed to hold no more than two prisoners in each. It is reported that on this occasion each cell held ten men, who were treated worse than animals.

They were eventually brought to trial but were released. However, this did not deter them and in 1620 they managed to set sail for Holland and then on to America, where they eventually landed in the area which is now known as New England.

At this time Boston Corporation had appointed a zealous and devout vicar called John Cotton, who rejected many principles of the Anglican church. This didn't go down too well with the corporation, but he had a lot of support from many well-connected puritans who were planning a large scale emigration to America. He knew a man named Theophilus Fiennes, who was the Earl of LIncoln, and he had a house in Boston, as did his friend Thomas Dudley. Together they formed the Massachusetts Bay Company, and in 1630 a man named John Winthrop led a fleet of seven ships with a thousand men, women and children to start a new life in New England. The site where they landed was named Boston by Thomas Dudley and his friend Hubbard. John Cotton eventually sailed over himself in 1633, along with Edmund Quincy, whose descendant John Quincy Adams became the 6th president of the United States

The people of Boston England dominated the colony for two generations and formed the first half of the board of overseers of the college of further education, which was founded in 1636. Three years later in 1639 it was re-named as Harvard.

For many years the people of Boston England had a happy relationship with their daughter town in America, but the relationship dwindled in the late 18th century. By the middle of the 19th century links were re-established and Boston Massachusetts - which was now a thriving town, was sending money for the restoration of various buildings in Boston England.

In 1980 the Mayor of Boston (UK) and his entourage visited Boston(Mass.) to celebrate the 350th year of their anniversary.

So now we all know why Boston (USA) has its name, and its all down to the PIlgrim Fathers wanting freedom to practice their religion.


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    • mquee profile image

      mquee 7 years ago from Columbia, SC

      Very nice history lesson. It is always nice to learn something new.

    • Rafini profile image

      Rafini 7 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

      A fascinating story! I didn't realize there was a Boston in England (don't hear of it often, I guess) so I was a little confused at first...until I read the name - Massachusetts Bay Company.