Tag Archives: separatists

A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 4 – Thanksgiving in New England


By T. V. Antony Raj


The 'Mayflower' by Donald Swan FRSA. Six days out on her voyage to America she was overtaken by a tremendous storm. The painting shows the topsail being lowered.
The ‘Mayflower’ by Donald Swan FRSA. Six days out on her voyage to America she was overtaken by a tremendous storm. The painting shows the topsail being lowered.


At the beginning, the sailing was smooth, but later they met with strong winds and storms. One passenger, John Howland, was washed overboard in the storm. He caught a topsail halyard trailing in the water and was pulled back on board. When they were more than half the way to their destination, a storm caused a main beam to crack, and the possibility of turning back was considered. However, they managed to repair the ship and continued their voyage.

At sea, one passenger and crew member died and a child was born and named “Oceanus”.

After sixty-five days at sea, land was sighted on November 9, 1620. It was the Cape Cod within the New England territory, now called Provincetown Harbor.


Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 - Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 – Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA


Captain Christopher Jones made an attempt to sail the ship around Cape Cod towards the Hudson River, also within the New England grant area, but they encountered shoals and difficult currents around Cape Malabar (the old French name for present-day Monomoy). He then decided to turn around and anchored on November 11 (Old Style) / 21 (New Style) at the harbor at Cape Cod hook, what is today known as Provincetown Harbor.

The Wincob land patent they had was from their abandoned dealings with the London Company. So, in fact, the colonists arrived without a patent because the charter of the Plymouth Council for New England was not completed by the time the colonists departed England. Some of the passengers, aware of the situation, suggested that without a patent in place, they were free to do as they chose upon landing, and ignore the contract with the investors.


Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899.
Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899.


To address this issue, a brief contract, known later as the Mayflower Compact, was drafted. This contract in which they agreed to join together in a “civil body politic” that promised cooperation among the settlers “for the general good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

This contract was ratified by majority rule, with 41 adult male passengers signing for the 102 passengers.

At this time, John Carver, the most respected and affluent member of the group who was instrumental in chartering the Mayflower, was chosen as the colony’s first governor. Carver’s signature appears first on the Mayflower Compact, the seed of American democracy and the world’s first written constitution.

Landing of the passengers postponed because of the delay in exploring the area. The shallop or pinnace, a smaller sailing vessel, partly dismantled to fit aboard the Mayflower for the voyage was damaged in transit. However, the male passengers waded to the beach in small parties to fetch firewood and attend to long-deferred personal hygiene.


Captain Miles Standish


While the shallop was being repaired, exploratory was undertaken by parties led by Myles Standish, an English soldier the colonists had met while in Leiden, and Captain Christopher Jones.

Up to this time, William Bradford, aged 30, who would soon be elected governor, had yet to assume any significant leadership role among the colonists. Bradford volunteered to be a member of the exploration parties.

In November and December, these parties made three separate ventures from the Mayflower on foot and by boat, finally locating what is now Plymouth Harbor in mid-December and selecting that site for settlement.

During one of the exploratory jaunts, the parties came across an old European-built house and an iron kettle, left behind by some other ship’s crew, and a few recently cultivated fields, showing corn stubble of the previous month.

They partially uncovered an artificial mound near the dunes and found it to be a Native grave. On venturing further they came across a similar more recently made grave. The colonists fearing that they might starve, removed the baskets of maize and other provisions placed in the grave. They placed some of the maize into an iron kettle they found nearby, and reburied the rest.

William Bradford later recorded in his book, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” that after the shallop had been repaired,

They also found two of the Indian’s houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, as about six months afterwards they did.

And it is to be noted as a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season.

They explored the bay and found a suitable place for settlement, now the site of downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts. The location featured a prominent hill (now known as Burial Hill) that was ideal for a defensive fort. There were numerous brooks providing fresh water.

When the exploring party made their way back on board, Bradford learned of the death of his wife, Dorothy. The day after he had embarked with the exploring party, Dorothy had slipped over the side of the Mayflower and drowned.


Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers (Engraved by W.H. Simmons after a picture by Charles Lucey)
Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers by Charles Lucey.


The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Bay on December 20, 1620 and the colonists set their foot on New England.


'The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth' (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
‘The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth’  by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914).


William Brewster led them in prayer with Psalm 100:

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.

Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name;
good indeed is the LORD,
His mercy endures forever,
his faithfulness lasts through every generation.

During the next several months, the settlers lived mostly on the Mayflower and ferried back and forth from shore to build their living quarters. The settlement’s first fort and watchtower were built on Burial Hill.

The entire crew of the Mayflower stayed in Plymouth through the winter of 1620-1621. During that time, about half of them died. The crewmen that survived returned on the Mayflower which sailed for London on April 5 1621.

The first colony of the English was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.

The colony established in 1620 by the Separatists was the second successful English settlement and is considered the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in what was to become the United States of America.

During that first winter of 1620-21, more than half of the colonists died as a result of poor nutrition and inadequate housing that proved fatal in the harsh weather. Leaders such as William Brewster, William Bradford, John Carver, Edward Winslow, and Miles Standish, kept the remaining settlers together.


William Bradford (Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum)
William Bradford (Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum)


Upon the death of John Carver in 1621, William Bradford was unanimously chosen as governor. Brewster became the senior elder of the colony, serving as its religious leader and as an advisor to Governor William Bradford who served for eleven consecutive years, and was elected to various other terms until his death in 1657.


Grave of Governor William Bradford on Burial Hill
Grave of Governor William Bradford on Burial Hill


It was William Bradford who first used the word ‘pilgrims’ for the Mayflower passengers years later in his Of Plymouth Plantation. After 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 the 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.

For over 150 years after Bradford wrote this passage, no one had used the word ‘Pilgrimes’ to describe Plymouth’s founders, except when quoting Bradford. In 1669, historian Nathaniel Morton retold Mayflower’s story, and likewise did historian Cotton Mather in 1702. Both paraphrased Bradford’s passage and used Bradford’s word pilgrims. At Plymouth’s Forefathers’ Day observance in 1793, Rev. Chandler Robbins recited this passage from Bradford.


Cover of the book The Times of Their Lives - Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by written by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz
Cover of the book The Times of Their Lives – Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by written by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz


The following passage from book “The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony” co-authored by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz provides food for thought to the perennial question “who were the Pilgrims?

So who were the Pilgrims? This question has been a vexing one for modern historians, and depending on the source consulted, different definitions emerge. Were they all of the Mayflower’s passengers, or were they only the minority of religious dissenters among the group? Does the term refer to those who came on four other ships, the Fortune, Anne, Little James and Charity which arrived during the first seven years of the Colony? Might the term apply to all of the residents of Plymouth Colony during its existence as a separate colony until 1691? There is no modern consensus regarding this matter, and little wonder, for the people of Plymouth never perceived themselves as a group who would at the end of the eighteenth century come to be known as Pilgrims. However, if we change the tense of the verb in the question from were to are, a reasonably concise definition can be offered. The Pilgrims are a quasi-mythic group of people who are looked upon today as the founders of America, and whose dedication to hard work and noble purposes gave rise to our nation as we know it. What most of us know about them we learned as early as grade school, especially around Thanksgiving time. Stern and godfearing, possessed of the loftiest motives, the women dressed in somber attire with white collars, and the men also dressed in grey and black, with buckles on their hats, belts, shoes, and for all we know, even on their undergarments. Some modern Plymouth residents refer to them as the “Grim Pills.” This is the image with which we are all so familiar, but its origins lie more in early nineteenth century America than in the reality of a time two hundred years earlier.


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A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 3 – Preparing to Sail to New England


By T. V. Antony Raj


John Robinson's House, Leyden, where the Pilgrim Fathers worshipped


Around 1617, the group of Separatists living Leiden, afraid of losing their cultural identity decided to set up colonies elsewhere, in some other country. Discussions were held as to where the group should go. The decided not to settle near England since that might closely duplicate the political environment back in England.

Candidate destinations included Guiana, where the Dutch had already established in 1616, Essequibo, a colony on the Essequibo River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America; or somewhere near the existing Virginia settlements. Virginia was an attractive destination because the presence of the older colony might offer better security and trade opportunities.

At the same time, there were many uncertainties about moving to far-off places such as America because of the stories they heard about failed colonies over there. Also, there were fears of violent natives; scarcity of food and water; the possibility of exposure to unknown diseases; and hazards of distant travel by sea.

The London Company, also called the Charter of the Virginia Company of London, was an English joint stock company established by royal charter by King James I, for the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America. It administered a territory of considerable size in the region.

The territory granted to the London Company included the coast of North America from the 34th parallel (Cape Fear) north to the 41st parallel (Long Island Sound), but being part of the Virginia Company and Colony, the London Company owned a large part of Atlantic and Inland Canada. The company was permitted by its charter to establish a 100-square-mile (260 square km) settlement within this area. The company shared the territory, north of the 38th parallel  with the Plymouth Company, with the stipulation that neither company should establish a colony within 100 miles (161 km) of each other.

The London Company administered a territory of considerable size in the region. The Leiden Separatists made arrangements with the London Company to establish a new colony in North America. The intended settlement site was at the mouth of the Hudson River, at a distance that allayed concerns of social, political and religious conflicts, but still provided the military and economic benefits of relative closeness to an established colony.

Robert Cushman, a well-to-do wool comber, was the Chief Agent for the Leiden congregation.


John Carver (Illustration from 1800s M & E Cigar label. The picture is an unknown artist's conception that was supposedly based on contemporary descriptions)
John Carver (Illustration from 1800s M & E Cigar label. The picture is an unknown artist’s conception that was supposedly based on contemporary descriptions)


John Carver, a successful London merchant, and brother-in-law of John Robinson’s wife, had joined the Pilgrims around 1610.

The New World seemed to offer the opportunity the Leiden congregation needed, but the group had no means for getting across the Atlantic Ocean and establishing a colony. In 1617, the Leiden congregation sent Robert Cushman and John Carver to England to seek financial backing for crossing the Atlantic and to obtain a land patent. But the negotiations delayed because of internal conflicts in the London Company, but ultimately the duo secured a patent in the name of John Wincob on June 9 (Old Style) / June 19 (New Style), 1619.

The charter granted by the king stipulated that the Leiden group’s religion would not receive official recognition.

When the preparations for the voyage stalled because of the continued problems within the London Company, competing Dutch companies approached, and discussed settling in the Hudson River area.

Thomas Weston (born 1584) persuaded Edward Pickering, in 1615, to become his agent in Holland. Together they began to import a variety of nonconformist religious tracts that were seditious. In 1619, he left England and traveled to Leiden, Holland, where his agent Pickering had married a woman belonging to the exiled Separatists, who were then hoping to gain passage to America.

Negotiations with the Dutch broke off when Thomas Weston, the agent for Merchant Adventurer investment group, assured them that he could resolve the delays of the London Company who intended to claim the area explored by Hudson before the Dutch could become fully established. However, the first Dutch settlers did not arrive in the area until 1624.

Thomas Weston  told the Leiden group that parties in England had obtained a land grant north of the existing Virginia territory, to be called New England.

Elder William Brewster


While these negotiations were on, William Brewster ran afoul of the English government by involving in the religious unrest emerging in Scotland.

In 1618, King James had promulgated the Five Articles of Perth, which were seen in Scotland as an attempt to encroach on their Presbyterian tradition. Pamphlets critical of this law, King James I and his bishop were published by Brewster and smuggled into Scotland.

By April 1619, these pamphlets were traced back to Leiden. This was at a critical time for the Leideners, as the preparations for their voyage to America had entered a critical phase and William Brewster’s guidance was badly needed. Brewster’s whereabouts between then and the departure of the congregation to New England remained unknown.

Supplies and a small ship Speedwell, originally named Swiftsure, built in 1577 and took part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English fleet , was procured to take some passengers from Holland to England; and from there cross the Atlantic to Virginia where it would be deployed for fishing, with its crew hired for support services during the first year.

Thomas Weston helped them to lease a second larger ship, Mayflower, for transport and exploration services.

There was not enough berths for the whole congregation to depart on the first trip. Many members were not able to settle their affairs within the time for departure. Also, there were constraints such as the budget for travel and supplies. As such, it was decided that the younger and stronger members of the congregation make the first voyage and settlement and the remainder agreed to follow if and when they could.


Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Delftshaven for New England (Engraved by T.W.Knight after a picture by Charles West Cope). Pastor John Robinson blessing the Separatists leaving for New England.
Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Delftshaven for New England by Charles West Cope. Pastor John Robinson blessing the Separatists leaving for New England.


Robinson opted to remain in Leiden with the rest of the congregation. He intended to make the Atlantic crossing with the rest of his flock as soon as it was financially possible. It was not to be. Robinson died in 1624 in Leiden.

In July 1620, Speedwell set out from Delfshaven with some members of the Leiden congregation. On reaching Southampton, Hampshire, they met with Mayflower and the other colonists hired by the investors. William Brewster joined the first group of Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower and was appointed to lead the voyagers.


Sailing of the Mayflower - 1620 (From Southampton, Hampshire) Anonymous engraver after a picture by A.Forestier.
Sailing of the Mayflower – 1620 from Southampton, Hampshire by A.Forestier.


After making final arrangements, the two vessels set out of Southampton, Hampshire on August 5 (Old Style) / August 15 (New Style).

Soon afterwards, the crew of Speedwell reported that their ship was taking in water. So, both ships were diverted to Dartmouth in the English county of Devon. There Speedwell was inspected for leaks and sealed, and a second attempt to leave also failed, bringing them only so far as Plymouth, Devon.

Since Speedwell was untrustworthy for the long voyage, they sold it. Speedwell’s master and some of the crew transferred to the Mayflower for the trip.


Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir (1857) in Brooklyn Museum
Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir (1857) in Brooklyn Museum


Again due to limited berths, out of the 121 combined passengers, only 102, seventy-three males and twenty-nine females were chosen to travel on the Mayflower with the consolidated supplies, and a crew led by Captain Christopher Jones.

Half of the passengers had come by way of Leiden. Of these 37 were members of the Separatist Leiden congregation that included about 28 adults. This article “List of Mayflower passengers” mentions the names and details of the passengers on board the Mayflower during its trans-Atlantic voyage.

Mayflower finally set sail from Plymouth, Devon, England on September 6 (Old Style) / September 16 (New Style), 1620.



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A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 2 – Life in Holland

Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj


A canal in amsterdam - Oil painting by Johannes Frederik Hulk sr. (1829–1911)
A canal in Amsterdam – Oil painting by Johannes Frederik Hulk sr. (1829–1911)


Shortly afterwards, in 1607, John Smyth and the members of the Gainsborough group moved on to Amsterdam. Brewster was fined £20 (about £3.66 thousand today) in absentia for his non-compliance with the Church of England, and he resigned from the position of postmaster.

Of the lay preachers among the Scrooby congregation, William Bradford was the most prominent next to William Brewster.  The members of the Scrooby congregation decided to follow John Smyth’s group to Amsterdam. On arrival in Amsterdam a congregation of English dissenters living and worshiping in Amsterdam for over 10 years greeted them. This group, the earliest to arrive in Amsterdam, was officially titled the “Brethren of the Separation of the First English Church at Amsterdam,” and were known, informally, as the “Ancient Brethren.” By 1607, the members of the Ancient Brethren having attained economic stability constructed of a new church.

Francis Johnson (1562–1618), was the leader of the Ancient Brethren at that time. He was an English Presbyterian minister educated in Cambridge like Richard Clyfton and John Smyth. He first came to Holland in 1590 to serve as pastor of an English-speaking church in Middelburg. Though Johnson was a strong believer in reform, he tenaciously opposed Separatism. He confiscated Separatist books and was about to burn them. However, his intellectual curiosity impelled him to read some of those books. On reading the books, he changed his beliefs. Johnson then left his non-Separating Middelburg congregation and returned in 1591 to London where he was elected the pastor of the separatist congregation later to be named the Ancient Church.

In 1593, Francis Johnson and about 50 of his London congregation were jailed for their religious views. Around this time, two other radical reforming Separatists, Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, the authors of the books that had originally converted Francis Johnson to Separatism, were hanged at Tyburn.

Johnson’s congregation except Francis Johnson himself was gradually freed from jail, and they started to migrate to Amsterdam where, leaderless, they struggled to stay as a community. In 1597, after a failed attempt to establish a colony in Canada, Johnson joined his congregation of exiled separatists who had migrated to the Netherlands to avoid persecution, and resumed his pastorate with Henry Ainsworth as their teacher.

Several years before the arrival of the Scrooby group in 1608, Francis Johnson, had excommunicated his own father and brother for criticizing his wife.

In 1608, the newly arrived Separatists did not officially join the Ancient Brethren. The three congregations: Gainsborough, Scrooby and Ancient Brethren, maintained their independence and for a very short while worshiped peacefully together in the new church building.

By late summer of 1608, the two Separatist congregations – Gainsborough, led by John Smyth, and Scrooby, led by Richard Clyfton – were well settled in Amsterdam.


John Smyth ((born ~ 1570, died August 28, 1612) (Source - Wikipedia)
John Smyth ((born ~ 1570, died August 28, 1612) (Source – Wikipedia)


John Smyth disrupted  the unity among the congregations by his disposition and constantly evolving religious views. Henry Ainsworth described Smyth as having published “three sundry books wherein he hath shewed himselfe of 3 several [different] religions.

William Bradford described John Smyth as:

an eminent man in his time, and a good preacher, and of other good parts; but his inconstancy, and unstabble judgment, and being so suddenly carried away with things, did soon overthrow him.


John Robinson ( No actual portrait of Robinson exists; this substitute appears online.)
John Robinson ( No actual portrait of Robinson exists; this substitute appears online.)


While Richard Clyfton was battling away with John Smyth, the rest of the Scrooby congregation was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the controversies and disruptions. They quietly reconstituted around John Robinson, their more tranquil teacher and minister.


Leiden, Holland
Leiden, Holland


Soon, Robinson and the more peaceful elements of the Scrooby group began to look for another place to live. It may have been William Brewster, who had visited The Netherlands in the 1580s, who suggested the Dutch city of Leiden.

In February of 1609, Robinson asked the Leiden City Council for permission to move to that city. He described his group as:

“… members of the Christian Reformed Religion, born in the Kingdom of Great Britain, to the number of one hundred persons or thereabouts, men and women.”

The answer came back:

The Court… declare that they refuse no honest persons ingress to come and have their residence in this city, provided that such persons behave themselves honestly, and submit to all the laws and ordinances here.

On May 1, 1609, John Robinson and most of the Scrooby congregation arrived in Leiden without Richard Clyfton who remained behind in Amsterdam and joined with the Ancient Brethren. William Bradford wrote:

Mr. Richard Clifton was a good and fatherly old man when he came first into Holland, having a great white beard; and pity it was that such a reverend old man should be forced to leave his country, and at those years to go into exile. But it was his lot, and he bore it patiently. Much good had he done in the country where he lived, and converted many to God by his faithful and painful ministry, both in preaching and catechising. Sound and orthodox he always was, and so continued to his end. He belonged to the church at Leyden; but being settled at Amsterdam and then aged, he was loath to remove any more; and so when they removed he was dismissed to them there, and there remained [in Amsterdam] until he died.”

Richard Clyfton, lived in Amsterdam until his death on May 20, 1616. He was buried in the Zuiderkerk or “South Church,” beside his wife Ann who had died three years earlier.

At that time, Leiden, a city in the Dutch province of South Holland, was a thriving industrial center with about 100,000 inhabitants. On arrival there, the congregation lived in small houses. Many members were well able to support themselves working at Leiden University or in the textile, printing and brewing trades, while others, hampered by their rural backgrounds and the language barrier, were less able to bring in enough income.

Of their life in Leiden, William Bradford wrote:

For these & other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair & bewtifull citie, and of a sweete situation, but made more famous by ye universitie wherwith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned man. But wanting that traffike by sea which Amerstdam injoyes, it was not so beneficiall for their outward means of living & estats. But being now hear pitchet they fell to such trads & imployments as they best could; valewing peace & their spirituall comforte above any other riches whatsoever. And at length they came to raise a competente & comforteable living, but with hard and continuall labor.

By 1617, although the congregation was stable and relatively secure in the Netherlands, there were ongoing issues that needed to be resolved.

Bradford noted that the congregation was aging, compounding the difficulties some had in supporting themselves. Some, having spent their savings, gave up and returned to England.


Edward Winslow (October 18, 1595 – May 8, 1655)
Edward Winslow (October 18, 1595 – May 8, 1655)


Edward Winslow (October 18, 1595 – May 8, 1655) was a Separatist. In 1617 Winslow traveled to Leiden, Holland and worked with William Brewster as a printer. Winslow’s list of the issues faced by the congregation living in Leiden was similar to that of Bradford. In addition to the economic worries and missionary possibilities, Winslow stressed that it was important for the people to keep their English identity, culture and language. They also believed that the English Church in Leiden could do little to help the larger community there.

The Scrooby congregation found the Dutch morals much too lascivious. Their children were becoming more and more inclined towards the Dutch way of living, “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses.” The elders of the congregation realized that they faced eventual extinction if they remained there.


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A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 1 – Separatists in England


By T. V. Antony Raj


Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and many people celebrate the day with religious significance. Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November.

Several instances of Thanksgiving that were held in early New England have been identified as the “First Thanksgiving.”

The modern Thanksgiving Day celebration is traced to the autumn celebration held in late 1621 at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The feast known as “The First Thanksgiving” was not known as such to the Pilgrims. “Harvest festival” would be a more proper term because a bountiful harvest prompted the 1621 Plymouth feast.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s carried the tradition of Thanksgiving with them to New England – a solemn ceremony of praise and thanks to God for the congregation’s good fortune.


The first Thanksgiving likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison. (Bettmann / Corbis)
The first Thanksgiving likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison. (Bettmann / Corbis)


The Pilgrim holidays celebrated in Plymouth in 1621 for a plentiful harvest, was probably held in early October 1621. It was celebrated by the 53 surviving Pilgrims, along with Massasoit Sachem the leader of the Wampanoag, and “Massasoit” of the Wampanoag Confederacy and 90 of his men. The celebration lasted three days and featured a feast that included waterfowl, wild turkey and fish brought by the colonists, and five deer brought by the natives.

Three contemporary accounts of the event survive: Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, Mourt’s Relation probably written by Edward Winslow, and New England’s Memorial by Capt. Nathaniel Morton, Plymouth Colony Secretary and William Bradford’s nephew.

The Thanksgiving in 1623 was held in response to the good news of the arrival of additional colonists and supplies. The latter event probably occurred in July 1623 and consisted of a full day of prayer and worship and probably very little revelry.

The Pilgrims

The story of the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom has become the central theme of the history and culture of the United States and the Thanksgiving Day.

The Pilgrims were the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States. Their leadership came from the religious congregations of Brownists” (named after Robert Browne), a common designation for early English Dissenters, and Separatists from the Church of England before 1620.

The Puritans were a significant group of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, including English Calvinists. Puritanism was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England and maintained their membership in and allegiance to the Church of England. The term “Puritan” was coined in the 1560s, as a term of abuse for those who found the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559. Puritans did not originally use the term for themselves.

From the late 16th century onwards, the word “Puritan” was applied to a number of Protestant churches, and religious groups within the Anglican Church. However, the
members of churches that did not agree with the Puritans knew themselves as members of particular churches or movements.

In this essay, I use the term “Brownists” and “Separatists” for the English Dissenters who separated from the Church of England in the 16th and 17th century who were not “Puritans”.

Robert Browne of Lilford

Robert Browne of Lilford
Robert Browne of Lilford


Robert Browne (1550 – 1633) considered ‘The Father of the Pilgrims‘ is important in American history because his concept of separation of the Church from the State initiated the first step in American democracy. Hence, he is also known as ‘The Grandfather of the Nation‘.

He was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, into a wealthy, prominent Northamptonshire family, the Brownes (Elmes) of Lilford.

By 1580, Browne became a leader in the movement for a congregational form of organization for the Church of England. He rejected the puritan view of reform from within the Church and started to look outside the established Church. In 1581, Browne attempted to set up a separate Congregational Church in Norwich, outside the Church of England. In April 1581, while preaching in the Bury St. Edmund, Suffolk area, authorities arrested Browne for unlicensed preaching and imprisoned him by the order of Bishop Freake of Norwich. William Cecil, Baron Burghley, his kinsmen, interceded for his release.

Between May and August 1582, due to hostility from the local church authorities most of the congregation moved from the politically volatile England to the relatively calm and tolerant Middelburgh in Zeeland, Holland. On arriving in Holland, members of the congregation suffered from illness. There they formed a church on what they conceived to be the New Testament model. However, within two years the community in Holland broke up due to internal dissensions.

Robert Browne published at Middelburgh two of his most important works: “A Treatise of Reformation without Tarying for Anie” in which he asserted the right of the church to affect necessary reforms without the civil magistrate’s authorisation; and “A Booke which sheweth the life and manners of all True Christians” which set out the theory of Congregational independency.

Both books were immediately banned in England by the English authorities. By the middle of 1583, they issued a Proclamation against buying, selling or possession of the works of Robert Browne. At Bury St Edmunds, the authorities arrested, tried, and hanged John Copping and Elias Thacker, former members of Browne’s Norwich congregation, for selling Browne’s seditious writings.

Browne was an active Separatist from 1579 to 1585 only. He returned to England and to the Church of England and got employed as a schoolmaster and parish priest. Browne’s companions and followers who hung on to his earlier separatist concepts now looked upon him as a renegade.

However, the term “Brownists” became a common designation for early Separatists from the Church of England before 1620. The Brownists are briefly mentioned in Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night written around 1600–02, where Sir Andrew Aguecheek says: “I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician‘ (III, ii). The Browne family seat, Tolethorpe Hall, is now home to the Stamford Shakespeare Company.

Richard Clyfton

Richard Clyfton was born around 1553 near the Nottinghamshire village of Babworth. Ordained as a minister in 1586, he was named pastor of All Saints’ Parish Church in Babworth, near East Retford, Nottinghamshire, England. He held this position from 1586 to1605.

In the 1590s, Clyfton started to preach dissenting religious views and conducted services using prayers that were not in the officially authorized Book of Prayers. He soon gathered followers from the surrounding towns and villages. His congregation held Separatist beliefs comparable to nonconforming movements led by Robert Browne, John Greenwood, and Henry Barrowe. In 1593, Barrowe and Greenwood were hung at Tyburn for sedition.

William Brewster of Scrooby and William Bradford of Austerfield who later launched the “Pilgrim adventure” were inspired by the preaching of Richard Clyfton.

Unlike the Puritan group who maintained their membership in and allegiance to the Church of England, Separatists held that their differences with the Church of England were irreconcilable and that their worship organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of a central church such as the Church of England.

In 1593, Barrowe and Greenwood were hung at Tyburn for sedition.

William Brewster

William Brewster

Scrooby is a small village, on the River Ryton and near Bawtry, in the northern part of the English county of Nottinghamshire. At the end of the sixteenth century, William Brewster, the Archbishop’s bailiff, who was also the postmaster of the village occupied the Manor House at Scrooby belonging to the Archbishops of York.


Part of William Brewster’s home, Scrooby Manor, still exists today
Part of William Brewster’s home, Scrooby Manor, still exists today


William Brewster, heard Clyfton preach. Impressed by Clyfton’s services, Brewster joined Clyfton’s Babworth congregation and participated in Separatist services.

Around 1602, young William Bradford, living in the Yorkshire village of Austerfield some ten miles from Babworth joined Brewster “to enjoy Mr. Richard Clifton’s illuminating ministry.”

From 1595 to 1606 Brewster served Archbishop Matthew Hutton who was sympathetic towards Puritans but not to the Separatists.

In 1604, the Hampton Court Conference denied substantially all the concessions requested by Puritans, save for an English translation of the Bible. In 1605, following the Conference, Clyfton declared a “nonconformist and nonsubscriber” was deprived of his position at Babworth. Brewster invited Clyfton to live at his home.

Services were held with Richard Clyfton as pastor, John Robinson as teacher and William Brewster as the presiding elder.

In 1606, Brewster arranged for a congregation of Separatists, led by John Smyth in Gainsborough, to meet privately at the Scrooby manor house. John Smyth, about 20 years younger than Richard Clyfton was an ordained minister and graduate of Cambridge University. In 1600, appointed as a preacher of the city of Lincoln, he lost the position soon afterwards because of his unorthodox views. Even though both the Scrooby group and the Gainsborough group were Separatists, their views were not entirely and necessarily the same.

Around this time in 1606, after Archbishop Matthew Hutton’s death, Tobias Matthew, one of King James’ chief supporters at the 1604 conference was elected as his replacement. Mathew promptly started a campaign to purge the archdiocese of nonconforming influences, both Separatists and those wishing to return to the Catholic faith.He replaced disobedient clergymen and confronted, fined, and imprisoned prominent Separatists.

Scrooby member William Bradford, who kept a journal of the congregation’s events that was later published as Of Plymouth Plantation wrote:

But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood.


Next → Part 2 – Life in Holland




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Irom Sharmila Chanu – “The Iron Lady of Manipur”


Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj


The north-eastern state of Manipur in India has a population of about 2.5 million people. Since 1980, a huge force of army, paramilitary and state police are stationed there to fight at least 12 insurgent groups.

Forty-years-old activist, writer and poet Irom Sharmila Chanu (born March 14, 1972) known as “the Iron Lady of Manipur” as well as “Mengoubi” (“the fair one”) has been on a hunger strike since November 2, 2000 asking the Indian government to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

This Act gives sweeping powers to the armed forces to fight separatist insurgents and the leftist radicals. The society groups and critics say that the provisions in this Act are often misused by troops and policemen and leads to gross human rights violations by the forces. Human rights organisations often describe the army’s powers as “draconian”.

Irom Sharmila Chanu blames this Act for the violence in her home state Manipur as well as in other parts of northeast India.

The Indian government and the Indian army maintain that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is necessary to restore normality in the state.

Sharmila began her hunger strike in November 2000 after soldiers of the Assam Rifles paramilitary force allegedly killed 10 young Manipuri men.

She has been arrested many times for her hunger strike and taken to hospital where she has been force-fed a liquid diet through her nose in a bid to keep her alive.

She has repeatedly rejected requests to call off her fast until the government withdraws the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Eleven plus years of fasting have made her into an iconic figure in Manipur. She has earned the title “the world’s longest hunger striker” for having refused food and water for more than 600 weeks.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Robert Leroy Ripley was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist. He created the world famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

On December 19, 1918, Ripley launched his cartoon feature involving sports feats in the New York Globe and titled it “Champs and Chumps”. Later he started adding items unrelated to sports. In October 1919, he changed the title to” Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

In 1923, New York Globe shut down and Ripley moved to the New York Evening Post.

Ripley then hired Norbert Pearlroth as his researcher. Pearlroth spent the next 52 years of his life in the New York Public Library. He worked almost ten hours a day and six days a week to find bizarre events and items that are strange and unusua facts for Ripley.

The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and as technology developed adapted into a wide variety of formats, such as a book series, comic books, a chain of museums, radio, and television.

Now, Ripley’s website has featured a cartoon on the activist Irom Sharmila Chanu that describes her as “the iron lady of Manipur”.

I have reproduced the following from rediffNEWS – Last updated on: December 1, 2011 17:22 IST

Exclusive! Irom Sharmila writes: “We’ve learnt to forego truth”

Irom Sharmila writes: “We’ve learnt to forego truth”

On November 3, 2011, when her fast against the Armed Forces Special Protection Act in force in Manipur completed 11 years, Irom Sharmila penned a heartfelt appeal to her people, which was handed over to the media on November 30 as she was being produced before the chief judicial magistrate in Imphal.

Translated from the Manipuri text by Chitra Ahanthem.

If only human beings were able to relate to nature and her form: The breeze, the birds in the skies, the insects chirping away.

If only human beings were able to live without being petty or mean-minded like the living beings around us, there would not have been the ongoing war to be better off than the other. There would not be a relentless drive to suppress the other person to get your way in life.

But men seem to have only learnt from how animals in the jungle prey on weaker animals and their blood-thirsty instincts.

The use of weapons of destruction like guns has led many young lives to leave their homes to take part in the theatre of war.

Many lives have been affected and a thousand marital ties are affected by the unending struggles. Man’s inability to trust nature and God’s creation has led to the quest for artificially manufactured things and the transient comfort they can give. This has encouraged the race for getting more and more money, leading to violating what is due to other people.

People have forgotten to be humble and only learnt how to forgo truth.

The State and nature of a society and its people are reflected in the nature of its political leadership.

Over time immemorial, different communities have co-existed peacefully with one another in harmony. The people of the hill and the valley used to share the products of the land. If the produce of the land was low, the produce was still shared equally.

The roots of the rush to acquire more land and other trappings of power and influence are an outcome of a weak and diluted leadership.

While one cannot take along their belongings once they pass away, the practice of fighting over who gets to control which part of the land has led to divisions between communities and the call for breaking away.

So long as leaders are more concerned in amassing wealth for themselves and counting their money, who is it that will lead the way?

The leaders are the ones who should be the backbone of society. It is their duty to revitalise people who are tired and worn out. It is their mandate to soothe the minds and hearts of people.

I hear many things that leave me astounded. I hear these stories from the people around me.

They tell me that they stand in line at petrol pumps. They say that they start queuing much before the day breaks till about 3 in the afternoon only to be told that the petrol stock has got over. They tell me that they feel sleepy and exhausted after their quest for petrol.

And I think to myself: This petrol that is so necessary is something that is not of our state. Then I think about how our ancestors lived. They had limited world exposure, but lived self-sufficiently. They did not have to depend on other people.

Would their way of life be inconvenient for them?

Today, we seem to be getting lost in the gloss and glitter that exist around us. Is the quest for glitter making us lose our heads and in the process taking away our mind faculties?

Will it not be possible to think that such gloss and glamour do not exist and then reorganise our lives accordingly?

It is only when we know our own selves as we really are that we can begin to think of collective good. The ability to think of the collective good can only contribute to the betterment of society.

I do know and I do hear that among the daily wage-earners who have been newly recruited, 54 of them came up with Rs 300,000 each to give to a doctor who is related to the chief minister.

The total amount, coming to a little over Rs 1,500,0000 was taken as ‘favour money,’ but later, the joint government order mentioned that there could not be any demand for their job regularisation.

The trade for a government job has reached suffocation point and for this tiny state that is yet to be able to stand on its own, it only leads to disillusionment among the youth of today who are well educated and have the ability to contribute to the development of the state.

People who are equipped with degrees are left out of gaining employment if they cannot get the amount that is required to guarantee a job. They remain wasted while the state and society stay in dire need of their attention.

This state of affairs has only contributed to the malaise that is prevailing in Manipur today.

It is this discontent that is the root cause of all that ails the state.
The pursuit of government jobs happens because someone with a government job is ensured financial security in the form of his pension and other entitlements.

The race for government jobs means that people sell off their ancestral property and other holdings to collate the amount that is required. The subsequent efforts to recover the money spent for a government job results in government departments being crippled with corruption.

The sense of duty has entirely disappeared in every sphere.

That is why we get to see confrontations arising out of disgruntlement from the common man who is fed up with the way the system is operating.

The emergence of the select few who have power and money at their disposal has emboldened them and led to treading on the lives of the less fortunate.

It has become common for them to exploit those who earn on a daily basis by taking way their basic human rights just as it has become normal to hear about crimes against women.

The powerful and the wealthy are well connected to the leaders who are leading the pack of thieves and are hence not wanting for anything in their existence.

The rampant exploitation of the poor daily wage-earners and the farmers who are at the end of the social and economic spectrum leaves them without the resources to live comfortably on one hand and leave them without the means to have their grievances addressed.

Left without the backing of the powerful, they face an uphill process when they attempt to air their life stories of unaddressed issues.

My beloved people

Just as all living beings having faith are drawn to Mother nature as one to her bountiful lap, let us place faith in our mothers who have borne us.

Our mothers who are like no one else, keeping guard in the dead of the night with a fire torch in hand.

May the light in your torch lead us to a better society where love and harmony exist between different groups.

May it bring together all the fragmented pieces.

May Mother Nature continue to bless us with her bountiful gifts to feed everyone.

May people have access to healthcare for everyone.

May anger and disillusionment go away.

May those who stone and set fire to vehicles that are carrying food and other supplies for their fellowmen leave behind their destructive nature.

May the seething anger that leaves us half-dead and half-alive and caught between hunger and excess, may all that is uncalled for go away.

May we be able to live in peace as nature does.

May we strive to be selfless.

May we be able to imbibe the spirit of sacrifice.

May the movements that started with a vision to serve the people and all those who set out to work for the people by getting into governance find their way back to what they set out to do.

May all their wrongdoing and their pretensions of doing good turn into what is right.

May all that is wrong, get resolved. May we be able to find the way to a better Manipur!

May we be able to give up setting fire to the centres of learning.

May we be able to save the pillars of our society from HIV/AIDS so they are able to stand together as one.

May we be able to save lives.

May a new beginning be heralded that brings justice to everyone.

May all that is evil and wrong be changed by truth.

Irom Sharmila’s address: A-4, Special Ward, Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, Porompat, Imphal East 795005, Manipur.

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