Some of the most well-known Mayflower Pilgrims came from places in and around North Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands of England.
These people were religious separatists, who wanted to break away from the Church of England to form their own church because they disagreed with how the Church and the State wanted them to live their lives. Of 102 people on the Mayflower, the Separatists made up 41 passengers. 
William Brewster was a leading figure in the group here, and later at Plymouth in Massachusetts, where they established their colony. William Bradford, the second Governor of the Plymouth colony, was strongly influenced by Brewster, and came from nearby Austerfield. These men and their families were led by religious men here, who eventually inspired them to leave England, firstly for Holland, then later for America. Their preachers included Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, and John Smyth.
But were there only men on the Mayflower?
Not at all. Unlike the first settlers of the earlier colony at Jamestown in Virginia, the group on the Mayflower included families, with these men’s wives, some of their children and other children, and their servants. They were strongly religious people, and they travelled with others who were not part of their tight-knit congregation. There were 17 men, 10 women, and 14 children who were religious migrants on the Mayflower.  It is harder to know the details of the lives of the women on the Mayflower, because fewer records exist about them. They are often referred to in relation to the men they were related to.
And what about their ages?
These were young people. When they left England William Bradford was only about 18 years old, and was not old enough to inherit his property.  When they travelled on the Mayflower, he was 30 years old. William Brewster, one of the older men, would have been in his early forties when they left for Holland, and in his late fifties when they reached America. 
William Brewster originally came from North Nottinghamshire. He has been called ‘Elder’ and ‘spiritual guide’ to the group.  He became an influential leader, and played a significant role as this group, a congregation, chose to leave their homes and England to live in Holland, before leaving again just over a decade later to settle in America.
Brewster’s date of birth is not definitely known. It is thought he was born around 1566 or 1567, and that his parents were William and Mary Brewster, of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. He died in New England probably in 1644. He had a varied career, as a diplomat’s assistant, then taking over his father’s job as postmaster and bailiff. It was his job to provide accommodation for official travellers. In Holland he established a printing press. He was a farmer, a preacher, and liked to read widely. 
Mary Brewster was William Brewster’s wife, and lived in Scrooby with him. Her maiden name was probably Wentworth. She died seven years after they reached Plymouth, in 1627. 
The Brewsters had several children, with interesting names. Two of their sons travelled on the Mayflower and were called Love and Wrestling. They had been born in Leiden, Holland. 
Jonathan Brewster, the Brewsters’ other son, travelled to America on a ship called the Fortune in 1621, along with Thomas Morton, who came from the village of Harworth in North Nottinghamshire. He had been born in Scrooby in 1593. The Brewsters’ daughters, Fear and Patience, who originally came from Scrooby, travelled to be with their family in 1623, as did George Morton, also from Harworth. 
William Bradford was born in a village called Austerfield, not too far from Scrooby. He lost his parents early on, and was strongly influenced by Brewster and his religious group. As he grew up, he learned how to become a farmer:
‘… he had a Comfortable Inheritance left him of his Honest Parents, who died while he was yet a Child, and cast him on the Education, first of his Grand Parents, and then of his Uncles, who devoted him, like his Ancestors, unto the Affairs of Husbandry…’ 
His early life was affected by ill health. This gave him the chance to read books, but perhaps not have as much fun as other children:
‘… long Sickness kept him, as he would afterwards thankfully say, from the Vanities of Youth, and made him the fitter for what he was afterwards to undergo. When he was about a Dozen Years Old, the Reading of the Scriptures began to cause great Impressions upon him …’ 
His chance to read early on gave him an interest in learning and writing. He even taught himself Hebrew. The reason so much is known about the Mayflower Pilgrims is because Bradford wrote a diary about his life. It was called Of Plimmoth Plantation. 
Katherine Carver was the wife of John Carver, who became the first Governor of Plymouth colony. She came from a village called Sturton-le-Steeple, where she had been married to George Leggatt until he died. Her maiden name was probably White and her sister was Bridget. She died not long after their arrival in America, in the spring of 1621, along with many others who had made the voyage, and only a few weeks after her husband John. They had no surviving children. 
Francis Cooke who travelled on the Mayflower possibly came from the village of Blyth. He was a woolcomber, and apparently didn’t leave England with the Scrooby Separatists; he was living in Leiden in 1603, where he married Hester Mayhieu. 
Richard Clyfton lived at Babworth, and was the rector here. He was:
‘… a grave and reverend preacher, who by his pains and diligence had done much good, and under God had been a means of conversion of many …’ 
He was an influential preacher, particularly towards the young Bradford:
‘ … he came to enjoy Mr. Richard Clyfton’s Illuminating Ministry …’ 
John Robinson was an educated man, and assisted Clyfton as a preacher. Bradford described him as ‘a famous and worthy man’. He was born in Sturton-le-Steeple around 1575. He went to Cambridge University and was ordained into the Church, before working in Norwich. He must have regularly travelled between Nottinghamshire and East Anglia. In 1603, he preached in West Burton and in Sturton in 1605. In 1607, he preached at South Leverton and Sturton without permission. 
He eventually became the leader of the Separatists when they moved from Amsterdam to Leiden in Holland. He died in Leiden in 1625, never making the voyage across the ocean. 
Bridget White, Katherine Carver’s sister, married John Robinson, and came from Sturton-le-Steeple. 
Although John Robinson did not travel to America, his son Isaac, who was born in Leiden around 1610, travelled to Plymouth in 1631. He was married twice, and died in Barnstable, Massachusetts, aged 94. 
John Smyth was associated with Sturton-le-Steeple as a schoolteacher, and led a group of Separatists in Gainsborough, which of course, was against Church law.  He was well-educated; Bradford described him as ‘a man of able gifts and a good preacher’.  Another man with a significant role was Thomas Helwys. Helwys’ family were landowners in the area, and had a business in London. Helwys helped the Pilgrims leave for Holland. Despite getting on well in England, not long after they reached Holland, the group from Scrooby had fallen out with the group from Gainsborough, and they parted ways long before the Mayflower voyage. Helwys and Smyth have since become recognised as pioneers of the type of worship followed by another Christian group, the Baptists. 
More people travelled to Holland from North Nottinghamshire than made the trip on the Mayflower. Some came from Worksop, including Rosamond Horsfield, Henry and Wiliam Jepson, and Francis Wright, and Elizabeth Neal came from Scrooby. There were lots of immigrants to Holland, and not all were associated with the Mayflower Pilgrims. Registers in Leiden show that a Robbrecht Heulijn (his name recorded in Dutch form) and Geertgen Gerritsdaughter came there from the town of Retford in North Nottinghamshire. 
What then was Separatism?
The Church of England was the established Christian church of the state, and had been set up by Henry VIII following his battles with the previously established Church in Rome. Religion played a hugely important role in everyday life for everyone, but it was a divisive issue. Separatists were people who wanted, for a variety of reasons, to separate themselves from this church.
Separatists are sometimes compared to Puritans, according to their religious beliefs. The Puritans were interested in ‘purifying’ the Church from within, rather than wanting to leave it altogether.
This was a time when it became easier for more people to read more things, and to publish their own writing. The printing press had been invented in the fifteenth century, and it had changed the world. The Separatists themselves, particularly William Brewster, were involved in printing to tell people about their own beliefs, but this also got them into trouble with the authorities and the King.  They had strong opinions and strong beliefs, and wanted to share these. William Bradford also understood this, and this can be seen in the diary that he wrote in his later life once he was living in America, calling it Of Plimmoth Plantation: he wanted to tell their story.
This was all happening at a time when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, and then, after her death, King James I.
This was a period of religious tension and turmoil among Christians not just in England but across Europe.
In 1598, William Brewster and his wife and family were reported to the Church court for going to different churches instead of their local church. Brewster had also been preaching sermons himself, even though he wasn’t allowed to do this. 
In 1603, James became King, and travelled down the Great North Road from Scotland, where he was already King (as James VI), into England. On his way, some Puritans met him, saying that they represented a thousand voices and wanted to get his help to change the Church. 
King James decided to hold a conference. This happened in early 1604 at Hampton Court, outside London (which at that time was full of plague). It didn’t go as the Puritans had hoped. At the end of the conference, James declared:
‘If this be all that they have to say, I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.’ 
Men like Robinson had hoped that King James would help their cause, but his refusal to listen drove them further away. Leading Separatists in other parts of the country, especially London, were killed by the authorities.  In 1607, the Separatists in Scrooby began to seriously plan their escape.
‘These people … were of sundry towns and villages, some in Nottinghamshire, some of Lincolnshire, and some of Yorkshire where they border nearest together.’ 
The places and sites known to have the closest links to the Mayflower Pilgrims’ story in North Nottinghamshire are rural villages.
The most well-known connection is with Scrooby, a village on the River Ryton that was home to the Brewsters. Scrooby Manor was the original home of William Brewster. The Manor has changed a lot since Brewster’s time, and is now a private house. The architectural significance of this building has been recognised through its listing by Historic England, and its grounds are protected as a scheduled monument. This site had a moat and was the site of the Archbishop’s Palace, used by the Archbishops of York during the 13th and 14th centuries. The building as it was in Brewster’s time has been compared to nearby Gainsborough Old Hall, a half-timbered manor house. 
Scrooby Manor House, c.1920. Photo credit: Bassetlaw Museum, Welchman Archive, Photograph number RETBM : 2004.497.
Three commemorative plaques next to the front door commemorate Brewster’s links with this house.
Scrooby had a significant position on the Great North Road. This road, which crossed the country from north to south, Edinburgh to London, was an important route for travellers, and for the post. Brewster, as Master of the Post, was an important official. He worked as bailiff for the Archbishop of York, taking over his father’s job in the mid-1590s. He was in charge of monitoring the financial interests of the diocese (a religious administrative area) for 17 villages. Farmers and millers had to pay the Church rent and other fees. When important people stopped at the manor, it was like an inn; they could stay the night, refresh their horses, do business, and send letters before they moved on. 
Scrooby’s church is a Grade II* listed building called St. Wilfrid’s. The Brewsters would have attended this church before they decided to break away from established traditions and Church law. A cobblestone in the church was a gift from Plymouth, UK, and a plaque records a 1955 pilgrimage made by Mayflower descendants.
The most significant church in the Pilgrims’ story was perhaps All Saints’ at Babworth, a small village near the town of Retford. This church, which is listed as Grade I, was where Richard Clyfton preached. He was rector here from 1586, until he lost his job on 15 March, 1605, after being taken to the Church courts for failing to follow the Church’s rules. Clyfton appeared before the Church courts in 1591 and 1593, for not wearing the right robes, not announcing holy days, and refusing to use the cross in baptism. 
Two silver communion cups, belonging to Babworth Church. Hallmarked 1569 and 1593. Taken 1953. Photo credit: Bassetlaw Museum, Welchman Archive, Photograph number RETBM : 1998.7753.
Sturton-le-Steeple, a village on the other side of Retford, was the original home of John Robinson and is linked to Katherine Carver and her sister Bridget White, who married Robinson, and the preacher John Smyth. The church here is called St. Peter & St. Paul’s, and is listed as Grade II*.
Various villages across North Nottinghamshire can claim an association with the Separatists. Richard Clyfton was vicar at Marnham in 1586, and preached at Sutton-cum-Lound. William Brewster’s brother James was also the vicar here. Gringley-on-the-Hill also hosted James Brewster as vicar. John Robinson preached at West Burton, near Sturton-le-Steeple, as well as South Leverton and Treswell. John Clyfton, Richard’s brother, was a church warden at Everton. 
Why did these people, the Separatists, decide to leave?
There are a variety of reasons why the Separatists left England.
They believed God sent signs that he was not pleased. 33,000 people died of the plague in London in 1603. The plague was thought to be a punishment from God by people at that time. High numbers of deaths were recorded in North Nottinghamshire during this period as well. At Sutton-cum-Lound there were 31 burials in 1602, twice that of the year before. In Mattersey, near Scrooby, 14 died in 1603, but only two and four in the years before. People believed that deaths like these were signs from God and that they should repent their sins and try to live more ‘godly’ lives. 
This was also a hard time for rural workers. There were about four million people in England in 1600. About 80 percent lived in villages, and looked after livestock or crops. Around this time, landlords started to enclose their lands, which had a massive effect on labourers. It has been estimated that about half of these people in rural areas lost their land between 1530 and 1630. Pressures on land and falling wages made rural life very difficult. 
It could not have been an easy decision to leave. These people left their homes, their jobs, the lands that they knew, and the Church. But they had gradually grown apart from their local communities until they felt it was too difficult for them to stay.
Bradford became very sure of his religious beliefs, but they were very different to those around him:
‘Nor could the Wrath of his Uncles, nor the Scoff of his Neighbours now turn’d upon him … divert him from his Pious Inclinations.’ 
Living a life that was different to most other people made them a target, and became increasingly dangerous:
‘… they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted and persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched day and night, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were fain to flee and leave their houses and habitations, and the means of their livelihood.’
Their religious beliefs were so fundamental to them that they could not bear to live according to the will of the King, James I, or his Church. They really wanted to live somewhere where their beliefs would be tolerated. Because they believed so strongly in how they practised their religion and were unwilling to change, as we look back at their story we can also see how they themselves were not always very tolerant of other religious groups or cultures and their beliefs, including the Native Americans.
Why was religious rebellion so prominent and prevalent in this part of Nottinghamshire?
It is difficult to know why exactly these events occurred as they did over four hundred years ago. One theory is that this area was in a unique situation in relation to church jurisdiction and boundaries. This area was part of the diocese of York, but was bordered on three sides by counties coming under the authority of the diocese of Canterbury. It was possible for people here to act with some degree of autonomy.  In other words, they could get away with things more easily than people living in larger towns or cities, or closer to larger churches and cathedrals.
Those, like Brewster, who had travelled and were well-connected met up and discussed things, and agreed (and sometimes disagreed) about how they should act to change their lives. Brewster had been to Cambridge and had lived in Holland before he decided to move there. Amsterdam, where they landed, was an incredibly important city at this time, for trade and for travel. Lots of different people lived there and travelled through there; it was a northern European hub. Before this, southern Europe had been powerful and influential, but as wealth grew through transatlantic trade in port cities in the north, like Amsterdam, there was a shift in the balance of power from the south to the north. The Separatists travelling on the Mayflower were a small group, but they were part of this much bigger picture. 
How come people want to know about the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims?
In the 1950s, a local vicar, called Rev. Edmund Jessup, became interested in the story of these people who had left his Church, at Babworth, over three centuries previously. He wrote about the story and told people in North Nottinghamshire about how important it was. Since then, lots of different people have told the story in their communities, and wondered about the lives of these people as they left their homes and travelled on a ship across an ocean without really knowing what awaited them.
People have come from all over the world to visit the churches and the villages associated with the Mayflower Pilgrims. Americans who are descended from these first Plymouth colonists like to visit the roots of their families, which go back twelve or thirteen generations. Christians are interested in the story because of how important faith was in the lives of the Pilgrims. Groups like these have been visiting North Nottinghamshire for over a century now. Local people and local churches value the connection this gives them with other places, connected by a story that happened so long ago.
How is the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims remembered in North Nottinghamshire today?
Many of the sites associated with the Separatists are marked and commemorated. There are memorials in the churches, and at Scrooby Manor. Mayflower descendants’ groups and church groups have made their own pilgrimages to sites that are special to them, often making donations and recording their visits with plaques.
A Mayflower Trail guides interested visitors around the villages, and the Separatists’ history is explored at Bassetlaw Museum in Retford.
Commemorations of the story took place for the last centenary, in 1920, and for the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage, in 1970. On this occasion, local people declared how much they valued their American connection:
‘It is our earnest desire, that with the passing of the years, that the bond between us may grow ever stronger and be productive of an ever closer mutual regard and understanding’ 
As we approach 2020, people in North Nottinghamshire will once again be joining in with others from around the world, to share in this, their transatlantic heritage.
There are lots of different interpretations of the Mayflower story, including the details about the lives of its passengers before they made their transatlantic voyage.
Charles Edward Banks wrote in 1929 that:
‘The Pilgrims were of the yeomen class and came from the cottages, not from the manor house of England’.
He described them as:
‘plain sons and daughters of the field and the loom’. 
Banks was keen to portray the Mayflower Pilgrims as rural, simple folk, but some of the historical evidence suggests otherwise. Brewster had an important position in Scrooby working for the Archbishop, and before that he had worked for a diplomat in Holland. Brewster, Smith, and Robinson all went to Cambridge University, and came across many influential people and ideas there. It isn’t likely that all of the Mayflower Pilgrims were as well travelled as Brewster, but they were certainly driven to travel across the world.
The stories about the Pilgrims have become so famous that they have turned into legends, not unlike that other famous story from Nottinghamshire, Robin Hood.
It is often said that North Nottinghamshire is the birthplace of the USA. This is because the Mayflower Pilgrims devised and signed a social contract, an agreement amongst themselves, when they reached America. They were in a vulnerable position because they had drifted off their planned course, and some of the men wanted everyone to agree on how they should proceed. Many years later, John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president and son of President John Adams (one of the nation’s founders), declared that this was the forerunner of ideas expressed in the Constitution of the United States of America.  Such praise a long time after the event contributed to making this story of a single ship, out of many making that transatlantic voyage, so important. It became a founding story for the new nation of the United States of America.
Mayflower 400 in North Nottinghamshire
North Nottinghamshire played an important role in the story of the people who travelled on the Mayflower in 1620.
The churches where these people were baptised welcome visitors today, as do the villages and towns where they lived. Often these were the same churches where their spiritual leaders preached, ultimately breaking Church Law. Today they can give us a glimpse into their lives.
The rural landscape of North Nottinghamshire was the backdrop for these peoples’ lives and their livelihoods.
People living in North Nottinghamshire today are coming together to tell their story. They will be taking part in local, national and international commemorations of what happened four centuries ago, as these English men, women, and children set out on a journey to the other side of their world.
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References in the text:
 According to Willison, 1983, 437.
 According to Willison, 1983, 437.
 Stratton, 1986, 249, cites Browne in NEHGR 83: 439, 84:5.
 Stratton (1986, 251) speculates on Brewster’s dates of birth/death.
 Banks, 1962, 35-36.
 Stratton, 1986, 251; Bunker, 2010, 100.
 Stratton, 1986, 250-251: her father was possibly Thomas Wentworth (citing Burgess, 1920, 80); Tammel, 1989, 297.
 Stratton, 1986, 405; Tammel, 1989, 297.
 Stratton, 1986, 250: born 12 August 1593; Tammel, 1989, 299-301.
 Mather, 1702, Book II, 3.
 Mather, 1702, Book II, 3.
 After Anderson’s transcription, 2003.
 Stratton, 1986, 405: ‘Kathrine’; 259: cites Ford on her death – see ‘John Carver’; Tammel, 1989, 297.
 Stratton, 1986, 270; Tammel, 1989, 297.
 Bradford, 1981, 9.
 Mather, 1702, Book II, 3.
 Bangs, 2009, 26-27.
 Tammel, 1989, 308.
 Tammel, 1989, 309.
 Stratton, 1986, 344-345.
 Bangs, 2009, 24, f40.
 Bradford, 1981, 9.
 Bangs, 2009, 38; Bunker, 2010, 102-103.
 Tammel, 1989, 306-309, 337.
 Harris et al, 1922.
 University of Nottingham Presentment Bill AN/PB 292/7/46, 1598.
 Bangs, 2009, 15: the Millenary Petition (1603), citing Gee and Hardy, 1896, and Jordan, 1936.
 Bangs, 2009, 18-20; citing Barlow’s history published in Cardwell, in Porter.
 Bangs, 2009, 10-12: Barrow, Greenwood, and Penry.
 Bradford, 1981, 8.
 Bangs, 2009, 31.
 Bangs, 2009, 29, 31.
 Bangs, 2009, 23.
 Bangs, 2009, 23-27; see also Marcombe, 1993, 184-5.
 Bangs, 2009, 5, f.7.
 Taylor, 2001, 120.
 Mather, 1702, Book II, 3.
 Bradford, 1981, 9.
 Jennings, 1999.
 See Greengrass, 2014.
 Austerfield Church plaque, 1970.
 Banks, 1962 , x.
 Bangs, 2009, vii.