Separatist Pilgrims

Associated events:

  • Dec. 26, 1620 – Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Harbor

Associated locations:

  • Plymouth, Massachusets

“The Pilgrims of Plymouth, the Calverts of Maryland, Roger Williams, William Penn — all had deep religious convictions that played a principal part in their coming to the New World.  They  . . . came here under the inspiration of heaven (1 Nephi 13:13.)” 1

History

Persecution in England

The Pilgrims diligently followed the commandments of God and taught that the former Church had become corrupt.

Those reformers who saw the evil of these things [religious apostasy], and whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal for his truth, shook off this yoke of anti-Christian bondage and as the Lord’s free people joined themselves together by covenant as a church, in the fellowship of the gospel to walk in all His ways, made known, or to be made known to them, according to their best endeavours, whatever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. 2

Separatists

Persecutions then followed. The leaders, both political and religious, continued a severe persecution of those that were true followers of the Lord. Finally:

. . . at length they began to persecute all the zealous reformers in the land, unless they would submit to their ceremonies and become slaves to them and their popish trash, which has no ground in the word of God, but is a relic of that man of sin.  3As time progressed the persecution became so intense that the Pilgrims had no choice but to separate themselves from those that desired their destruction. Many of the histories are graphic in detail of the persecution and torture.

They were hunted and persecuted on every side, until their former afflictions were but as fleabitings in comparison. Some were clapped into prison; others had their houses watched night and day, and escaped with difficulty; and most were obliged to fly, and leave their homes and means of livelihood. . . . For these reformers to be thus constrained to leave their native soil, their lands and livings, and all their friends, was a great sacrifice, and was wondered at by many. 4

Attempts of escape to Holland

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Faith is born of adversity and sanctification comes by blood. One experience illustrates the depth of sacrifice that was required. A group of the Pilgrims had hired a ship to transport them in an attempt to escape from England to Holland. The master of the ship allowed them to load all of their earthly belongings onto the vessel, and then betrayed them into the hands of the authorities. After being rifled and ransacked, the women immodestly, they were drug through the community as the townspeople jeered and taunted on either side. After months of imprisonment most were finally released, while the Pilgrim leaders were bound over for yet more humiliation and examination. The following spring another attempt was made, this time with a Dutch ship. The Pilgrims were to meet the ship between Grimsbe and Hull in a large common. The women and children were sent by a small boat and the men traveled by land each arriving a day before the ship. The women were very sick and the boat was moved to low water near an opening. When the ship arrived the following morning, the boat containing the women and children was fixed on the land and could not move. The captain of the ship, realizing that it would be some time before the women and children could be loaded, commenced loading the men first. Just as the loading of the men was finished,

. . . the master espied a great company, both horse and foot, with bills, and guns, and other weapons; for the country was raised to take them. The Dutchman seeing that, swore his countries oath, “sacrament,” and having the fair wind, weighed his anchor, hoisted sails, and away. But the poor men which were got aboard, were in great distress for their wives and children, which they saw thus to be taken, and were left destitute of their helps; and themselves also, not having clothes to shift them with, more then they had on their backs, and some scarce a penny about them, all they had being aboard the barke [women’s boat]. It drew tears from their eyes, and anything they had they would have given to have been ashore again; but all in vain, there was no remedy, they must thus sadly part. 5The women and children were left defenseless before the authorities as their husbands were taken out to sea.

. . . pitiful it was to see the heavy case of these poor women in this distress; what weeping and crying on every side, some for their husbands, that were carried away in the ship as is before related; others not knowing what should become of them, and their little ones; others again melted in tears, seeing their poor little ones hanging about them, crying for fear, and quaking with cold. Being thus apprehended, they were hurried from one place to another, and from one justice to another, till in the end they knew not what to do with them; 6The women and children were taken from one constable to the next enduring great ridicule and privation. The authorities could not decide what to do with them. They had no homes to return them to. They could not hold so many women and children in prison as they had not broken the law. They could not be released as the people would cry out. In the end the authorities tired of the situation and of necessity obtained their release. The men received their share of the trial as well. Shortly after embarking a violent storm arose in which they did not see the sun, moon or stars for seven days. They were driven near the shores of Norway and the hearts of the captain and crew fainted with fear. The men however did not despair that the Lord could deliver them.

[with] fervent prayers they cried unto the Lord in this great distress (especially some of them,) even without any great distraction, when the water ran into their mouths and ears; and the mariners cried out, “We sink, we sink”; they cried (if not with miraculous, yet with a great height or degree of divine faith), “Yet Lord thou canst save, yet Lord thou canst save”; 7At this time the ship recovered and shortly after the violence of the storm abated. The Lord spoke peace to their hearts and minds, and when they reached the shore the people came running in amazement that anyone could be saved from such a storm.

Decision to Leave Holland

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The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, U.S. Capitol

“After they had lived here [Leyden] for some eleven or twelve years . . . the grave mistress, Experience, having taught them much, their prudent governors began to apprehend present dangers and to scan the future and think of timely remedy. After much thought and discourse on the subject, they began at length to incline to the idea of removal to some other place; not out of any new-fangledness or other such giddy humour, which often influences people to their detriment and danger, but for many important reasons.” 8William Bradford, in the book Of Plymouth Plantation, listed the reasons that moved the congregation of Pilgrims in Leyden to settle in Ameria. The last these stated:

Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.

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, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise. 9

Thanksgiving

It is likely that our Pilgrim Founders invited the Indians to the famous Thanksgiving feast because of the instruction in Deuteronomy to invite the “stranger”.  Perhaps it was also because they felt a common kinship with this other remnant of the house of Israel.

 

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The First Thanksgiving, Brownscombe

Eye-Witness Accounts of the Thanksgiving:

The Thanksgiving Story as Told By William Bradford

Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.The Thanksgiving Story as Told by Edward Winslow

Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.

Drought Miracle

In 1623, three years after the arrival of the Pilgrims, a severe drought was destroying their crops and survival.  The Plymouth magistrates called the people together for a day of prayer and fasting.  Edward Winslow recorded the miracle that followed:

To that end a day was set apart by public authority, and set apart from all other employments, hoping that the same God who had stirred us up hereunto, would be moved hereby in mercy to look down upon us, and grant the request of our dejected souls. . . . For though in the morning when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear and the drought as like to continue as ever it was; yet (our exercise continuing some eight or nine hours) before our departure the weather was over-cast, the clouds gathered together on all sides,  and on the next morning distilled such soft, sweet, and mild showers of rain, continuing some fourteen days, and mixed with such seasonable weather as it was hard to say whither our weathered corn or dropping affections were most quickened or revived.  Such was the bounty and goodness of our God. . . . And although it be not always so plentifull as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want.  . .”   10

Nephi’s Vision

President Benson stated, “God revealed to his ancient American prophets that shortly after the discovery of America there would be peoples in Europe who would desire to escape the persecution and tyranny of the Old World and flee to America. (1 Nephi 13:13–16)” 11

Taken from 1 Nephi 13

“And it came to pass that I saw among the nations of the Gentiles the formation of a great church.

“And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.

“And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

“And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; . . .

“And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.”  12

Inspired Mission and Statements

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc.” Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.” 13

Character of Pilgrims

Nineteenth century historian James Thatcher, co-founder of the Pilgrim Society, stated that the Pilgrims “held the bible in estimation as the basis of all laws; and the precepts of the gospel [to be] the rules of their lives and the fountains of their dearest hopes.  It was the interwoven sentiment of their hearts that the sovereign power resides with the people, and this was the fundamental axiom upon which their government was reared.” (Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings, New York: Harper & Row, 1963: 181; Calvinism and the Political Order, edited by George L. Hunt, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965: 185; Thatcher, History of Plymouth: 81.)

Etymology of the word “Pilgrim”

The first use of the word pilgrims for the Mayflower passengers appeared in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. As he finished recounting his group’s July 1620 departure from Leiden, Bradford used the imagery of Hebrews 11:13–16, about Old Testament “strangers and pilgrims” who had opportunity to return to their old country but instead longed for a better, heavenly country. Bradford wrote:

So they lefte [that] goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.

Presidents of the Church

Ezra Taft Benson

It was a divine way in which this nation began. The rules of conduct were taken from the Decalogue, from the Bible, from the Gospels and other scriptures. They kept a sacred Sabbath. They maintained other high standards. They frowned upon profanity and other vices. They prohibited gambling. They encouraged people not to keep bad company, to repeat no grievances. They emphasized the spiritual values. 14

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Notes:

  1. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 569
  2. Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 7
  3. Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 5
  4. Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 8
  5. Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 11
  6. Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 11
  7. Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 11-12
  8. Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, 1647, pg. 19.
  9. Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, 1647, pg. 21.
  10. Puritans and Puritanism: 642; Edward Winslow, Good Newes from New England: A True Relations of Things Very Remarkable at the Plantation of Plimoth in New England,  London: William Bladen and John Bellamie, 1624:29; Adams, “Thanksgiving,” 1:248-249; Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 10:301; Thatcher, History of Plymouth: 153; Mourt’s Relation: 133.”
  11. Ezra Taft Benson, CR Sept 30, 1961
  12. 1 Nephi 13:4–5, 13–16
  13. Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, 1647, pg. 66.
  14. Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 576.

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1 Response

  1. May 14, 2012

    […] The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was written by the Separatists, also known as the “Saints”, fleeing religious persecution from James VI and I. They traveled aboard the Mayflower in 1620.  (read more) […]

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