Why did the Pilgrims and Puritans leave Europe for the Americas?

1 Answer
Nov 30, 2016

Freedom of religion


But you must separate one from the other. During the latter half of the 16th Century and the beginning of the 17th there were several movements in England to reform the Church of England. But Queen Elizabeth I, King James I and King Charles I, as head of the church, would have none of it. And as time wore on, the Kings moved to prosecute and jail those who disagreed with the dictates of the Church of England.

Both the Puritan group and what we know as the "Pilgrims" believed the Church of England to be too "Papist." They felt the Church of Rome was still extending its influence. And this is where the Puritans take their name, the desired to "purify" the church from any and all of its Papist tendencies. They desired to do this from within the Church, meaning, they would do their best to remain in good standing while trying to effect changes.

The "Pilgrims" are more correctly called "separatists." It was their belief that the Church was incapable of change and it was their desire to separate into an entirely new religion. But such a move, in those days, was not legal according to the reigning monarch. Their leader, the outspoken John Brewster, had a price on his head and all his followers were subject to being jailed.

The separatists quickly moved out of England to Holland where they were, for a short while, taken in as guests of the state. But they did not desire to stay in Holland, where Lutheranism was practiced. They could not go back to England but by 1619 the Virginia Colony was well-known in England and Europe.

The Pilgrims paid off a few government officials and hired two ships, the Mayflower and Speedwell to take them to Virginia. It is suspected that the King knew full well of the Pilgrim's plans but because they were leaving his country forever, he declined to interfere. There were roughly 200 of them about the ships when the Speedwell's main beam fractured at sea and could not make the voyage.

The exact reason the Pilgrims did not make it to Virginia is unknown but it is suspected the Mayflower's captain was paid to deliver them to the Plymouth colony.

In each case, the Pilgrims first, 1620, and the Puritans later, 1630, the small group set up their own church to their own liking. The Puritans morphed into the Congregationalists and the Unitarians while the Pilgrims became the American Friends (Quakers).