The Protestant population of England during the latter half of the sixteenth century (1550-1600) had divided into three sects--the Conformists, the Puritans, and the Separatists or Brownists. The Conformists claimed for their church more than human authority and for its earthly head supreme power in the State as well as in the Church.
The Puritans were in and of the established church but objected to many of the ceremonies, such as the ring in marriage, the sign of the cross in baptisms, showy vestments, receiving evil livers to the communion. They believed in reform within the church and opposed separation from the church as a deadly sin. Their ministers were oppressed and ruined by excessive fines. The sharp measures against the Puritan clergy called together in defense of liberty and law a great political party which during the reign of James I. (1602-1623) formed the majority in the House of Commons. The settlers of Massachusetts Bay were Puritans--Non-Conformists who at the outset had apparently no intention of separating from the Church of England.
The Separatists, however, did not recognize the established church, and some of them, at least, doubted that the Church of England was scriptual or that its administrations were valid. They held that any convenient number of believers might form a church and make or unmake their officers as they saw fit; that over the spiritual affairs of the church no bishop, council, synod, court, or sovereign had authority. Other churches of the same faith might no, unasked, even offer advice. Their pastors had no standing outside the parish. They were Separatists, Independents, or Congregationalists. The first independent church in England, however, was opened in Long in 1616 by the Rev. John Lothrop, afterwards the famous pioneer preacher of Barnstable, Mass., who had been won from Puritanism to Separatism by Robinson in Holland.
The Separatists, though few in number, were cruelly persecuted under Mary (1553-1558). In 1567-1569, under Elizabeth, a London congregation was thrown into prison. The men and women died of the horrors of their prisons. They were allowed while in prison neither clothing or food, and subsisted upon donations that came through their jailers. The few Puritans who were thrown into prison were mostly clergymen, whose prison life was comparatively mild. The Separatists, however, suffered not only from the persecutions of the established church, but encountered also, says Bradford, the sharp invective of the Puritans, who stirred up not only hostility at home, but even prejudiced the reformed clergy of other countries against the Separatist refugees. From 1660 to 1688 sixty thousand non-conformists and dissenters were cast into English prisons.
In 1580, Robert Brown (born in 1549), educated at Cambridge, afterwards schoolmaster at Southwark, and lecturer at Islington, made a furious Separatist crusade, but the next year fled to Holland. Returning in 1586 he renewed his work, but soon re-entered the established church. Brown's efforts greatly embittered the controversy.
For distributing Brown's books John Copping and Elias Thatcher were hanged after trial before Judge Popham. The same year a preacher, William Dennis, was hanged. In 1593 three Cambridge scholars, John Perry, John Greenwood and Henry Barrow were hanged for teaching Separatism. Soon after, banishment, under penalty of death in case of return, was established as the punishment of Separatism. The oppression of the Separatists was successfully continued until in 1603 upon the accession of James I. In the whole kingdom there appears to have been but one Separatist church, that at Gainsborough, in charge of a pastor, John Smyth. In 1605 the Gainsborough flock fled to Amsterdam, leaving behind a few scattered friends at Scrooby, twelve miles to the west of Gainsborough in the Hundred of Basset Lawe, in Nottinghamshire, England.
At Scrooby lived William Brewster, afterwards the famous Elder Brewster of Plymouth Colony, and at Austerfield, a neighboring Yorkshire village, resided William Bradford, the historian and future Governor of Plymouth Colony. William Brewster was born in 1569, attended Cambridge University, and was appointed in 1590 to keep the post station at Scrooby. Brewster became greatly interested in religious matters and was industrious in building up the Episcopal or Puritan congregations in the wide region around Scrooby. He was assisted by young William Bradford of Austerfield. In 1606 came a rude change. Persecution had become active at Scrooby. The Puritan reformers at Scrooby were repelled and became Separatists. A Separatist congregation was gathered from the remnants of the Gainsborough congregation. Brewster and Bradford joined the movement. Richard Chilton became the pastor. As junior pastor came John Robinson, a graduate of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, formerly a clergyman in the established church near Norwich--a learned, liberal, cultivated man. In 1607 the determination was formed to escape further persecution by flight to Holland. A large ship was hired to take them at Boston forty miles from Scrooby. Through the treachery of the officers of the ship, the fugitives were robbed of their effects, and Bradford, Brewster and others were imprisoned.
In 1608 after severe trials, in various ways, the constant ones escaped to Holland under the care and guidance of Clifton, Robinson and Brewster, and in August were reunited on the banks of the Zuyder Zee at Amsterdam in Holland.
At Amsterdam were two Separatist congregations; one banished from London in 1593 after the execution of its teacher, Greenwood; the others escaped from Gainsborough in 1605-1606. The Gainsborough society was at variance with its pastor John Smyth, and its division was affecting the elder and larger church. To escape these dissensions the new comers from Scrooby, in May, 1609, removed to Leyden. Clifton, now an old man, remained at Amsterdam. The Scrooby band at its removal to Leyden numbered one hundred persons. At Leyden the Scrooby Separatists lived peaceably and busily. Brewster, after several years, was employed at the University to teach English to the students. He wrote and published several text books. Subsequently he set up as a printer and published several theological works. In 1619 the English Government complained that Brewster's books were "vended underhand" in England and asked that Brewster be delivered up for trial in England. The Dutch, anxious to strengthen their English alliance against Spain, promptly attempted to arrest Brewster. William Brewster, however, escaped to London, where he remained concealed until the sailing of the Mayflower, which he helped to fit out. At Leyden, under the leadership of their pastor, John Robinson, a sagacious, untiring and wise leader, the Separatist community moved quietly along. As years passed many changes came to the people. Births, marriages, deaths followed from year to year. As they increased in numbers more continuous labor was necessary to earn even a comfortable living. The young were becoming attached to the Dutch ways. They feared that soon they would become Dutch in tastes and habits, and that their descendants would be likely not only to lose the English language and character, but to allow the precious fire to die out on the Separatist altar. A removal seemed to be demanded. The resolution to settle in North America became fixed.
Finally June 29, 1619, a patent was issued by the English Government of land near the northern limits of the Virginia territory, not to the Separatists who were non-residents, but to John Wincob. Early in 1620 one Thomas Weston, a merchant of London, came to Leyden offering to furnish the funds required. He connected with himself some seventy English merchants who took stock at 10 pounds per share for promoting this emigration, on the basis of a division of the Colony's possessions and earnings at the end of seven years between the stockholders and the inhabitants. February 12, 1620, the Wincob patent was succeeded by one running to John Pierce, which conveyed, with self-governing powers, a tract of land to be selected by the planters near the mouth of the Hudson.
A sixty ton pinnance the "Speedwell," was purchased by the adventurers as the London merchants were called, and was fitted out in Holland. She was to take the Leyden people to Southampton. The "Mayflower," a hundred and sixty ton ship, had been selected to bring the English comrades from London to Southampton, whence the "Mayflower" and "Speedwell" were to sail for America.
July 31, 1620, the Leyden people kept a farewell feast. John Robinson, their pastor, preached the farewell sermon. On the evening of the same day they left Leyden by the canal for Delfthaven, some fourteen miles distant. Bradford says: "So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place near twelve years; but they new they were Pilgrims and looked not much on those things but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country and quieted their spirits."
The next morning, after a touching farewell (which Weir's famous painting in the United States Capitol has reproduced), the Pilgrims sailed from Delfthaven in the "Speedwell" for Southampton. At Southampton the "Mayflower" had been receiving her stores and outfit for a week when the "Speedwell" arrived. The two vessels left Southampton August 15, 1620, but put back to Dartmouth about August 23rd, on account of the alleged leakage of the "Speedwell." The voyage was resumed about September 2d. When about three hundred miles off Land's End, the Captain of the "Speedwell" again reported his craft leaking. After consultation they put back to Plymouth. Here the "Speedwell" was returned to the Adventurers, and eighteen of her passengers went back in her. The remainder of the Pilgrims, one hundred and two in numbers, sailed from Plymouth for the New World in the "Mayflower" September 16, 1620.
SOURCE: The Tucker Genealogy, A Record of Gilbert Ruggles and Evelina Christina (Snyder) Tucker; by Tyler Seymour Morris; Chicago 1902; pp. 138-142; citing "Authority: The Pilgrim Republic, Boston, 1893. John A. Goodwin, 662 pages."