The Separatists are held in Boston
After making their way to the Lincolnshire coast near Boston, the Pilgrims were hoping to escape from England for new lives in Holland. But their secret escape plan was thwarted after they were betrayed by the master of the ship who had agreed to take them to Holland. Their ordeal in Boston was recalled by William Bradford in his diary years later:
“Being thus first, by the catchpole officers [sheriff’s deputies], rifled, & stripped of their money, books, and much other goods, they were presented to the magistrates, and messengers sent to inform the lords of the Counsel of them; and so they were committed toward.”
They had been dragged off the boats which they had started to board, and taken back into Boston, apparently paraded through the town and attracting some attention from the gathering crowds. Boston Guildhall has some small cells where it is thought the group was then held, although whether or not they all actually fitted in there is another question. You can visit the Guildhall today to see for yourself (when they reopen) and explore a fascinating historic building dating back to the 1390s.
The Pilgrims’ experiences in Boston were mixed. Not everyone was against them, and this was useful as
they faced the authorities, as Bradford remembered:
“The magistrates used them courteously, and showed them what favour they could; but could not deliver them, till order came from the Counsel-table. But the issue was that after a months’ imprisonment, the greatest part were dismissed, & sent to the places from whence they came; but 7 of the principals were still kept in prison, and bound over [sent] to the Assizes [court].”
Although the majority of the Pilgrims were sent on their way, they had left their homes and livelihoods behind, so wouldn’t have felt that they had much to go back to. The leaders of the group were compelled to go to the court in the county town of Lincoln, but they weren’t accompanied there – so this presented them with a further chance of escape.
Boston’s encounter with the Separatists who went on to become the Pilgrims was not as fleeting as it seems at first glance. Some 10 years after the Mayflower arrived in America, a fleet of ships arrived to settle in Massachusetts – and establish Boston there.
Many of them came from Boston, Lincolnshire, and were part of a Puritan congregation who would have shared much in common with the Separatists in terms of their religious beliefs and practices. Some of these later Puritans may well have remembered a small group of radicals travelling through the town in the year 1607/8, not knowing how closely they would become connected years later.
Next week: Escape #2 – the Pilgrims try to flee again, from Gainsborough this time…