By Jesse A. Miller
The following playlet was written by Jesse A. Miller for the Annual Thanksgiving Vespers Worship Service of the Pennsylvania Society held on November 21, 1999 at the Gulph United Church of Christ, Gulph Mills, PA, The Rev. Judith A. Meier, Pastor. It depicts what might have taken place as the Leiden Church wrestled over the problems that faced them by remaining in Holland or by relocating to the New World.
The Setting: The meeting house in Leiden, Holland; November 1617.
Pastor John Robinson (portrayed by Frederick T. J. Clement, Jr.) and Elder William Brewster (Jesse A. Miller) are leading the discussion:
Robinson: Dearly beloved friends and saints. We are gathered here this day to discuss a most pressing problem. Wherein lies the future of our group which now numbers more than 300 souls? Should we abide here in Holland and worship in peace or should we seek shelter elsewhere in America where there should be greater freedom to pursue our own beliefs? Elder Brewster has strongly stated that we should move to the New World and will give you his reasoning. I will give the reasons for remaining where we are.
Brewster: All of you remember how we were most terribly persecuted in our native England so that we did not dare worship in the fashion which our conscience dictated and we began to flee to Holland in 1607 and 1608. Here were we welcomed and given permission to worship as we pleased. We found the land, the customs and clothing of the people to be most strange and the language unfamiliar and uncouth. Although most of the Dutch people were prosperous, our people could engage only in the most menial of tasks. We could scarce earn enough for our daily bread by working long hours at the hardest jobs. Our young people are becoming old before their time because of this slavery. Many of our young people are leaving our church in order to obtain employment on ships or in the army. The children are now speaking Dutch instead of English. Thus we are losing the most precious things that we wished to preserve. These are my reasons of wishing to seek shelter elsewhere.
Robinson: Yea, thou doth speak truly. Work is hard here in Holland and we are in danger of losing many of our English customs. Still, where to can we next flee? We have little money and this would be needed to charter a ship and purchase land in another country. Furthermore, those of us who came to Holland ten years ago, are no longer young and do not have the energy to begin anew. We can remain here in Holland and pray that the catholic kingdom of Spain will allow us to remain unmolested to practice religion as we see fit. It is impossible for us to return to England where we would be persecuted as before unless we would renounce our beliefs and swear true obedience to the King.
Brewster: America is the place for us to seek land. There are vast tracts of fertile ground that are not inhabited. We could possibly seek land in the Virginia colonies although there we would probably have to swear allegiance to the King and his religion. We could also go further south to the Spanish colonies where the climate is warm all year round. We could ask the Dutch in New Amsterdam for land north of their colony along the Hudson River. Or we could go further north along the American coast where there are as yet no colonies. It is my understanding that there are great fisheries for cod along the coast and that many of the hostile Indians have died of disease, leaving the land uninhabited.
Robinson: The Virginia colony would not be suitable because we have heard of their unchristian habits and of their conflicts with the savages. The Spanish colonies have a delightful climate but are accompanied by many strange diseases. The Dutch would probably not welcome us because they fear rivalry in their trade. The New England area seems to hold the most promise. But how could this be arranged?
Brewster: Because the New England area is under the dominance of England, we must obtain a patent from the king. Then we must form a trading company in order to raise capital for this venture. There are many beaver and other fur-bearing animals in the country and by trading with the Indians we may obtain cargoes of furs which can be sold at a profit in England. There are fisheries for cod. We need only net these from the sea and salt them down for shipment to England. Salt for this purpose may be obtained from the sea. With these items of trade, we should be able to repay our stockholders all their expenses and a handsome profit within a period of ten years.
Robinson: Well-spoken. But this is indeed a perilous undertaking. To enter a strange land with so few people in our group and many of these having no experience of living in a primitive country. They will have no shelter, no stores of food and no means of support. Do we have the courage and strength for such an undertaking?
Brewster: Let us put it to the vote. How many of you are willing to go forward with this venture – to sell all your possessions, to sail to a foreign land, to build homes from the forest, and to plow virgin land? All those in favor, raise your hand.
Robinson: It doth seem that there are enough souls to go forward with this venture. I, myself, will remain here in Holland to look after my flock as I am of too advanced age to begin such an undertaking. We shall write to our friends in England to determine if we can obtain a land grant and establish a trading stock company. Let us now bow our heads and seek the blessing of our God.
Dear Lord: We ask you to guide us and guard us in this venture. As thou didst lead Moses from Egypt to the Promised Land – lead us likewise to a blessed place in America where we may worship you in our own manner. Thank thee for thy many beneficences in the past and continue to protect us in the future. Amen.
[N.B. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s edition of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959), Elder Brewster’s worst fears about “losing the most precious things that we wished to preserve” became a reality for those who did not emigrate to New England or return to England. They “became completely amalgamated with the local population by 1660.” P.25n]