Lincolnshire’s Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrim Fathers, the first settlers to form a permanent colony in New England, 1620, have several connections to Lincolnshire.

In the 17th-century, religion was controlled by the King and the state. Not conforming to the state religion of the Church of England (CofE) at the time was treasonous. A group of Puritans (seeking to purify the perceived corruption of the CofE) began worshiping in secret and became known as Separatists. It would be from these Separatists that the Pilgrim Fathers would form.

At the start of the early 1600s, a small congregation of Separatists formed in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, as well as another group in Scrooby, in nearby Nottinghamshire. The owners of Gainsborough Old Hall, William Hickman and his mother Rose, aligned with the Separatists and allowed their hall to be used as a meeting place for secret worship.

Gainsborough Old Hall and the church at Gainsborough became the hub for John Smyth, a preacher from Lincoln, and his followers. He grew congregation of some 70 Separatists from the surrounding area – with some travelling from miles away.  The congregation split and those on the west of the River Trent met under the care of Richard Clifton at Babworth and later with William Brewster at Scrooby Manor.


Gainsborough Old Hall

First Attempt To Flee

In 1607, fearing persecution or worse, both congregations decided to flee to tolerant Holland in order to have freedom of religion. However, the law at the time, made it illegal for people in England leave for such a purpose.

The night they were due to leave for Holland from a port at Boston, on Lincolnshire’s east coast, part of the Scrooby group were betrayed by the ship’s captain and ultimately captured, before they could set sail. They were both stripped of their possessions and paraded in front of Boston’s town folk as religious dissenters.

The Separatists were imprisoned in Boston Guildhall, where the cells still exist and plaque commemorates their incarceration. After a month most of the group were released, but the ringleaders were sent to a higher court for further punishment – this was most likely the Assizes Court at Lincoln Castle.

Second Attempt To Flee

A year later, in 1608, the Separatists reformed for a second attempt and were successful. They set sail from Immingham Creek, North Lincolnshire, on the riverbank of the Humber Estuary. Landing in Amsterdam and travelling to Leiden, Holland, the Separatists expanded with other like-minded people to form a small community.

Despite being outside of England, the Separatists’ small community was not, however, out of the reach of the English authorities who called for their arrest. Fearing a far worse fate if they were returned to England, the Separatists decided their odds were better if they risked the life-threatening journey to seek a both a new life and religious freedom in the New World.

The Separatists eventually set sail from Plymouth, Devon, in September, 1620, aboard the Mayflower – landing on 9 November at Cape Cod in New England. Edward Winslow, a passenger on the Mayflower, wrote the book Good News from New-England, published in 1624 – a copy can today be found at Lincoln Cathedral.

How The Pilgrim Fathers Got Their Name

These first Separatist settlers, initially referred to as the Old Comers and later as the Forefathers, did not become known as the Pilgrim Fathers until two centuries after their arrival. It was in 1820, that the orator Daniel Webster used the phrase Pilgrim Fathers as a reference to the Separatists calling themselves ‘pilgrims’, and the term became common usage thereafter.

Boston Memorial

The Boston Memorial is located on the north bank of The Haven at the site of the former Scotia Creek, Fishtoft, seaward of Boston in Lincolnshire, England, and consists of a small granite obelisk mounted on a granite block. It commemorates the attempt at finding religious freedom in September, 1607 by the Scrooby Congregation.


Boston Memorial

Immingham Memorial

The Immingham Memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers is off Church Lane, south of St Andrews Church. An inscription on the base reads:

“From this creek the Pilgrim Fathers first left England in 1608 in search of religious liberty. The granite top stone was taken from Plymouth Rock Mass and presented by the Sulgrave Institution of USA. This memorial was erected by the Anglo-American Society of Hull 1924.”

Immingham Memorial

Immingham Memorial

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