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THE Pilgrims belonged to those people in England who, very soon after the Reformation, wished still further to simplify and purify the ritual of the Church of England. From this fact they were called Puritans. They claimed not to differ from the Church in their creed but only in the observances by which the creed was expressed. After a time, however, even this difference began to draw upon them persecution. They hoped that they would be permitted to withdraw from the Church and hold services of their own, and succeeded in organizing two congregations in the northern part of England where the counties of Lincoln, Nottingham, and York come together. But by orders of the government, these gatherings were constantly interrupted and scattered and the leaders imprisoned.
Discouraged by this harsh treatment, they began to think of leaving the country, and turned their eyes toward Holland. To be sure, America had been discovered a full century before this, but as yet no permanent English settlement was made there. Moreover, the Spaniards, who were the deadly enemies of the English on account of religion and for other reasons, held the southern part of it, the only part then thought to be at all desirable or even possible for
settlement. The rest of it was supposed to be not only bleak and uninhabitable for Europeans, but teeming with hostile tribes of savages. Besides, the perils of crossing so tremendous a sea as the Atlantic appalled the ordinary citizen. But Holland was close by, and thus it was to Holland they looked for refuge.
The reformed religion had been introduced into Holland in 1573, and since that time the utmost religious freedom was permitted. Every sect was tolerated, and an asylum was opened there for fugitives from persecution of all sorts. Amsterdam, then one of the greatest cities of Europe, was called “a common harbor of all opinions, of all heresies." Books and pamphlets could be printed in Amsterdam which were not allowed in England or elsewhere. Men pursued for any reason by the governments of their own countries could live in peace in Holland. Accordingly, these persecuted Puritans decided to flee to Holland.
They tried to keep their design very secret, for they knew that if the government heard of it, they would not be allowed to go. It was a difficult position in which they found themselves. King James I, who was then on the throne, declared he would “make them conform or he would harry them out of the land.” Yet if they tried to go out of the land, his government did everything in its power to prevent them. Their first attempt to get away in 1607, was discovered and frustrated. Nevertheless, in
the next year or two, they managed to slip away and gather in Amsterdam, where they proceeded to organize a church. However, things proved unsatisfactory there, and at the end of a year they moved again, this time to Leyden, which was not far away. Here they settled down and remained twelve years, winning golden opinions from the Dutch government for their industry and their peaceful lives.
These English Puritans were mainly of the respectable middle class, farmers and handicraftsmen. Leyden was a great woollen-manufacturing centre, and in the course of their stay there, they all became more or less expert in the different branches of that trade, that is, in spinning, weaving, carding, etc. Also in carpentering, rope-making, and many other kinds of work that is done with the hands. Here, too, they were joined by fugitive Protestants from France, called Huguenots. These people were famous for their ability in silkweaving. Dutch weavers also became part of their company. It was probably owing in large part to their skill in these trades that they were enabled to found later a successful colony in America. To open a new country you must have workers, people who know how to do things.
After a time it became evident to the leaders among these Puritans that their little band would have to move again. They saw that it was hard for their people to make a living in Holland, and moreover, they were in danger of losing their nationality. They could foresee that when their children grew up, they would very likely marry among the Dutch, probably learn to speak the Dutch language and drop their own, and in time be wholly absorbed into the Dutch nation. Then, too, in religious matters, outside habits and customs, with regard to the observance of the Sabbath, for instance, were sure to creep in. So if they wished to preserve both their religion and their nationality, although the Dutch were the best people they could settle among for the purpose, still it would be better to settle in a country without other inhabitants.
Moreover, they had been hearing better things of America. In the very year of their escape to Holland, the first permanent English colony had been settled at Jamestown, Virginia. And while they did not wish to get very near this colony on account of their religion, still if they went to America now, it would be a comfort to know that they were not the only English people living on that side of the world. Then, too, Henry Hudson had made his famous voyage up the Hudson River and had brought back a glowing account of it. And they began to think that they might settle there, and if they did, it would be far enough away from Jamestown to suit their purpose.
So they sent some agents to King James, asking if he would let them go to America and settle on the land he claimed to own there. They told him that they wished to remain loyal Englishmen, and hinted that in time their trade might become valuable to him. The king, of course, would have nothing to say officially to heretics, but inasmuch as he could no longer have the pleasure of harrying these particular heretics in his own dominions, they were given to understand privately that they might go. And they began with mingled joy and sorrow to make their preparations for departure.
In England they had been called Separatists, a name against which they protested, saying that they had not separated in the least from what the Church of England believed, but only from the ceremonies which it practised. But as their great objection to it was that it was a national church which verybody had to support, and as they were really trying to separate the Church from the State, they were obliged in the end to submit to bear the name of Separatists. But they said that since they had removed from England to Amsterdam to be free to practise their own religion, and from Amsterdam to Leyden, and were now again about to leave Leyden for America, they looked upon their wanderings as a pilgrimage and themselves as pilgrims, and thus they would call themselves.
They hired a small ship in Holland named the Speedwell, to convey as many of them as it could accommodate to America and remain there with them a