In 1609 Leiden – just 30 miles south of Amsterdam – events occurred that would reshape the world forever, including the birth of the artist Rembrandt and the arrival of Pilgrims from England in search of religious freedom.   Although Shakespeare was thriving back home, religious tolerance was not. 

When the Pilgrims sailed for the New World in 1620, their eleven years in Leiden left an  indelible mark on their beings.  Core values of tolerance and academic excellence would travel with them to the New World.

The Dutch ruled the seas in the early 17th century, and the Netherlands was a center of Renaissance learning and tolerance.  It was the Age of Discovery and Amsterdam provided a global center of gravity, with Leiden in its orbit. The Pilgrims were drawn to that nexus and eventually spun out into their own universe.   While not the first or perhaps most successful European settlers, the English-speaking Protestants known as Pilgrims with roots in Leiden have gone down in history as founders of America. 

Back Story
On 12 February 1609 the city government of Leiden granted 100 English religious refugees permission to settle in Leiden.   Eleven year later a group of these radical refugees left for America as Pilgrims and founded Plymouth Colony in today’s Massachusetts.  Most of the roughly hundred Pilgrims who found refuge in Leiden had previously lived off small-scale agriculture in England.  Leiden was different.  Upon arrival, they could immediately start working in the city’s textile industry – among the largest in Europe at the time.

The majority of Pilgrims had little trouble integrating into Leiden’s dynamic, non-agrarian multicultural society.  But while many may have considered this a good thing, their leaders feared that these English Pilgrims would eventually lose their special religious and cultural identity.

The idea of establishing of a private colony in a New World – a place where they could live freely without the dictates of English Crown or the pull of Leiden’s free spirit – a place to which they could retreat and sustain their pure faith community,  became an increasingly attractive idea.

Moreover it was economically appealing for those who wanted to leave Leiden’s arduous textile industry, and build a new life and new home in a New World, America.  They knew of England’s colony in Jamestown, Virginia, and this fueled their dreams and shaped their travel plans. 

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