The Pilgrims: Laying America’s Foundations, Part 2

In the first part of this series, I introduced the fact that there was a conflict between the church hierarchy in England and the Separatists.  This was a situation in which there would be no compromise. This became clear when King James took the throne in 1603.  Once he was king, the Separatists “were hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground.” [1] In other words, as far as the church hierarchy and the king were concerned, this was religious war, and the Separatists were enemy number one.

From History of the Pilgrims and Puritans, their ancestry and descendants; basis of Americanization

From History of the Pilgrims and Puritans, their ancestry and descendants; basis of Americanization

This meant if there had been post offices back then with pictures of the Ten Most Wanted Men on posters, the Separatists would have been on those posters, for they were a threat to authority. The results were devastating.  Bradford says: “Religion has been disgraced, the godly grieved, afflicted, persecuted, and many exiled, while others lost their lives in prisons and other ways; on the other hand, sin has been countenanced, ignorance, profanity, and atheism have increased, and the papists have been encouraged to hope again for a day.” [2]

Notice that what Bradford is presenting here is a picture of an increasingly hostile environment for the truly committed Christians.  As a result, the situation reached the point where the Separatists knew they had to leave England.  But notice what happened when they tried: “A large number of them had decided to take passage from Boston in Lincolnshire, and for that purpose had hired a ship wholly to themselves, and made agreement with the captain to be ready at a convenient place on a certain day to take them and their belongings. After long waiting and great expense—he had not kept day with them—he came at last and took them aboard at night.  But when he had secured them and their goods he betrayed them, having arranged before hand with the searchers and other officers to do so. They then put them in open boats, and there rifled and ransacked them, searching them to their shirts for money, and even the women, further than became modesty, and took them back to the town and made a spectacle of them to the multitude that came flocking on all sides to see them.  Being thus rifled and stripped of their money, books, and other property, they were brought before the magistrates, and messengers were sent to inform the Lords of the Council about them. The result was, however, that after a month’s imprisonment, the majority were dismissed, and sent back to the places whence they came; but seven of the leaders were kept in prison.” [3]

Notice here, these Separatists were treated like criminals.  They were harassed, arrested, stolen from, put in prison for a month, and then seven of the leaders were kept in prison.  Why?  Because they did not want to submit to the demands of the Church of England.  So they decided to leave England and live someplace else.

Who were these people who simply wanted to live someplace else?  People who cared about the gospel because they had had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and wanted to live according to the Scriptures.

Two scriptures come to mind for me. One is the passage from Acts 16 which tells us how Paul and Silas were dragged before the magistrates in Philippi, and stripped of their clothes and beaten and put in jail.  The other is Matthew 7:20 where Jesus says, “By their fruits you will know them.”

Woodrow Wilcox


If there was some thought in your mind that this was just a pickle between two self-righteous groups who deserved each other, believe me it was not.  This was spiritual war between those who wanted England controlled by values compatible with their unsaved carnal lives, and those who had felt the call of the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts, and wanted to live lives that honored Him. This being the situation, they went to Holland and stayed there twelve years.

The longer they stayed there, it became clear that this was not the place for them. Bradford gives us the reasons: “First, they saw by experience, that the hardships of the country were such that comparatively few others would join them, and fewer still would bide it out and remain with them.  Many who came and many more who desired to come could not endure the continual labor and hard fare and other inconveniences which they themselves were satisfied with.  Secondly, they saw that though the people bore these difficulties very cheerfully, and with resolute courage, being in the best strength of their years; yet old age began to steal on many of them.” [4]


They were also concerned about the effects the country of Holland was having on their children: “Many of their children, who were of the best disposition and who had learned to bear the yoke in their youth and were willing to bear part of their parents’ burden, were often so oppressed with their labors. Still more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy  to be bourne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents.  Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of the parents and the dishonor of God.” [5]

Notice here these were troubling concerns, concerns which were increasingly motivating them to move somewhere else.  I think if all of us who call ourselves Christian were in this situation, these concerns would have greatly troubled us.

Part three of the Pilgrims

[1]  Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1977), p. 108. Used by permission.

[2]  William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 5

[3]  William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 10.

[4]  William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation p. 19-20.

[5]  Ibid., p. 20-21.

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Bob Wittstruck was a pastor for 33 years, was the associate director of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, and is a supporter of both Christian schooling and home schooling. His latest book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, is being printed in February or March of 2016. His email address is [email protected]
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