separatists, in religion, those bodies of Christians who withdrew from the Church of England. They desired freedom from church and civil authority, control of each congregation by its membership, and changes in ritual. In the 16th cent. a group of early separatists were known as Brownists after their leader, Robert Browne. The name Independents came into use in the 17th cent. Among other separatist groups were the Pilgrims, the Quakers (see Friends, Religious Society of), and the Baptists. See Congregationalism.