Pilgrimage to Home of Dutch Puritans

By Hagman, Harvey | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 29, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Pilgrimage to Home of Dutch Puritans


Hagman, Harvey, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Many of the Pilgrims began their journey to the New World not from England but from the Netherlands. Their first ship was the 60-ton Speedwell, not the more seaworthy Mayflower.

Oddly, their day of thanksgiving in Massachusetts in 1621 was derived in part from an Oct. 3 celebration marking the lifting of the Spanish siege of the Dutch city of Leiden in 1574.

The Indians, turkey and mashed potatoes of our national celebration came later.

I begin my pilgrimage in Delfshaven, the quiet, old seamen's quarter on the edge of Rotterdam, which escaped the World War II saturation bombing of the city and is one of the few surviving old sections of it.

In Delfshaven, I can walk in the faint footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, tread on shiny cobblestones worn by the centuries, follow narrow streets lined with step-gabled red brick houses and meander along canals where single-masted ships and long barges still tie up.

Delfshaven is one of three major pilgrim sites in the Netherlands; the other two are Amsterdam and Leiden.

The religious separatists we know as the Puritans - the Pilgrims - set sail from Delfshaven on July 21, 1620. Their leaky schooner, the Speedwell, was tied up in the canal fronting the Pilgrim Fathers Church, which today houses Pilgrim memorials. Stained-glass windows and a video recall the Pilgrims' voyage, although the Pilgrims never held a service here. The church was a Dutch Reformed one to which the Pilgrim Fathers did not conform.

William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote that the Pilgrims' last day was spent in prayers with many tears shed as close friends parted and the last night was spent "with little sleep by most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse."

They left for good reason. The Puritans were growing older and were slowly being assimilated into Dutch life, and they feared that "the great licentiousness of youth of that country, and the manifold temptations of the place" would corrupt their children.

After their leader prayed for safe passage to the New World, the group boarded the Speedwell. The anchor was lifted, cannons boomed and a line of harquebuses - early portable guns that rested on a hooked staff during firing - sent off a volley. The vessel sailed down the river Maas, heading for Southampton, where the group joined fellow believers from London and other English towns and transferred to the more seaworthy Mayflower.

The 40 Pilgrims of the Speedwell left behind a community of several hundred members in Leiden, where they had settled after fleeing from persecution by King James I of England, who disagreed with their doctrine of separation of church and state. "I shall make them conform themselves or I shall harry them out of the land or worse [hang them]," said the king.

Initially the Puritans stopped in Amsterdam, where they encountered difficulty finding work.

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