Did the Pilgrim Fathers Sail from Boston Lincolnshire?

The story of the Pilgrim Fathers and their journey to the New World in search of religious freedom is one that has captured the imagination of people for centuries. Their voyage on the Mayflower and landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620 marked the beginning of the colonization of America. But where exactly did this small group of English Separatists set sail from? Was it, as the name ‘Boston’ might suggest, the port town of Boston in Lincolnshire, England? Or did they depart from somewhere else?

The Origins of the Pilgrim Fathers

To understand whether the Pilgrim Fathers began their transatlantic journey from Boston, we need to go back to their origins in England. This group of Puritans originally lived in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire and Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. They separated from the Church of England in 1606 due to differences in beliefs and doctrine.

As Protestant reformers, the group wanted to practice their own distinct form of worship and no longer follow the Established Church. However, this ‘separatist’ stance was illegal in England at the time. The group faced persecution and threats of imprisonment.

Seeking Religious Freedom

In the face of mounting oppression, the Pilgrim Fathers decided to emigrate to the more tolerant Netherlands. Here they could practice their faith without fear of punishment.

In 1607, the Pilgrims arranged passage on a ship from Boston, Lincolnshire to make the journey across the North Sea. However, the ship’s captain betrayed them, and they were arrested before they could depart. The Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned for around a month at Boston Guildhall in Lincolnshire.

Though this attempt failed, it reveals how the group planned to sail from Boston port to reach the Netherlands. After their release from prison, they stayed in the English Midlands and made preparations for their departure.

Leaving from Plymouth, not Boston

After regrouping, the Pilgrim Fathers eventually arranged successful passage in 1608. This time, however, they did not sail from Boston, but from Plymouth in Devon.

They made the journey across the North Sea to the Netherlands from Plymouth harbor. Here the Pilgrims lived for almost 12 years, settling in Leiden.

During this time, their separatist religious beliefs strengthened. The Pilgrim Fathers decided to make an even longer voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Their intention was to establish a permanent settlement in the New World where they could practice their faith in isolation.

Preparations to Sail West

In 1620, arrangements were made to sail across the Atlantic with a group of around 100 passengers. This included the Pilgrims, hired crew members, servants and family members.

They purchased a ship called the Speedwell which would take them from Delfshaven in the Netherlands to England. They then bought a second, larger ship, the Mayflower, in London for the Atlantic crossing.

The Mayflower departed from Plymouth, England – not Boston – in September 1620. There were 102 passengers plus around 30 crew members. Their destination was the newly established Colony of Virginia. However, the ship was repeatedly blown off course and instead made landfall at Cape Cod, Massachusetts on November 9th 1620.

The Pilgrim Fathers decided to establish their settlement here instead of Virginia. They named if ‘New Plymouth’ in honor of their departure point. A smaller replica of Plymouth’s Mayflower Steps can be found on the Plymouth waterfront.

Arrival in the New World

Before disembarking, 41 of the adult male passengers signed a document called the Mayflower Compact. This set out the principles by which the new colony would be governed.

After settling on shore and exploring the area, the Pilgrims began building their village. However, the first winter was devastating and around half of the settlers died from disease and exposure. But those who survived persevered and eventually flourished.

They maintained strong ties with Britain and considered themselves loyal subjects of the Crown. But the Pilgrim Fathers’ journey to America was pioneering. It paved the way for the Puritan migration over the next decade, establishing a permanent European presence in New England.

So Did the Pilgrim Fathers Depart from Boston?

To summarize the key facts:

  • The Pilgrim Fathers originated from towns in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, England.
  • They initially attempted to sail from Boston, Lincolnshire to the Netherlands in 1607 but were arrested before departing.
  • In 1608, they eventually left England from Plymouth harbor and settled first in Leiden.
  • In 1620, the Mayflower departed from Plymouth, England to make the crossing to North America.

So while the Pilgrim Fathers had strong connections to Boston, Lincolnshire, they did not actually sail from there on their famous journey in the Mayflower. The port of departure was Plymouth in Devon.

The Role of Boston

Yet Boston still played an important early role in the Pilgrims’ quest for religious freedom. Lincolnshire was their home area in England. Being prevented from leaving Boston harbor was a pivotal moment that strengthened their resolve to make the hazardous transatlantic journey.

The name ‘Boston’ lives on today in the American city known as the unofficial ‘birthplace’ of the United States. It was named by Puritan settlers in 1630 in honor of Boston, Lincolnshire, from where some of their number originated.

So Boston, while not the Pilgrim Fathers’ point of departure, was still intrinsically linked to their origins story. The events at Boston Guildhall were instrumental in shaping their quest to reach the New World.

Key Facts About the Pilgrim Fathers’ Journey:

  • They were English Protestants who separated from the Church of England for religious reasons.
  • In 1607 they were thwarted in an attempt to sail from Boston, Lincolnshire to the Netherlands.
  • In 1608 they eventually departed from Plymouth, England and settled in Leiden.
  • In 1620 the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England bound for America.
  • They landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts and established the colony of New Plymouth.
  • Half the settlers died the first winter but the colony eventually prospered.

So while Boston played an early role, the famous 1620 transatlantic voyage began from Plymouth, some 120 miles to the southwest. The story of the Pilgrims’ quest for religious freedom is one that has become an integral part of American history and collective memory.


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