I knew little about this remarkable woman until I started researching the Brewsters and their role in the Mayflower story for Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures. She has been largely ignored by those who have researched in great detail the life of her more famous husband, Elder William Brewster. Toward the end of the second decade of the 17th century, he and other exiled English Separatists living in the more tolerant Netherlands, made the daring decision to set forth on a trans-Atlantic voyage to establish a place of their own in North America.
A 17th-century wife had essentially only two choices. She could go along with her husband’s plans willingly or begrudgingly. Mary Brewster chose love over resentment, though her husband’s commitment to take this enormous risk put her and their children in danger on several occasions. It meant leaving a relatively secure and comfortable life in tranquil rural northern England to join the ranks of the desperate refugees, fleeing for safety across the North Sea.
Counting the Cost
Thinking the worse of her troubles were behind her, she settled into a new daily routine along the canals of the beautiful Leiden, just south of Amsterdam All went well for a while. Her family grew by two additional sons. She was surrounded by women who made daily chores pleasant as they did them together. William occupied himself with reading and teaching English to international students at the new Leiden University. Their faith community grew and thrived under the capable leadership of Pastor John Robinson.
Then William started a publishing business. He decided to veer away from his original intent to translate various religious-themed books into English. Instead, he ventured into something much more bold, and ultimately life-threatening. He not only published and illegally smuggled into England books critical of King James. Mary became essentially a single mother whose husband stayed out of sight and out of her reach as he spent a year dodging the king’s men determined to find him and return him to England to face the consequences.
Excerpt from Mary Brewster’s Love Live
William managed to avoid capture. The Separatists found financial backing for their trip. After two failed efforts to leave, the Mayflower at last set sail in September 1620. After months away from land, they finally heard two wonderful words. Enjoy this excerpt from Mary’s story about that moment:
Then I heard a sailor from high up on the mast call out two of the most glorious words I ever heard. “Land Ho! Land on the horizon! Land Ho!”
“Land!” A spontaneous cry of delight erupted everywhere, all over the ship. A chorus of cheers and laughter sounded out as we repeated land again and again. It was as sweet a sound as I ever heard. The younger folks even grabbed one another with hooked elbows and began dancing! It was a sight I shall never forget. I had not sufficiently appreciated what a blessing it is to have solid ground beneath me. I was oddly surprised that the sailors seemed as thrilled to sight land as we landlubbers were. I suppose the near sinking of the ship from the broken beam in that massive storm had them all wanting a respite from the ocean.
Many of us were already on the upper deck preparing for what bit of dignity we could offer the Button boy. His corpse was already wrapped in a sheet and at rest on the board, balanced on the edge of the rail. Master Jones insisted it was his place to say something over the body before releasing it to the sea.
In all the commotion and excitement someone, whether on purpose or not, pushed the recently departed Button lad over the rail to his final resting place. When I heard about it, I was stunned. Such a sad life for the little boy, to die so far away from family and so close to our destination. He should have had a proper burial. But what was done was done. William quietly offered a prayer of commendation for the dead once Master Jones turned to tend to other matters. He did not want to incur any more of the crusty man’s wrath.
We continued slowly sailing toward the coast.
I strained to see land for myself, but all I saw was darkness gradually pushing the last of the daylight over the horizon, out of sight. Waves slapped against the ship and the sound made my eyelids grow heavy. By the time the first stars peeked through the clouds my longing for sleep overcame my eagerness to see land.
That night we all went to sleep dreaming of waking up to the sight of a coastline.
Thank you for joining our growing online community. If you appreciated this post, share it with one or more of your friends. Or, sign up for your own FREE subscription.
Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures: available wherever books are sold.
Bookshop.org (Support local Bookshops)
Autographed copies are available from my website.
The companion story told from the perspective of one of the four women to survive the first winter will be available soon in print and eBook.