There were 102 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower; 37 of those immigrants to America were children. The ship was 106 feet from beak to aftercastle. Her keel was 58 feet and her beam only 25 feet. Sometimes the mast of the Mayflower drifted a foot laterally as the Mayflower rolled in heavy seas while crossing the Atlantic.
"...one of the main beams in midships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage...but in examining of all opinions, the master and others affirmed they knew the ship to be strong and firm under water and for the buckling of the main beam, there was a great iron screw the passengers brought out of Holland which would raise the beam into his place; the which being done, the carpenter and master affirmed that with a post put under it, set firm in the lower deck and otherwise bound he would make it sufficient."
There was a spacious area of the Mayflower on the second deck on which the ship's boat was stored. It was needed in New England to explore the territory and for fishing. The Pilgrims were placed in the aft portion of the ship where they were huddled for 66 days of the voyage. Two babies were born aboard the Mayflower as it traveled on the journey to the New World.
On November 11, 1620 a great event occurred in which 41 Separatists representing one branch of the evangelical Puritans made a covenant with God and each other to establish a colony for His glory.
"In the Name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, by Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland, the fifty-fourth,
The Pilgrims planned to land in Northern Virginia but were blown off course. The Providence of God prevented them from landing in Virginia where they would have never enjoyed the religious liberty for which they came to the New World. The Virginia colony was deeply entrenched in the Church of England. The Pilgrims left England and sojourned in Holland before coming to America because of persecution from the Church of England.
William Bradford described the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth in December of 1620.
"Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element...besides what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men - and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?"
While in Holland, Pastor John Robinson grounded the Pilgrims in the principles of Scripture for daily living and the founding of a Christian republic. Hence, the first street in Plymouth was named Leyden Street after the Calvinist haven of liberty and refuge in Holland. These men and women charted the course of liberty and representative government which would eventually make America unique among the nations.
The Reformation brought fresh winds of heaven to Western Europe. Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Zwingli, Knox and other Protestants were the instruments through which He brought the refreshing waters of liberty to a thirsty land. The Reformers did not enthrone autonomous man as did the Renaissance scholars. Luther debated Erasmus in 1524 on the issue of free of the will. Augustine's doctrine of the total depravity of man was augmented by Aquinas. Aquinas brought about syncretism by blending the teaching of Aristotle with that of the Bible. Furthermore, the Catholic Church eventually placed the authority of church tradition against and above the authority of the Bible. Aquinas had an incomplete view of the fall of man as recorded in Genesis. Aquinas believed that the will of man was fallen but the reason and intellect were not.
The Reformers proclaimed that man was totally dependent upon the unmerited grace of God to save him. Whereas the clergy of the Catholic church asserted that man could merit the merits of Christ through good works. Inevitably, the controversey led to a fundamental contest: What is the final authority: the Holy Scriptures of the Bible or the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Protestants declared the answer was Scripture Sola. while the Catholics asserted final authority rested in tradition, works of the church fathers, papal decrees, the consensus of church councils and the Bible.
To the men of the Reformation: The Bible means what it says and says what it means!
John Calvin developed a systematic theology from the Bible and a pattern for government based on the Holy Scriptures.
Lorine Boettner declared:
"Calvinism was revolutionary. It taught the natural equality of men, and its essential tendency was to destroy all distinctions of rank and all claims to superiority which rested upon wealth or vested privilege. The liberty-loving souls of the Calvinist has made him a crusader against those artificial distinctions which raise some men above others...Calvin himself held that the Church, under God, was a spiritual republic; and certainly he was a republican in theory. James I was well aware of the effects of Calvinism when he said, 'Presbytery agreeth as well with monarchy as God with the devil.' Bancroft speaks of 'the political character of Calvinism, which with one consent and with instinctive judgment the monarch of that day feared as republicanism.' "...The system not only imbued its converts with the spirit of liberty, but it gave them practical training in the rights and duties as freemen.'"
William Tyndale, burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English was martyred on Belgium. He boldly prayed as he was being burned:
"Lord, open the King of England's eyes!"
Henry VIII attempted to divorce his wife for she gave him no male heir to the throne of England. When the Pope refused to grant him a dispensation to divorce Catherine; he broke with papal authority and formed the Church of England. In a political move to secure loyalty of the English people to himself he gave them Tyndale's Bible.
His son, Edward VI reigned England as a boy from the age of ten till his death at sixteen. Edward VI was a godly, compassionate Puritan king reigning from 1547 till 1553. He was a king who encouraged dissenters who held to a high view of Scripture within the state church.
Mary Tudor, his Roman Catholic sister became known as "Bloody Mary" for she persecuted the Puritans in the Commisarie Courts of the English Inquisition. The Protestant exiles fleeing from Mary included John Knox of Scotland who fled to Geneva Switzerland. In Geneva, they enjoyed the fellowship and teaching of John Calvin and his close associates at the zenith of Calvin's influence. Knox fled from Bloody Mary upon her ascension to the throne in 1553. He sojourned in Geneva with Calvin until 1559 returning to Scotland to aid the Protestant revolt.
Persecuted Protestants poured into Geneva, Switzerland after expulsion of "Libertines" in 1555. By an act of Divine Providence, Geneva became the greatest center of Christian education in the world. Geneva became a center in which Protestant exiles were grounded in the Scriptural principles of the Bible. John Calvin became ill in 1561 and died three years later but the capital of spiritual blessing from Geneva is a well which still refreshes.
It was John Calvin and his associates in Geneva who personally trained the leaders of the Puritans and Presbyterians. They were not only destined to change Great Britain but laid the basis for the republican form of government in America.
The Geneva Bible was translated and published in 1560 and was the first Bible to divide the books into verses omitting the Apocrypha.
Mary Tudor reigned less than five and a half years and was executed on November 17, 1558. Sunshine burst out upon England when Queen Elizabeth I, Mary's half sister ascended the throne of England. Those Protestants who had not been martyred by Mary who remained imprisoned were set free by Elizabeth. Furthermore, Elizabeth authorized a new translation of the Scriptures.
William Bradford was born after the defeat of the Spanish Armada during Elizabeth's reign. He was orphaned as a child and raised by his uncles in Austerfield. Although he was not one to have great health; he found comfort and solace in reading the Scriptures. He surrendered his life by humbling himself before Christ receiving Him as his Lord at the age of twelve. Bradford would walk several miles in order to hear the preaching of Puritan men of God. Presbyterian theology of Scotland and the Puritan theology of Great Britain were coming of age in this era.
Richard Hooker, author of "Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity" written in 1593-1594, was a moderate which set the path in which the Church of England would follow. Hooker advocated tolerance and charity among Christians groups. Although Hooker believed the Jesus Christ was God incarnate; he was not one who fully accepted the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. Nor did he fully accept the doctrines of predestination and other doctrines which departed from the teaching of Medieval Catholicism.
His opposition would only strengthen biblically oriented Protestantism: Puritianism-Presbyterianism.
After Knox returned to Scotland, Protestant exiles in Geneva added their voices to that of Knox and the Puritans. The Bible was the sole source of Truth concerning all of life, private and public. Therefore mankind, must be governed by the precepts, principles and ordinances of the Bible. While refuting the rationalism of Richard Hooker, the Protestant exiles cast the die which led to the Puritan emigration to Massachusetts in America.
Scotland exploded into civil war. John Knox took the helm of the revolutionary movement after Protestant reformer George Wishart was strangled and burned to death. John Knox established the Kirk of Scotland on Calvinism centered upon Justification by faith in Christ and the Scriptures as the ultimate authority.
Hence, the Scottish Presbyterians were united by faith with the Dutch Reformed Calvinists, the French Huguenots, the Swiss Calvinists, and the Protestant exiles in Geneva. The faith of the Scots spread to Ulster in Northern Ireland, the middle colonies in America and the frontier west of the colonies.
The National Covenant written by Scottish Presbyterians gave great encouragement to the American Republic. Furthermore, the Scottish Presbyterians place great emphasis upon godliness in education. The National Covenant did not secure religious freedom but did assure the Kirk of Scotland freedom from interference from the king. The Presbyterians heartily agreed with Knox who believed that the purpose of education was to firmly ground the student in the Scriptures.
The major point of difference between Knox and the English Puritans was in the area of church government. Not few Puritans believed that each congregation should be independent and not answerable to a presbytery. Yet the English had to continue to function within the corrupt Anglican Church. Those Puritans who saw themselves as totally independent of the state church were known as 'Separatists.'
In the early 17th Century, young William Bradford was a separatist who fled north to Scrooby. His uncles refused to allow him to worship among the Puritans while living with them. William Brewster was the secretary to England's Secretary of State. Bradford became acquainted with Brewster while in Scrooby. The two men became the nucleus of a group of separatists who worshiped in the manor house Brewster leased. After severing all ties with the Church of England, the group of separatists chose John Robinson as their young pastor. Consequently, since preaching the gospel outside of the Church of England was illegal; the group fled to Amsterdam in 1608. William Bradford was eighteen years old when they fled to Amsterdam.
The group of separatists migrated to Leyden, a rural region of Amsterdam, after a year in the city. In Leyden, the Pilgrims enjoyed the fruit of religious liberty which Calvinism brought to the community. Furthermore, they also enjoyed a functioning republican government Calvin stressed which was essential to secure religious liberty.
It was while the Puritans were in Leyden, they learned of local self government, town meetings, and the principle of voting by casting ballots. Furthermore, it was in Leyden that Robinson taught the Pilgrims from the Scriptures. Between 1617 and 1619, they established an underground press in which they published over twenty titles. Not few of the pamphlets were smuggled into England giving encouragement and guidance to the Puritans.
William Bradford reminisced concerning the era under John Robinson's ministry in Leyden:
"So as they grew in knowledge and other gifts and graces of the Spirit of God, and lived together in peace and love and holiness; and many came unto them from diverse parts of England, so as they grew a great congregation. And if at any time any differences arose, or offenses broke out (as it cannot be, but some time there will, even amongst the best of men) they were ever so met with, and nipped in the head betimes, or otherwise so compose, as still love, peace, and communion was continued; or else the church purged of those that were incurable and incorrigible, when, after much patience used, no other means would serve, which seldom came to pass, Yea such was the mutual love, and reciprocal respect that this worthy man had to his flock, and his flock to him, that it might be said of them as it once was of that famous Marcus Aurelius, and the people of Rome, that it was hard to judge whether he delighted more in having such a people, or they in having such a pastor. His love was great towards them, and his care was always bent for their best good, both soul and body; for besides his singular abilities in divine things (wherein he excelled), he was also very able to give directions in civil affairs, and to foresee dangers and inconveniences; by which means he was very helpful to their outward estates, and so was every way as a common father unto them..."
Although, in 1620, Holland was threatened with war with Spain; there were several reasons which the Pilgrims left Leyden, Amsterdam for the New World.
The hardships which they encountered were of such severity; they could not accommodate other dissenters who were attracted to their venture.
The number of their body able to emigrate to the wilderness of the New World was lessened due to ill health and premature aging.
Their children had to work at hard labor with the adult parent from economic necessity. Hence, some of their children suffered badly on this account.
Some of the children went astray. Consequently, parents blamed the permissive culture in which they lived.
The Pilgrims had a genuine desire to fulfill Christ's Great Commission to take the gospel to the world. Hence, they believed that God was preparing them for this bold missionary adventure.
The Separatist community in Leyden sent William Brewster to England to inquire of the London Company that they might fund their emigration to the American colony in Virginia. Sir Edwin Sandys, treasurer of the London Company, encouraged his friends and associates to invest the venture. In February of 1620, a meeting took place in the home of Sir Edwin Sandys. A company of 70 merchants were granted a patent to finance the settlement of separatists in the New World.
Southampton was the city from which the Pilgrims set sail in early September of 1620. Before leaving Leyden, they humbly fasted and fervently prayed together. In a final sermon to his flock, John Robinson preached a message from the text of Ezra 8:21
"And there at the river, by Ahava, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble ourselves before our God, and seek of Him a right way for us, and for our children, and for all our substance."
Pastor John Robinson presented a letter addressed to the whole company as they parted.
"Loving Christian friends, I do heartily and in the Lord salute you all, as being they with whom I am present in my best affection, and most earnest longings after you, though I be constrained for a while to be bodily absent from you...I thought it but my duty to add some further spur of provocation unto them, who run already, if not because you need it, yet because I owe it in love and duty. And first, as we are daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses, so doth the Lord call us in a singular manner upon occasions of such difficulty and danger as lieth upon you, to a both more narrow search and carefully reformation of your ways in His sight; lest He, calling to remembrance our sins forgotten by us or unrepented of , take advantage against us, and in judgment leave us for the same to be swallowed by earnest repentance and the pardon thereof from the Lord sealed up unto a man's conscience by His Spirit, great shall be his security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses, with happy deliverance from all evil, whether in life or in death."
"Now next after this heavenly peace with God and our own consciences, we are carefully to provide for peace with all men what in us lieth, especially with our associates, and for that watchfulness must be had, that we neither at all in ourselves do give, no nor easily take offense being given by other..."
"Lastly, whereas you are become a body politik, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are nor furnished with any persons of special eminence above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in their lawful administrations not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God's ordinance for your good..."
"These few things therefore, and the same in few words, I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that He who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of waters, and whose providence is over all His works, especially over all His dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in your ways, as inwardly by His Spirit, so outwardly by the hand of His power, as that both you and we also, for and with you, may have after matter of praising His name all the days of your and our lives. Fare you will in Him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest."
The Pilgrims were charged to keep and maintain a right vertical relationship with God and a charitable relationship with each other. They left for the New World to create a 'body politik' which guaranteed freedom and personal responsibility to preserve the harmony of the community.
They were challenged to establish self government under God.
After settling in Plymouth in December of 1620, Bradford wrote:
“...in two or three months' time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases...”
Despite the terrible first winter, none of the surviving members of the venture returned to England on the Mayflower in the spring. Their first governor John Carver died after only a few months in the Plymouth colony. William Bradford, who was thirty years of age, became the new governor whom they elected from among themselves. William Bradford was the governor of the Plymouth colony for the remaining thirty years of his life. Throughout the earliest years of the colony, he governed the colony with God's wisdom having one assistant only. Five councilmen who were elected in 1624 to assist him. As governor, Bradford was given a double vote in matters brought before the council. Eventually the number of councilmen was raised to seven members.
Immigrant Pilgrims came unprepared without provisions for the first two years of the fledgling colony.
The investors of the London Company failed to send promised provisions and supplies. Hence, the Separatists had to provide food and shelter for themselves and the newly arrived immigrants. Governor Bradford chose to cut the daily ration of food per person in order feed everyone. The daily ration of food which each person received was less than half the amount formerly received. The soil of Massachusetts did not sustain the seedlings of wheat and grains brought with them from England. In the providence of God, He graciously sent the Indian Squanto and friendly Indians to assist the Pilgrims. Had he not shown them the manner in which to plant American corn; there would have been no Autumn harvest in 1621.
The London Company inserted a utopian scheme into the contract to which the Pilgrims agreed. They envisioned a communal society where all of the colonists would contribute to a central source from which each would be supplied. Unfortunately, single young man worked for all non-producing family members yet did not receive assistance such as sewing and darning.
Nobody owned their own property which inhibited one's motivation to provide for themselves and their families. Hence, they did not enjoy the emotional rewarding pleasure of seeing the fruit of the own hard work and labor.
The manner in which Governor Bradford handled the situation was stated by historian Eggleston:
“After two years of labor in common had brought the colony more than once to the verge of ruin, Bradford had the courage and wisdom to cut the knot he could not untie. During the scarce springtime of 1623, he assigned all the detached persons in the colony to live with families, and then temporarily divided the ancient Indian field on which the settlement had been made among the several families in proportion to their number, leaving every household to shift for itself or suffer want. 'Any general want or suffering hath not been among them since to this day, ' he wrote years afterward. The assignment was a revolutionary stroke, in violation of the contract with the shareholders, and contrary to their wishes. But Bradford saw that it was a life-and-death necessity to be rid of the pernicious system, even at the cost of cutting off all support from England. In his history he draws a very clear picture of the evils of communism as he had observed them.”
The early system of Plymouth involving government control of the means of production and sharing from a common source proved disastrous. The system bread indolence and laziness among able-bodied who became unwilling to work. Furthermore, hopelessness and diminished incentive were the consequences of hard working settlers who provided for themselves and those persons who did not work.
The Pilgrim Separatists experienced the loss of over half their number the first winter. They often experienced conditions of famine and disease throughout the early years of the venture. Shipping agents misrepresented the condition of the colonists to the merchant sponsors who did not send the necessary supplies to sustain the colony. The population of colonists continued to increase although the new immigrants did not have the necessary provisions and supplies to sustain them.
None of the Separatist Pilgrims chose to return to England! They came to the American continent to serve the Living God, trusting in Him alone and not fallible men. They firmly believed that they were as ancient Israel who had been called for God's purposes. They came in the service of the Living God revering his holy Word, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. They laid the foundation of a nation where the Scriptures would be taught to their children and generations of believers who followed them.
Condensed and edited from Pat Brooks' The Return of the Puritans.