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The road to "Separatism" began with the Reformation. In 1532, King Henry VIII declared the English church independent of the pope. His successors introduced further religious reforms.

This 1592 Geneva Bible belonged to Pilgrim William Bradford. It journeyed with him from England to Holland and eventually to Plymouth.

The Pilgrim Separatists used the "Geneva Bible." This was a translation (with commentary notes in the margin) made by English Calvinist refugees living in Switzerland.

The official English church strongly disagreed with the Geneva Bible's commentary. King James authorized a new translation. The first "King James Bible" was published in 1611.

Pilgrim Hall Museum also owns a King James Bible, printed in 1620 (shortly before the Mayflower sailed). It belonged to John Alden; Alden was not originally a Separatist but chose to join the community.

For further information on the Geneva Bible and other Bibles in the collections of Pilgrim Hall, click here.

"[They] as the Lord's free people joined themselves... in the fellowship of the gospel, to walk in all His ways made known, or to be made known unto them." - William Bradford

Later in the 16th century, some Englishmen believed more reforms were needed to "purify" the church. Among the more radical of these "Puritans" were the Separatists, who formed congregations entirely apart from the English church.

Describing the Pilgrims’ Separatist religious beliefs:
"The one side [the Reformers] laboured to have ye right worship of God & discipline of Christ established in ye church, according to ye simplicitie of ye gospell, without the mixture of mens inventions, and to have & to be ruled by ye laws of Gods word, dispensed in those offices, & by those officers of Pastors, Teachers, & Elders, &c. according to ye Scripturs. The other partie [the Church of England], though under many colours & pretences, endevored to have ye episcopall dignitie (affter ye popish maner) with their large power & jurisdiction still retained; with all those courts, cannons, & ceremonies, togeather with all such livings, revenues, & subordinate officers, with other such means as formerly upheld their antichristian greatnes, and enabled them with lordly & tyranous power to persecute ye poore servants of God."
William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

One Separatist group centered in Scrooby at the home of William Brewster.


William Brewster was born in Scrooby around 1566. After a brief time at Cambridge University and then in the diplomatic service, he returned to Scrooby as postmaster.

The Separatist congregation that became the nucleus of the Pilgrims gathered at Brewster's home. After the move to Holland, where he worked as a printer, Brewster became the church's Elder.

Brewster sailed on the Mayflower. He was, in the absence of an ordained minister, the much-respected religious leader of Plymouth Colony. Brewster died in 1644. His inventory of several hundred books in English and Latin attests to his love of learning and his spirituality.

Brewster was joined by John Robinson, a Cambridge-educated minister who became the group's religious leader.

The English Crown forbade separation from the Church, persecuting and imprisoning many. In 1608, the Scrooby group fled into more liberal Holland, despite King James' efforts to prevent their departure.

Interested in learning more about the similarities and differences between "Pilgrims" and "Puritans"?
Click on the titles:
Religious Controversies in Plymouth Colony, by Richard Howland Maxwell (Pilgrim Society Note, Series Two, June 1996)
Pilgrim and Puritan : A Delicate Distinction, by Richard Howland Maxwell (Pilgrim Society Notes, Series Two, March 2003).


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