Thanksgiving History: Pilgrims Sail from Holland to the New World

During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, children in elementary classrooms across the country learn about the Pilgrims, The Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. Students learn about the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, the arrival in Massachusetts and a Thanksgiving feast with Native Americans.

The students learn about the impact and importance of the small band of so-called radicals who stood up for what they believed was right, leaving home and making the voyage to the New World in search of religious and economic freedom.

Thanksgiving History: Pilgrims Living in Leiden, Holland

Some students don’t learn, however, about the time the Pilgrims spent in Holland. Before the band of men and women were known as the Pilgrims, they were known as the English Separatists. Arriving in Holland in 1609, this group of men and women believed they had found what they needed: religious freedom and economic security.

That security was short-lived, however. By 1620, the group of Separatists, who eventually would become known as the Pilgrims, discovered they were unable to gain the economic security for which they had hoped. In addition, the men and women worried that their children were becoming to familiar with the Dutch lifestyle. According to author Jessica Faust, the Dutch lifestyle was “too frivolous” for the liking of the parental Separatists.

History of Thanksgiving: Separatists Become Pilgrims Aboard The Mayflower

To escape the Dutch lifestyle, the Separatists decided to embark on a journey to the Americas. The group of men and women purchased a boat, the Speedwell, and left Delftshaven, Holland on July 22, 1620. From there, the group headed to Southampton, England to meet up with the Mayflower and other Separatists.

The two ships set sail for their initial voyage on Aug. 15, 1620, but the Speedwell leaked so badly that both ships returned to England. On Sept. 16, 1620, the Mayflower set out against when 37 Separatists joined 65 other passenger aboard the ship.

The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was difficult. The Mayflower was about 100 feet long, but because so many passengers were making the trip, each family had little room, and because the crew and passengers feared a fire, everyone was forced to eat cold meals for the entire duration of the trip. Two people died during the voyage, and one woman gave birth.

The Pilgrims finally arrived in what is now Provincetown, Mass., — north of their intended Virginia destination — on Nov. 21, 1620.

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