Links with the USA

In 2001, John Cammack, Neil Wright & Will Holton researched this article which explores links between South Lincolnshire and America.

In 1607, the colony of Jamestown was founded in Virginia, and due to Captain John Smith it became the first successful English settlement in North America. Smith was born at Willoughby in Lincolnshire and brought up in the area around Boston. John Rolfe, from over the Wash in Norfolk, the husband of the Indian Princess Pocahontas, is also recognised for the crucial role he played. Following the founding of this first colony, Smith charted the coastline to the north of Virginia & named it New England. No man did more to promote English migration to the North American colonies in the years 1620 to 1640.

By co-incidence, it was also in 1607 that a group of Separatists decided that they were no longer safe to pursue their religion in England. Led by William Brewster, and including the young William Bradford, they left their homes in north-west Lincolnshire, north-east Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire to escape to the Netherlands where they would find a far greater degree of religious tolerance.

The Separatists, later to be known as the Pilgrim Fathers, were betrayed by the sea captain of a vessel that had been hired to take them to Holland via the Witham Haven just outside Boston. Leaving the country without the permission of the King was illegal, so they were arrested and taken to the town's Guildhall where their leaders were held in the cells prior to being put on trial. The following year the group sailed to the Netherlands from near Grimsby and, after spending twelve years in Holland, they migrated to New England in 1620 and founded Plymouth Colony.

The townsfolk were largely sympathetic to the prisoners as their religious beliefs were very similar. Virtually the only difference was that, whilst the Puritans sought to 'purify' the Church of England from within, the Separatists had decided that they were faced with no alternative but to 'separate' from the nation's church.

In 1612, the town's councillors appointed the Reverend John Cotton, of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to be the new vicar of the parish church (St. Botolph's). He had a charismatic personality and became recognised as the pre-eminent Puritan theologian in all England. As well as the leading citizens of the town, he drew to his congregation other men and women of a very high calibre who were to become leaders of Massachusetts. John Cotton was the mayor's chaplain in Boston and the congregation included Atherton Hough who was mayor in 1627 and an alderman of the council; lawyer Richard Bellingham who was the recorder of Boston (1625-1633) and a member of parliament for the borough; lawyer Alderman Thomas Leverett and his son John who was almost certainly a pupil of Boston Grammar School, and old boys, the Reverends Thomas James and Samuel Whiting who had become the headmaster of the Grammar School and the vicar of Skirbeck Church respectively. Other local 'gentlemen' included three members of the Pelham family from Swineshead and Abraham Mellows; John Whittingham, merchant and William Dinely, surgeon.

Other groups became followers of Cotton and moved to Boston to be part of his congregation. The high steward of the town (1625-1633) was Theophillus, earl of Lincoln. He had homes in Boston and at Tattershall Castle but his principal Lincolnshire home was at Sempringham. He never migrated to New England, possibly because the colony refused to recognise titles in the New World, but it was at Sempringham that a critical group gathered. Four of the earl's sisters married staunch and wealthy Puritan husbands each of whom had connections with groups who were plotting expeditions. His stewards were firstly Thomas Dudley and then the young Simon Bradstreet (of nearby Horbling). At Sempringham, there was also the vicar, Reverend Samuel Skelton and, probably, the Reverend Francis Higginson.

As Church leaders tried to eliminate dissent, the position of the Boston Puritans became perilous and they began to take an interest in the fledgling West Country initiative, the Massachusetts Bay Company.

John Humfrey, the husband of the Lady Susannah, one of the Earl of Lincoln's sisters, was a leading light and meetings of the company moved to Cambridge and then to Sempringham. John Winthrop joined and, indeed, took over the company in 1629, along with the Revd Isaac Johnson (one of the main financiers of the expedition and. the husband of the Lady Arbella, another sister), Thomas Dudley, Simon Bradstreet and William Coddington, another financial backer. The reverends Skelton and Higginson sailed to New England on exploratory expeditions with some of Isaac Johnson's servants.

In 1630, the great fleet set sail under its flagship, the Arbella, named after her ladyship. Aboard with Winthrop, were Isaac Johnson and his wife, Thomas Dudley, Simon Bradstreet and William Coddington. In 1633, John Cotton sailed aboard the Griffin, with Thomas Leverett and his son, John, and Atherton Hough. The next year an Alford contingent under the Hutchinsons, and Richard Bellingham followed.

Like the Pilgrim Fathers, the first winter saw a great number of deaths including the particularly tragic ones of the near saintly Isaac Johnson and his noble wife. Just before his death, however, at the Company meeting Johnson, along with Dudley, Bradstreet and Coddington, voted for the new settlement to be named Boston to perpetuate the Puritan community that had been such a beacon in old England.

On Cotton's arrival, he was made leader of the First Church of Boston and Thomas Leverett was elected as the town's leading elder. At least once, the colony's ruling body of assistants/magistrates had half of its members from the old town in England. Richard Bellingham was the colony's treasurer and Simon Bradstreet was its secretary.

The group which became known as the 'Boston Men', out of their allegiance to the old town and to Cotton, dominated the colony under its leader, Winthrop. The four 17th century governors, recorded in the tower of the 'Stump', served as governor or deputy governor of the colony of Massachusetts for all but 4 out of the first 56 years and with Dudley's son, Joseph, this rises to 69 years of the first 85. They controlled not only its government but also its religious and philosophical life. They were leaders in the foundation of the Boston Free Latin School, America's oldest, modelled on the Boston Grammar School in England. Philemon Pormort was its first schoolmaster. They also featured prominently amongst the founders and overseers of what was to become Harvard University. As governor, Thomas Dudley signed its charter and Herbert Pelham was its first administrator.

A particularly unusual aspect of this story is that a group of remarkable women from south Lincolnshire have become probably more famous in new Boston than their men folk. Anne Hutchinson, the first American to fight for women's rights, and Anne Bradstreet (Dudley's daughter and Simon Bradstreet's wife) the new country's first poet, are the only two famous women from amongst all the original American colonists; and three of the Earl's redoubtable sisters, Lady Arbella, Lady Susannah and Lady Deborah Moody are much written about.

Pilgrim_Fathers, PDF