The Revd Writes…
2020 sees the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth to America – an event which was to have a direct influence on the people of the Dever Valley. In the early C17th, people were at loggerheads with each other - and the fundamental issue that they were fighting over was religion.
Under the reign of Elizabeth I it was the law that you had to attend Church on a Sunday – and the Church that you had to attend was the Church of England. The Church was the most important tool that the monarch had to reinforce national unity at the local level. The clergy were there not only to impart the Gospel, but they were also there too, to impart the message that everyone belonged to the Queen’s religion and the most important enforcers of that fact were the Bishops, who quite ruthlessly made sure that every parish priest toed the line.
By 1603 with the advent of a new monarch, James I, quite a few clergy felt that they could now voice their anger, and protest. Unfortunately for them, they demanded, on reflection somewhat naively, that the Bishops should have their power curtailed. They wanted to see more power given to local leadership and for congregations themselves to have more say in how the local church should be run. King James decided to side with the Bishops and famously told those protesting – known as puritans – that they could ‘believe anything that they wanted to as long as it was what the King himself believed.’
And so, the Dever Valley began to tear itself apart. Some felt that they could no longer live in a country where their religious practice and identity was determined by monarchy. They clung to a more protestant faith that longed for more freedom for the individual to practice their faith in whatever way they chose. Some longed to go to a place where Bishops had no authority whatsoever.
In 1620 a group of puritan immigrants determined to flee religious persecution, set sail for a ‘New World’. Onboard that ship, the Mayflower, was one able seaman with the surname of Ely - a Plymouth sailor, probably connected to the Ely family of Wonston. If true, then the Dever Valley links with the founding of the first settlement at Plymouth in Massachusetts goes all the way back to the very beginning of the establishment of a ‘New England’. 10 Years later a small fleet of ships followed in the Mayflowers trail – on board were several Dever Valley people, including one Thomas Talmadge from Newton Stacey. Newton Stacey had become a bastion of Puritan sentiment under the leadership of the denounced Vicar of Wherwell, Stephen Bachiler. Bachiler went on to found the First Congregational Church in Hampton, in present-day Hampton, in New Hampshire. It is the oldest continuing congregation in North America.
In these troubled times, as you celebrate Easter, you might like to remember those in the past who courageously journeyed by faith into new worlds and those who continue to do so today – they probably don’t live too far away from you.
God Bless Mark