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The Pilgrim Fathers

The Mayflower set sail for America in 1620, taking with her families in search of religious freedom. These families would eventually settle in what is now known as New England, but the origins of their religious views lie in the Gainsborough area.

The Separatists' methods of worship evolved in the relatively tolerant times of Elizabeth 1. Seeking the freedom to worship in their own way, separate from the Church of England, many of the Separatists studied at Cambridge, where they developed their religious views under their leader Robert Browne.

One of these scholars, William Brewster, was the son of the postmaster of Scrooby. Elizabeth's successor, James 1, was less tolerant (and indeed outlawed the Separatist Church in 1604). Browne and a group of like-minded people had escaped to Holland in 1578 and 30 years later were joined by Brewster. However, Brewster, now committed to the Separatist movement, returned to Scrooby and together with like-minded people such as Richard Clyfton (rector of nearby Babworth Church), John Robinson and his wife (from Sturton-le-Steeple) and John Smyth (from Lincoln) continued to worship in their own way.


In 1602 John Smyth was dismissed by his employer the Bishop of Lincoln and moved to Gainsborough, where his group of 60 or 70 Separatists were allowed to worship secretly in Gainsborough Old Hall by its owner Sir William Hickman. As Richard Clyfton was forced to resign his position in the Church of England in 1604, the number of Separatists grew. In late 1606 a second Separatist church was founded at Scrooby Manor.

In Gainsborough, William Hickman was under pressure from the Bishop of Lincoln for encouraging the Separatists, whilst at Scrooby the activities of William Brewster were being scrutinised by the Archbishop of York. The decision was made to escape to Holland and join the other Separatists there.

Lacking the necessary permits, John Smyth and at least 40 of his Gainsborough congregation left for Holland in the winter of 1607/8. After their journey from Gainsborough docks to Amsterdam they joined the 300 or so other exiles. The Scrooby congregation,who had hired a ship from Boston, were betrayed by the captain, but after a spell in prison eventually joined the group in 1608.



Although Holland was a relatively safe place for the Separatists the decision was made to set sail for the New World. In 1620, the Speedwell left Holland for Southampton, where it was joined by the Mayflower and its passengers. Both ships left for the New World, but the Speedwell proved to be unseaworthy, and was forced to put into Plymouth for repairs. Eventually the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth alone, taking the Pilgrims on their long journey to America.