The Pilgrims fled a tyrannical English king and an oppressive church in 1608 for the only nation on earth that offered religious freedom: Holland. At the time, much of Europe was engulfed in brutal wars of religion. Tens of thousands of people, including ministers, were being butchered in the streets of France, Germany, and Scotland.
In Holland, the Pilgrims found a respite from this bloody mayhem.
The Pilgrims escaped to Amsterdam, a haven for Separatist groups, religious dissenters, and other exiles. They relocate in 1609 to Leiden, a university town, home to painter Rembrandt van Rijn.
Retracing the Pilgrim’s path, I took a ferry to Leiden where they established a church under their pastor, John Robinson. I met my friend Marshall Foster, president of World History Institute, and we toured the historical sites where the Pilgrims lived for 12 years.
This includes the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, the magnificent church Pieterskerk, and William Brewster Alley. Robinson is buried at Pieterskerk where a monument reads: “We are all, in all places, strangers and pilgrims.” The museum offers a Pilgrim tour (www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~netlapm).
The hard work eventually paid off, helping them set up a business printing religious books. As the revolutionary printers of their time, they smuggled into England and Scotland subversive pamphlets detailing Separatist beliefs in false bottoms of wine barrels.
Of course, King James was furious. In 1618, he ordered his troops to find and destroy the Pilgrim press. It took his soldiers a year and a half, but they located it and shut it down. Facing arrest, the Pilgrims obtained a land patent in the Virginia territory where they could start over from scratch.
But to do this, they had to sneak back into the lion’s den of England to organize their grand escape. They hired two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell.
On July 22, 1620, the Pilgrims boarded the Speedwell in Holland and sailed to England to meet up with the Mayflower.
On Sept. 6, 1620, with 102 passengers and roughly 30 crew members, the Mayflower started its trip across the Atlantic.
The voyage was supposed to take two weeks, but would up lasting 66 days. Halfway across the ocean, storms with 30-foot waves pounded the ship. During the long journey, one of the ship’s main beams cracked. The captain told them to prepare to meet their creator. They prayed. Recalling they had brought along a giant iron screw, they used it to hoist the beam and saved the ship. Shortly afterward they landed near Plymouth, starting a new era of faith and freedom.
Note: Article published in Newsmax Magazine, August 2012, part two of a four-part series on the documentary, "Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure."