2020 is the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower across he Atlantic. English Separatists founded Puritan New England, setting up America's first godly colony, Plymouth Plantation. Although preceeded by Virginia and quickly overshadowed by Massachussetts, it would be Plymouth that captured the American imagination in the later nineteenth century. Both the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 and the so-called 'First Thanksgiving' of 1621 would be incorporated into the creation myth of modern America.
The trasatlantic migration of the Pilgrims was the result of anoher spiritual migration -before they left Europe, they had left the Church of England. Persecuted in the East Midlands, the Separatists had fled to the Protestant Netherlands for refuge, before sailing for America. In the reign of James I, this made them an oddity, but over the next two generations, hundreds of thousands of others would make this spiritual pilgrimage too.
Professor John Coffey looks at what motivated the Pilgrims and exiles of 1620 at a time when leaving the Church of England was quite exceptional even for Puritans.
About the author
John Coffey is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester. He has a particular interest in the rich and complex history of Protestantism in Britain and America and his most recent edition volume is The Oxford History of Protestant Dissenting Traditions, Volume I: The Post-Reformation Era, 1559-1689 (2020). He was part of a team which published a five-volume critical edition.