Before the Mayflower: The Scrooby Congregation

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The Scrooby Separatist Church was established by William Brewster at the Scrooby Manor House in around 1606.

William Brewster was one of the leaders of the Scrooby congregation
William Brewster was one of the leaders of the Scrooby congregation

To avoid arrest the meetings were held in secret.

The principle members of the congregation were Richard Clyfton, John Robinson and William Brewster.  William Bradford, who lived with Brewster, was also a member.

By the autumn of 1607, the authorities for the Church of England detected the group of Separatists meeting.

On the last day of September 1607, William Brewster resigned his position as baliff and postmaster.  On December 1, he was cited before the High Court of Commission for being “Disobediant in matters of religion” and fined twenty pounds.  On December 15 that year, he and Richard Jackson were sought by the Ecclesiastical Court for non-appearance.  An attachment was awarded to the court officer to apprehend them, “but he certifieth that he cannot finde them, nor understand where they are”.

William Bradford kept a journal of the congregation’s events.  The journal was later published as Of Plymouth Plnatation.

Bradford explained the difficulty they faced from the government. “For some were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their [persecutors’] hands; and the most were fain to flee and leave their houses and habitations, and the means of their livelihood.”

A portion of Scrooby Manor that still exists. This is where the Separatists met in secret.
A portion of Scrooby Manor that still exists. This is where the Separatists met in secret.

John Robinson and Richard Clyfton, both local rectors, lost their church positions.  In time they joined the Scrooby congregation.

Most of the other members of the Scrooby congregation were yeoman farmers and country artisans.

This Puritan group at Scrooby became primary targets of persecution by the Church of England and state government.  This constant persecution led to the describe to leave England.  Although leaving England was also a criminal act.

The discussion to emigrate was lengthy and controversial. Bradford lays out the difficulties:

“But to go into a country they knew not but by hearsay, where they must learn a new language and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear [expensive] place and subject to the miseries of war, it was thought by many an adventure almost desperate; a case intolerable and a misery worse than death. Especially seeing they were not acquainted with trades nor traffic (by which that country doth subsist) but had only been used to a plain country life and the innocent trade of husbandry.”

When they felt they could no longer suffer these difficulties in England, they chose to flee to the Dutch Netherlands. There, they could practice their own religion without fear of persecution from the English government or its church.

church in Scrooby, England
church in Scrooby, England

An attempt to flee to Amsterdam was attempted in 1607.  However, the English ship captain who agreed to take them betrayed them and the group was imprisoned.

The prisoners had sold all of their property before their attempt to move to Amsterdam.  There was nothing the courts could confiscated and they were finally released and allowed to leave for Holland.

The following year in 1608, a second attempt succeeded.  The Dutch Captain that was over the ship abandoned the group when the troops approached.  The women and children who arrived first took refuge in Killingholme Creek.

The journey for the men was fourteen days, in which the ship was caught in a gale and almost blown to the coast of Norway.

The women and children were in a pitiful circumstance and with no home to go to they were finally allowed to leave for Holland to join their husbands.