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To be a pilgrim!

What do Boston and Plymouth have in common? They both have football teams with the nickname “The Pilgrims” but why?

On 6th September 1620 the Mayflower departed from the Barbican in Plymouth heading for the New England States and the establishment of New Plymouth. The voyagers became known as the Pilgrim Fathers and much has been written about them in the past. September 2020 will mark the 400th anniversary of this sailing and needless to say Plymouth (The Ocean City) will be hosting lots of celebrations. As a schoolboy in the city I remember the celebrations of Mayflower 70 which commemorated the 350th anniversary of this event and the celebrations in 2020 are planned to totally eclipse those festivities.

With the title “Mayflower 400” Plymouth will be host to many different events – but as yet nobody has suggested a football match between Plymouth Argyle and Boston United! I think they are missing a trick.

In Plymouth today you really have to hunt to find the location where it is said the Pilgrim Fathers departed the city.

The Mayflower Steps are a very modest construction and a monument around five meters tall marks the top of these famous steps.

The history: During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, protestant non-conformist religious beliefs flourished in England. One such belief was that of the Separatists, a group of Puritans with strong Lincolnshire links – Gainsborough was at the heart of the Lincolnshire Separatist movement, and another group was based just over the border at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire.

Separatists wanted the freedom to worship God away from the constraints of the Church of England. When Elizabeth was succeeded by King James, there was a clampdown on such groups; it became illegal not to attend a parish church and the Separatist Movement was banned in 1604.

Wanting to escape persecution, the Separatists decided to flee to the Netherlands, a far more tolerant Protestant country. In 1607, both Gainsborough and Scrooby Separatists travelled to Boston where boats were waiting to take them to the Netherlands.

The Gainsborough Separatists successfully completed their journey and joined other English Separatists known as the Ancient Brethren in Leiden.

Unfortunately, the Scrooby Separatists were betrayed by their boat’s captain. Shortly after setting sail, they were intercepted at Scotia Creek, a few miles downriver from Boston. They were arrested and all their goods were seized; they were imprisoned in Boston Guildhall while awaiting trial in Lincoln. After several months in prison, they were released and returned home to Scrooby penniless. Sympathisers eventually raised enough money to fund a second escape attempt, which was successful.

After living peacefully in Leiden for several years, the Ancient Brethren decided to sail for America in search of a better life. In 1620 they hired two ships, the Speedwell, which was to transport passengers, and the larger Mayflower, which was to carry supplies, for this hazardous journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

Unfortunately, the Speedwell started to take in water off the coast of Devon and it became obvious that the ship would be incapable of making the crossing. Both ships entered Plymouth harbour. The passengers transferred to the Mayflower, which set sail from Plymouth on 6th September 1620 and landed in Massachusetts after an arduous two month voyage.

This small group of people became known as the Pilgrim Fathers, the founding fathers of America. The link between Boston and Plymouth was set in stone on the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth Barbican.

What plans might your church have to celebrate and remember the Pilgrim Fathers? You have just over twelve months to organise your events.

David Kinchin
(my thanks to Lincolnshire.org)