Mayflower’s Leiden Connection

Mayflower, the Netherlands and Leiden.

In 2020 the Netherlands, England and the United States are commemorating that 400 years ago a group of English religious refugees, after twelve years of voluntary exile in Leiden, left for North America where they founded Plymouth Colony. The influence of this event has assumed mythical proportions over time. Although not the first or most successful settlers, these English-speaking Protestants have gone down in history under the name Pilgrims as founders of America. During the international commemoration of 2020 the Pilgrim story will be retold and examined from all sorts of perspectives.

Refuge in Leiden
On 12 February 1609 the city government of Leiden granted 100 English religious refugees permission to settle in Leiden. In 1620 a group of these radical refugees left for America as Pilgrims and founded Plymouth Colony there. Most of the roughly hundred Pilgrims who found refuge in Leiden had previously lived off small-scale agriculture in England. Upon arrival in Leiden, they could immediately start working in the city’s textile industry – among the largest in Europe at the time.

A colony of their own
Most Pilgrims had little trouble integrating into this dynamic, multicultural society, and as a result their leaders feared that the group would eventually lose its religious and cultural identity. The establishment of a private colony to which they could retreat and where they could sustain their pure faith community became an increasingly enticing solution. Moreover it was economically attractive for many to leave the arduous textile industry, and build up a new life and home by cultivating new lands in North America.