Wednesday, November 17, 2010

William Brewster


Birth: Between 1566 and 1567 in Scrooby, England

Death: Between 1633 and 1644 in Plymouth, New England

Willam Brewster was the son of William and Mary Brewster, born around 1566. He was raised by his father and step mother, Prudence Peck, and had a number of half-siblings.

William was well educated and attended Cambridge University for some time, but left without obtaining a degree.

Upon leaving Cambridge, William began to work his way through the ranks of government. In 1583 he was employed by William Davidson and the Court of England. William Brewster worked with William Davidson as liaisons between Queen Elizabeth of England and Mary Queen of Scots. However, after the execution of Mary, William Brewster returned home where he managed his family’s mansion.

By 1593, William had married Mary (possibly Wentworth). The couple had six children together: Jonathan Brewster, Patience Brewster, Fear Brewster, Love Brewster, Wrestling Brewster and an unnamed baby that died not long after its birth.

After returning home, Brewster started a Separatist church, inspired by the churches he saw in the Netherlands while serving the queen. His partner was Richard Clyfton.

As government pressure increased for Separatist churches like the William Brewster’s, the group planned to see refuge in Holland. In 1608, the group finally managed to make it Amsterdam, a year later settling in Leiden, Holland.


The group lived in Leiden for about ten years, with pressures from the Dutch and English governments growing all the while. It was during this time that they began considering a move to America where they could develop a colony of their own. In 1620, William, some of his family and a small portion of their congregation boarded the Mayflower and began heading towards the New World. William Bradford recounts:


“Those that stayed [in Leyden], being the greater number, required the pastor [John Robinson] to stay with them; and indeed for other reasons he could not then well go, and so it was the more easily yielded unto. The other [Pilgrims leaving Leyden] then desired the elder, Mr. Brewster, to go with them, which was also condescended unto. It was also agreed on by mutual consent and covenant that those that went should be an absolute church of themselves, as well as those that stayed, seeing in such a dangerous voyage, and a removal to such a distance, it might come to pass they should (for the body of them) never meet again in this world.”
William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, ed.

In Plymouth, William continued his role as an Elder. He served as the only religious leader for nine years and continued preaching until his death. He was granted land in Duxbury and Boston Harbor (islands). He also signed the Mayflower Compact. Below is the copy found in William Bradford’s journal.

Mayflower Compact

William Brewster is well remembered in Pilgrim history. He is often included in pieces of art depicting the arrival of the Mayflower in Plymouth and the first Thanksgiving. He is also well documented in Plymouth records and in the writings of William Bradford. To read some of these documents visit the website below:

William Brewster's Memorial

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