Religious Dissidents and Merchant Adventurers were the two themes that caught my eye as I prepared today’s Morning Feature. The surprising way they blended together provides the back story for Thanksgiving, our Nation’s third most popular holiday. (More)

Pilgrims: Religious Dissidents

We start our first back story, the religious one, in 1377 in Fylingham England about 150 miles north of London where the reformation activities of John Wycliffe effectively began as leader of the Lollard movement. (Many individuals start in 1517 with Martin Luther All Saints’ Church, also known as “Castle Church” in Wittenberg). Theologically, Wycliffe’s preaching included a strong belief in predestination. This enabled him to believe in the “invisible” church of the elect, made up of predestined to be saved, rather than in the “visible” church of Rome. Another approach to the religious back story starts with King Henry VIII who reigned from 1509 till 1547, continues with Edward VI, backtracks with Mary, and restarts with Elizabeth. The latter approach emphasizes the Netherland ministry. Freedom of Religion was established in The Union of Utrecht, January 20, 1579 as part of the struggle between the Northern Netherlands and Spain. While this primarily helped the Calvinists it created a safe haven for protestant congregations that wished to flee their home country. Robert Browne’s congregation fled to Holland. in 1582. Robert Browne is noted because of the reputation he received from writing treatise or “New Years guift.” The Treatise is short and easy to read but it addresses the concerns of the century. Our take away is Robert Browne’s key idea:

Justifying a state Church by the need for discipline is not Christian. This includes Ministries who maintain discipline by extremities, cruelty, violence, force and civil penalties and never by leniency, gentleness, patience, mercy, kindness and charity. The discipline of the Ministers is maintained by the people who will fall away from those who do not follow Christ’s word.

We continue the religious thread with William Brewster who sailed on the Mayflower. William Brewster’s father, also William Brewster, was the postmaster and Bailiff at Scrooby Manor. Young William was born in 1566 and grew up at Scrooby Manor. Brewster went off to Cambridge to study Greek and Latin. He then left to become secretary for William Davison. Davison was a diplomat who represented Queen Elizabeth in the Netherlands in 1585. The next year Davison was appointed assistant to Secretary of State Francis Walsingham. Brewster’s diplomatic career ended when Davison was blamed by Queen Elizabeth for the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots.

When Brewster returned to Scrooby Manor from London in 1587 he followed in his fathers foot steps. He first worshiped with Richard Clyfton, parson at All Saints’ Parish Church in nearby Babworth. Having been favorably impressed by Clyfton’s services, he begun participating in Separatist services led by John Smyth in Gainsborough. In 1602 Scrooby Manor, became the meeting place. In 1606, the Separatist Church of Scrooby gathered and on 30th September 1607, he resigned a Bailiff and Postmaster as the Church members joined the protestant migration to the Netherlands.

Projectors: Merchant Adventurers

Our second back story is the secular one. Thomas Weston was an English “projector.” Projectors were men who constantly promoted schemes to the Court and wealthy backers to enhance the nations security or economy. He can be considered the reason the Pilgrims became an English Colony. When he heard that the Congregation in Leyden wished to relocate he saw an opportunity. The scene had been set. Captain John Smith had published “A Description of New England,” and the Separatists had inquired concerning establishing a Religious Colony in the new world and been refused. The projector Thomas Weston, just happened to have a Charter for a settlement in Virginia granted by the London Company in February 1620. The Dutch offered the Separatists free shipping if they would emigrate to New Amsterdam. Weston countered a Dutch offer with an offer to join in a stock company for their trip. This was a better offer then even the Virginia Company offered.

Weston drew an agreement with the Separatists that provided the settlers with the houses they built and that required them to work for the Company only five days a week. Weston then went to London and negotiated with the backers who took the name the Merchant Adventurers. The budget was 5000 pounds split 1700 pounds from the Separatists and 3300 pounds from the Merchant Adventurers. Each investor received a share for every ten pounds invested. Each settler received one share for himself and one for each member of his household over sixteen. Each child of ten to sixteen was valued at half a share. Those under ten were valued at fifty acres. The agreement was to last seven years. Profits were to be credited to the company and expenses for meat, drink, apparel and provisions were to be paid by the company. At the end of the seven years the capital and profits were to be divided among the share holders. The Merchant Adventurers did not agree to building permanent houses for the travelers. They though temporary group housing was sufficient. The profits were to come from fishing, furs and timber. The Speedwell was purchased as a fishing vessel.

The religious pilgrimage thus became entwined with the merchants seeking empire and, with a few loose ends the, Mayflower sailed without the Speedwell on September 6, 1620.

There were 102 passengers including 32 children, Brewster, his wife, and Bedford from the Scrooby congregation, 37 additional members from the Church in Leyden. Fifty seven settlers had been attracted by the Merchant Adventurers including fifteen indentured servants and five orphans. Four fisherman and a cooper were hired to support the income producing fishing that was planned.

These two stories melded into one as Plymouth and the colonies that followed melded the democratic governance of the religious parish with the stockholder governance of the charter company.

I hope that this look at two back stories help your understanding of the complex heritage that the early settlers brought to the new World. Harvest Home Festivals and Thanksgiving Days are a time to celebrate every building block of our new nation.

Tomorrow, I will give my thanks to the Pilgrims, the Projectors, and the many others who have made us one, E Pluribus Unum.