Pilgrims

Who we call pilgrims today were actually Puritans.

The image of Thanksgiving many Americans hold from childhood is of two groups of people eating together. One group is dressed in clothes of leather and feathers. The other group wears black. It’s the Indians and the Pilgrims.

Through the years, the term Indian has been set aside for Native Americans.

And the term Pilgrim should be reconsidered when speaking of those early Europeans coming to the Americas.

The generic word pilgrim means a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons.

However, that early group of settlers originally would have been called Puritans.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, many people were unhappy with the Church of England. They wanted to purify the church, reforming it by strictly following the Bible, which they felt was the law of God and the only law for governing the church. They sought to be like the followers of John Wycliffe and John Calvin, eliminating traces of Catholicism in their church.

They wanted fewer, but more personal rituals. Grace, devotion, prayer and self-examination were basic beliefs. Some believed each congregation should rule its own matters, not a structure of bishops.

The Puritans started in the 1570s at Cambridge University. Most of the time they were not a welcome group, but around the English Civil War (1643-1660) they did temporarily gain some influence.

Through the years, many Puritans conformed to the established church.

In the late 1500s, some Puritans split from the Church of England and became Separatists. They were convinced the changes they sought were impossible.

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Some groups, both Separatists and non-Separatists, decided to head to America, founding four "Holy Commonwealths" in New England: Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut and New Haven.

Puritan became the term to describe the moral ethic that guides many in America and Britain.

The name Pilgrims was given to the Separatists who in 1620 founded the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, the first permanent colony in New England. Pilgrim comes from the writings of Gov. William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth, discovered two centuries after their arrival.

In his paper, Bradford refers to the group that left Holland as "pilgrimes." Then in 1820, Daniel Webster used the term Pilgrim Fathers, and the usage became common.

The group originated at Scrooby, England, and moved to Holland to escape persecution.

While in Holland they were unable to work in skilled jobs and became concerned about how their children were growing up with Dutch customs. They couldn't purchase land, and war broke out so they looked to the new land, America.

A group of British businessmen was convinced to finance their way to America where the Pilgrims hoped to start a life where they were free to worship as they wanted.

In September 1620, 41 members of the group in Holland sailed on the Mayflower along with 61 other Britons. In November 1620, they arrived in Massachusetts and, in the next few years, prospered despite hardships.

Once in America, the two groups, Separatists and Puritans, cooperated, accepting a form of church government where each congregation was independent, so by the time of the American Revolution in 1776, both groups were known as Congregationalists.

Sources: The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, Keith Crim, editor; The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith, editor; World Book; britannica.com

Facets of Faith runs every other Saturday in Living. Reach Leila Pitchford at lpitchford@theadvocate.com.