History Book – The Pilgrims set sail


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, the third day of August, 2020. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we are so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

Today, we check back in with the pilgrims on the next leg of their journey 400 years ago to the Americas. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: In the summer of 1620, about 100 separatists left Holland for England. Their small ship the Speedwell was to meet up with the larger Mayflower. Together, the two vessels would then head for the Americas to begin a chartered colony on behalf of King James. 

During the short voyage from Delfshaven to Southampton, the Speedwell springs a leak. Once in England, it takes crews nearly a week to fix the problem. The Pilgrims’ pastor, John Robinson, had stayed behind in Holland with the rest of the church. He sends a farewell letter to be read aloud before they set out. 

ROBINSON: Though I be constrained for a while to be bodily absent from you…Make account of me in the meanwhile as of a man divided in myself with great pain, and as having my better part with you. 

He begins by admonishing them to daily confess their sins to God, both known and unknown. He then pleads with them to live at peace with each other: To be watchful that they neither give offense, nor easily take offense:

ROBINSON: Your intended course of civil community will minister continual occasion of offense, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance.

Robinson adds that they also must be watchful to not offend God, making allusions to the children of Israel in the wilderness. 

ROBINSON: Which yet we certainly do so oft as we do murmur at His providence in our crosses, or bear impatiently such afflictions as wherewith He pleaseth to visit us. Store up, therefore, patience against that evil day, without which we take offense at the Lord Himself in His holy and just works.

The largest portion of Robinson’s epistle prompts them to seek the common good within the fellowship of faith. He reminds them that the stronger are to sacrifice their liberty for the weaker—that they must each care for the other in body, mind, and spirit. 

ROBINSON: A fourth thing there is carefully to be provided for, to wit, that with your common employments you join common affections truly bent upon the general good…

His farewell letter is often studied as one of the earliest American governing documents. Many of the ideas within it feed directly into the Mayflower Compact written by the Pilgrims months later. 

In his final letter, Robinson plants the seeds of a republic form of government: government by representatives from those to be governed, and the willing submission to them.

ROBINSON: Let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in their lawful administrations, not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinance for your good…

Robinson ends his letter much like his farewell sermon a couple weeks earlier, commending them in to the hand of their Creator. 

ROBINSON: I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that He who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of water, and whose providence is over all His works, especially over all His dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in your ways…inwardly by His Spirit…outwardly by the hand of His power…fare you well in Him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest.

On August 5th, 1620, the two ships are finally ready to set sail. But not long into the voyage, the Speedwell begins leaking once again. So the two ships must sail to the port of Dartmouth for additional repairs. 

It takes shipwrights a week and a half to repair the ship. They leave Dartmouth on August 21st, 1620—hoping the worst is behind them, and anxious about how the delays will affect the long journey ahead as sailing conditions worsen when winter approaches.

Excerpts of John Robinson’s farewell letter were read by voice actor David Pericynski. The text comes from William Bradford’s account as published in his book: Of Plymouth Plantation. 

Over the coming months we’ll occasionally check in on the separatists on their journey and eventual landing in America.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/Caleb Johnson, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0) The Mayflower at sea

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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