On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower left the shores of England, sailing west, hoping for religious freedom. Their destination was northern Virginia, a region which reached as far north as the Hudson River. While the Pilgrims did arrive in the New World on November 6, their journey was a difficult one, not unlike what they had endured in England and Europe.
The Pilgrims were part of a Protestant group in England known as Separatists. This was a group of people who had belonged to the Church of England, and, not wanting to break away from the church, called for the “purification” of religious practices within the church itself. The purification of the church involved its worship, its leadership, and its doctrine.
Eventually, though, the Puritans tired of the lack of reform. Queen Elizabeth was not sympathetic to these people, and she wanted them to conform to the Church of England. Many were prosecuted and persecuted, and the result was the formation of another group – the Separatists.
The Separatists broke away from the church completely and formed their own congregations. This action was based on two principles: the authority and right interpretation of the Bible, and the desire for separation of church and state. These were principles that were new to the English religious sphere, and they were the germ that later formed in Baptists in the New World. Needless to say, the government was quite intolerant of this group. To escape extreme persecution, its members fled to Holland, where they could practice their beliefs freely.
After a period of stay, the Separatists felt the need to leave Holland. The group decided to return to England, and then, from there, they would sail immediately to the New World. They spent over a month on board the Speedwell, and the the group arrived in England to repair their ship and join up with the Mayflower. After supplying the ships, they set sail for America, but after sailing approximately 300 miles into the Atlantic, both ships were forced to return to England because the Speedwell continued to take on water. It was there that over 100 people crowded onto the Mayflower, and once again, set sail for America.
The trip would take over 66 days. On board were two elders from the Separatist church – William Bradford and William Brewster – both of whom had been appointed by their pastor – to lead the group to settle in the New World. These men would lead the group across the ocean, a trip that experienced one death, a birth, illness, and near-mutiny.
Once they arrived, the group created a covenant document that would be the inspiration for the Constitution, a document that would allow the Separatists to govern themselves with authority and with religious morality. Known as the Mayflower Compact, it says,
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.
The voyage of the Mayflower was an intensely significant event in the history of America, for in it we see the roots of Baptists in America as well as the foundation for self-government. On this day, in 1620, religious and civil history as felt in our lives today, sailed from a harbor in Plymouth, England.