For “they knew they were pilgrims”: preparing for a voyage

Once the Separatists in Holland started to conclude they wanted to move on again from the homes they had established in Leiden, there was much work to be done.

They had lengthy discussions about where they should go. Some suggested Guiana while others preferred Virginia, where the earlier Jamestown colony had been established. They decided Virginia would be better, as Bradford recounts:

“Such hot countries [like Guiana have] grievous diseases, and many noisome impediments, which other more temperate places are freer from, and would not … agree with our English bodies … if they should there live, & do well, the jealous Spaniard would never suffer them long, but would displant or overthrow them, as he did the French in Florida … they should have none to protect them, & their own strength would be too small to resist so potent an enemy, & so near a neighbour.”

They were concerned about being under the control of others in Virginia though, fearing they might face the sort of persecution which they had tried to escape in England, and so:

“at length the conclusion was, to live as a distinct body by themselves, under the general Government of Virginia; and [ask] their friends [for permission from] his majesty [to be granted] freedom of Religion”

Certain members of their group were sent to London to seek financial support from the Virginia Company and to get a patent (permission from the King) to set up a new colony. Terms had to be agreed for their transport and repayment of the costs incurred by their financial backers – a debt which would take them seven years to repay.

“At length, after much travel and … debates, all things were got ready and provided. A small ship was bought, & fitted in Holland, which was intended … to transport them, [and] stay in [America for] fishing and [other uses] for the good & benefit of the colony when they came there. Another was hired at London, of burden about 9 score; and all other things got in readiness.” (Bradford)

Not all of the Separatist community could go on this first voyage. They decided their pastor and leader, John Robinson, would stay with the majority of them in Leiden while a core group of families went to set up the new colony. Some would join them later, although Robinson himself never made it. Some families were separated, making their departure even more bittersweet; Bradford left his own young son:

“The time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their brethren out of the city [Leiden], unto a town [some] miles off called Delfshaven, where the ship lay ready to receive them. So they left that goodly & pleasant city, which had been their resting place near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrims, & looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”

Finally, their departure day had arrived:

“That night was spent with little sleep by the most, but with friendly entertainment & Christian discourse … The next day, the wind being fair, they went aboard, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting; to see what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them …

But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away yet were thus loathed to depart, their Reverend pastor falling down on his knees, (and they all with him,) with watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers to the Lord and his blessing.

And then with mutual embraces and many tears, they took their leave one of another; which proved to be the last leave to many of them.”

Next week: Ships – the two ships meet for their journey to America…