Scrooby, England – Late 1500’s

“We follow the rules laid out in the Bible for running our church.” 

William Brewster
(via BrainyQuote)

Apparently my great-great-great something grandparents were expelled from St. Wilfrid in Scrooby because they defied the laws of the land at the time by not worshiping in this Anglican parish. They worshiped instead with the trouble-makers of their day – the Separatists. 

Most people pick up the Pilgrim story with the arrival of the Mayflower in Cape Cod in 1620. They pretty much drop the story after what is widely claimed to be the first Thanksgiving. The version passed down to has been greatly edited and starts much earlier than 1620.

The Separatist story actually goes back a century earlier to what Martin Luther was doing in Germany. During 2017 his efforts are being widely celebrated as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. October 31, 1517 was the day Martin posted his 95 discussion points on the town public bulletin board, which was also the Wittenberg church door. That sparked generations of change throughout Europe.

England was as much influenced by those changes as anywhere. One of the people who got caught up in the story is my great, great, etc. grandfather – Elder William Brewster. He was part of the Separatist movement in the small village of Scrooby in northern England. His father served as the bailiff of the Archbishop of York’s estates and postmaster for the Queens posts from 1590 to 1595. William attended Cambridge University, which at that time was overflowing with religious and radical ideas, sparked by Luther’s efforts to reform the Holy Catholic church. After Cambridge young William served under William Davidson, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth I. He was also her representative in the Netherlands in 1585. Brewster went there with Davidson.

Upon the death of his father in 1590, Brewster returned home to Scrooby and was appointed Master of the Postes. Between the stimulation of Cambridge University and time spent in the tolerant Netherlands, he had what we might consider a conversion experience. Brewster became a member of the Gainsborough Separatist church, led by John Smyth. Smyth wasn’t an ordained preacher. Parliament only allowed ordained priests to preach. Separatists were therefore forbidden to hold their own services.

Try to make this stick in today’s world – the 1559 English Act of Uniformity made it illegal not to attend an Anglican church. The Separatists most likely met, as secretly as they could, in the home of Smyth.

Sources: and Pilgrim: A Biography of William Brewster by Mary B. Sherwood (Great Oak Press of Virginia, Falls Church, Virginia)

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