"Boston is a thriving market town with a fascinating history - and has important links to the Pilgrim Fathers who helped found America"
Boston is a thriving market town with a fascinating history – and has important links to the Pilgrim Fathers who helped found America.
In the 13th Century, Boston was the leading port in England, exporting wool, lead and salt to mainland Europe and importing exotic goods such as wine, fur and spices. During the Napoleonic Wars,the port grew in size and importance, and Boston became the wealthiest town in Lincolnshire. Although with the advent of the railway, it went into gradual decline, Boston is now a small but thriving port.
By the 17th Century, Boston was at the centre of religious non-conformity and played an important role in The Pilgrim Fathers’ journey to the New World.
Although it is widely known that the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Mayflower in 1620 from Plymouth to America, in search of a better life, how many know of the role both Boston and Lincolnshire played in this important event?
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Protestant non-conformist religious beliefs flourished in England. One such belief was that of the Separatist Movement, a group of Puritans with strong Lincolnshire links – one group worshipped at Gainsborough Old Hall. Another group was based just over the border at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. Separatists wanted the freedom to worship God away from the constraints of the Church of England. When Elizabeth was succeeded by King James I, there was a clampdown on such groups, it became illegal not to attend church and the Separatist Movement was banned in 1604. Wanting to escape persecution, The Separatists decided to flee to The Netherlands, a far more tolerant Protestant country.
In 1607, both groups left for Holland. The Gainsborough Separatists successfully completed their journey and joined other English Separatists known as the Ancient Brethren in Leiden. The Scrooby Separatists hired a boat to sail them from Boston to Holland, but they were betrayed by the boat’s captain. Shortly after setting sail, they were intercepted at Scotia Creek, a few miles down river from Boston. The Separatists were arrested and all their goods seized. (There is a monument – The Pilgrim Fathers’ Memorial – to mark this event at Fishtoft, just outside the town). The Seperatists were brought to Boston Guildhall where they remained in the cells whilst awaiting trial at Lincoln. After several months in prison they returned home penniless but unbeaten, and, thanks to the generosity of sympathisers, eventually managed to join their compatriots in Leiden.
It was from Leiden that the Ancient Brethren in 1620 decided to sail to America in search of a better life. They hired two ships, the Speedwell which was to transport passengers, and the larger Mayflower, which was to carry supplies. Unfortunately, the Speedwell started to take in water off the coast of Devon and it became obvious that the ship would be incapable of crossing the Atlantic. The passengers transferred to the Mayflower, which set sail from Plymouth on 6th September 1620 and landed in Massachusetts after an arduous two month voyage.
Ten years later, another group of Puritans left Boston for America. A new settlement was founded and was named Boston, after the English town from where many of its most influential settlers had originated.
The Reverend John Cotton was the controversial Vicar of St. Botolphs’ Church, Boston, who made many enemies by preaching his non-conformist views, and regularly found himself prosecuted at Lincoln’s law courts. In 1633, he sailed across the Atlantic to the new Boston, where he soon became spiritual leader of this church-dominated state. His influence increased further when he helped to draft the fundamental laws for the colony that are still applicable today.
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