The Mayflower Ship Celebrates 400 Years


Family History Connections between England, Holland and America

Article by Glynn Burrows


On this episode of Big Blend Radio’s 3rd Friday Way Back When Family History show, family history experts Holly T. Hansen and Glynn Burrows discuss the historic Mayflower, an English merchant ship that transported the first English Puritans (Pilgrims) from Plymouth, England to the New World in 1620. 


There is much written about the arrival and subsequent settlement of the people on board The Mayflower but I visited several of the places connected with them this year and found out about their lives before they set off.

The Pilgrims had three offers of sponsorship from companies in America, as they were desperate, needing workers in the colonies. The opportunity wasn’t as good as it could have been as it amounted to slavery for The Pilgrims. They left their homes in July 1620, deeply in debt to the Merchant Adventurers Company, who had been responsible for financing the group, at a high-interest rate and due to be repaid within seven years.

The Pilgrims set sail from Leiden in Holland, aboard the Speedwell, a small ship intended to be part of a fishing fleet in America, but the vessel proved to be unfit for the long journey and, after two false starts, The Mayflower set out from Plymouth alone, leaving The Speedwell and twenty passengers behind.

Little did the group on board that ship, which sailed out of Plymouth on 6th September 1620, know just how important they and their journey would become and how they would be remembered four hundred years later.

So, who were some of these people and where did they come from?

William Bradford was born in Austerfield and, with a very turbulent childhood, losing his father, moving in with his grandfather who died two years later, moving back with his mother who had remarried, losing his mother soon after and then being placed with his uncles. Bradford was a sickly child and, as he couldn’t work on the family farm, he studied the Bible and other intellectual writings, becoming interested in the separatist movement at a very early age.

By the time he was twelve years old, he was already going to meetings and mixing with others in the movement, later becoming friendly with William Brewster from nearby Scrooby joining in with secret, illegal meetings. Several of the attendees were imprisoned, some fined and others were kept under close watch.

In 1608 many of the Scrooby congregation escaped persecution and fled to Leiden in Holland and Bradford was among them. After turning 21, he received his inheritance, set up business and in 1613 married Dorothy May, who was originally from Wisbech.


William Brewster was from Scrooby and had studied in Cambridge. He worked in the Netherlands in the late C16th and returned to Scrooby in 1590, later using his home as a meeting house for puritan ministers before organising the move to Holland in 1608. (After the unsuccessful attempt in 1607.) By 1620, Brewster was in hiding, after several run-ins with the Dutch and English authorities and joined the group to sail to the new world aboard the Mayflower.

Gainsborough Old Hall.  William Hickman and his mother, Rose, who owned the Old Hall from 1596, were outside the norm when it came to their religious beliefs.

William and Rose were Puritans in the firmly protestant England of Queen Elizabeth I, but they were unhappy within the Church of England. The English Church was considered by many as still too Catholic in practice and as Puritans, they wished to reform it. They became sympathetic to the more radical “Separatists” – a group of dissenters who were considered to be enemies of the Crown. Separatists formed covert networks to worship in secret and to help those trying to flee the country to escape fines, prison or worse.

Allowing the Separatist congregation to worship in secret was a very dangerous thing to do and meetings are believed to have taken place in the Old Hall.

Although leaving England without permission was illegal at the time, both the Gainsborough and Scrooby congregations decided to flee religious persecution and head to Holland in search of a place to worship freely

Further south, I visited Fenstanton, the home of John Howland and Henlow, the home of Elizabeth Tilley and her parents, as well as Henry Samson.

There are lots of other places to visit in the UK, which are connected to the passengers of the Mayflower and most of them have information, memorials, and writings about their famous natives. Some places will even have relatives of the families concerned, so, if your ancestors came on the Mayflower, you may even find some cousins too.

I am looking at arranging a coach tour of some of the places connected to this great ship and, if anyone is interested in joining this great trip, please do contact me as soon as possible.

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit

By Holly T. Hansen, founder of

Commemorating 400 years of shared history beginning in the UK, see:

400th anniversary of the Mayflower in the U.S., see:    

The Great Migration Study Project: By 1642, some 20,000 settlers had arrived in the New England area. The Great Migration Project identifies many of these settlers for the first time and traces them to their origins in England and other parts of the British Isles. Combined research of many expert genealogists is fueling this project, so that all early settlers will be included. This is one of the most important immigrant projects ever conceived. For full details and updates visit the New England Historic Genealogical Society website. You will be able to keep up on new discoveries and publications connected to the project. The project’s published works contain thousands of sketches, many of which are also included in Great Migration databases, available to NEHGS members. They are necessary resources for any genealogist, historian, or descendant with early New England interests and connections. See:

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