2020 Mayflower Year

2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, one of the most influential journeys in global history and a defining moment in the shared history of England, America and the Netherlands. Before the Pilgrims founded Plymouth Colony in 1620, they spent twelve years living, working and praying in Leiden, free from religious persecution by the English crown.

Connected to the anniversary there will be several exhibitions at Leiden museums as well as special city walks  that will be of interest to the participants of the ESSHC.  We also encourage session proposals around the  themes connected to this history.  See also https://www.leiden400.nl/en 

The Leiden Story

Their arrival in Leiden in 1609 is no coincidence as it was a city that advocated itself with tolerance and freedom: Leiden welcomed French Huguenots, Walloons and Flemings fleeing from persecution. The Pilgrims’ houses stood in the shadow of Leiden’s St. Pieterskerk, close to the newly founded university where at that time, scientists like Snellius, Scaliger, Gomarus and Arminius worked. In those years, Clusius grew the first tulips in Leiden’s Hortus botanical garden and a young Rembrandt attended the Latin school, all at a stone’s throw from each other. The Pilgrims lived in Leiden at the very heart of this dynamic period and even contributed in to the start of Holland’s Golden Age: John Robinson took part in the Arminian debates and William Brewster taught English to Dutch Leiden University students.

Influence on the new world

From the departure of the Pilgrims in 1620, the story continues, linking our city to other places in the world, from Delftshaven, Southampton and Plymouth to Cape Cod. It is estimated that today, some 25 million Americans are descendants of the Pilgrims and no fewer than nine US presidents had ancesters who travelled across on the Mayflower, including Barack Obama. Leiden has tangible American heritage within its centre, like the Pieterskerk (where John Robinson is buried) and the Pilgrim Archives. The free-thinking spirit of Leiden has influenced the United States directly. Civil marriage for example, lies at the very basis of the separation between church and state.  Pilgrims has learned about this legal 'innovation' in Leiden and took it with them across the Atlantic. The first street in the United States, called First Street, was renamed Leyden Street in honour of the city that welcomed them and gave them freedom.

Themes behind the commemoration

But it’s more than a remarkable chapter in history. It’s a story about themes that are relevant today: freedom of religion, tolerance and migration. The story of the Mayflower is also the story of 102 people in search of liberty and prosperity who risked their lives crossing the ocean in the hold of a small cargo ship. Strikingly, this is reminiscent of the images we see on our TV screens daily. Today too, we struggle with the consequences of immigration. It is important to note in this context that the migration of the Pilgrims also had negative consequences for the native inhabitants of America. In this sense, the story mirrors the complex issues of tolerance and intolerance.