By Florin R. Ferrs
The English often refer to the people of The United States of America as their “American Cousins”. Many historical, political and cultural ties bond both nations, but none bonds tighter than the story of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ who successfully founded the longest continually inhabited English colony in the United States. The success of the colony was not assured and many earlier attempts had failed. The pilgrims faced inclement weather, starvation and hostile natives. But they persevered and survived, often with the help of native tribes or their resources. The Pilgrim’s legacy is celebrated in the United States as Thanksgiving Day with a family feast of pumpkins and turkey (new world foods that would have been novel and available to the colonists). Curiously, the tradition of celebrating thanksgiving in November was brought over by the pilgrims from the Netherlands, where they had found refuge for 12 years. The Dutch to this day celebrate “Dankdag voor Gewas” (Thanksgiving day) on the first Wednesday of November (no pumpkins or Turkey on the Dutch version).
Pilgrim’s Hotspots in Europe
1- Babworth, Notinhamshire.
The founders of the Massachusetts colony traced the origin of their religious beliefs to the town of Babworth, in Notinhamshire (yes the same Nottingham of Robin Hood fame). They lived in an England going through a time of religious and political turmoil. Any dissidence from the official Church of England was considered seditious. The Pilgrim’s voyage began when members of the congregation escaped to Holland in search of greater religious freedom. Visitors today can explore Babworth’s All Saints church. The church is 900 years old and it’s surrounded by greenery. The church contains many interesting items from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers including the chalice used by Richard Clyfton (one of their original leaders) for communion services.
The Pilgrims arrived in Amsterdam in 1608 and spent the next 12 years in what was then called “The Low Countries”. The religious and social tolerance of their new hosts both attracted and later caused them to seek more isolated lands to found a colony of like minded pilgrims. The end of a Dutch peace treaty with Spain and the possibility of facing the Spanish Inquisition also forced their departure. The best place to experience the Amsterdam of Pilgrims is at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. The museum covers the history of the city from the mid-13th Century to the present and puts Amsterdam’s past into perspective.
The Amsterdam colony divided and some of the pilgrims settled in Leiden. Leiden is also the town from where a lot of the original Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam (Manhattan) hailed from. Curiously, the term “Yankee” is said to be a nickname for a Dutch colonist in early New England. Leiden is the second largest 17th century town centre in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam’s town centre, making it a fascinating destination to explore.
The Mayflower Pub in London is named after the ship that set sail from a nearby quay in 1620 to take the Pilgrims to America . The name of the original pub located on the site was “The Shippe” and it is said that the boat’s captain (Captain Christopher Jones) downed his last pre voyage pints there.
5-Plymouth, Southampton and Dartmouth
The American Colony founded by the pilgrims was named Plymouth Rock after their last port in England. Visitors today can visit the Plymouth steps in Plymouth, England. The monument itself is of obvious historical significance, but the colonists themselves had no connection to Plymouth other than it was their last port before their Atlantic crossing (their previous two ports being Southampton and Dartmouth). A tour of all three ports will run you trough a good chunk of British Maritime history; from the Tudors to the Titanic.
The Pilgrim Fathers left their native land in search of political and religious freedom in the Netherlands, adopting some Dutch traditions along the way (like Thanksgiving). The specter of the Spanish Inquisition and their desire for a more isolated colony led them to the new world and the rest is history. Enjoy your Turkey and Pumpkins this Thanksgiving and give a though to the legacy of the original Plymouth colonists.