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Pilgrim Fathers Museum in Leiden Netherlands

At the American Pilgrim Museum Leiden
At the American Pilgrim Museum Leiden

What do the Pilgrim Fathers have to do with Leiden Holland?

Very easy. Before the Pilgrim Fathers began their journey to America, they tried to live a life of their own in Leiden. The Pilgrim Fathers belonged to a group of radical religious separatists. They renounced the Church of England and demanded the autonomy of their community. The state church of England and the English royal family could not accept this. The Puritan separatists were therefore pursued at the beginning of the 17th Century under Elizabeth I and James I. A group of Puritan pilgrim fathers went to Holland. There they hoped for more tolerance for their religion. The population of Leiden was more open-minded in the 17th century. It also welcomed people, whose religion did not conform to the norm.

They spent twelve years in Leiden led by their pastors Richard Clifton, John Robinson and William Brewster. As foreigners, many of them were allowed to work poorly paid jobs. Some of them regarded the Dutch moral of the time with suspicion. They feared their influence on their members. Therefore, in 1620 half of the Puritans in Holland decided to partner with a larger group of separatists. They wanted to sail with a land patent of the London Virginia Company aboard the Mayflower to America. Northern Virginia near the Hudson River was her destination. That they finally landed in the region of Plymouth in today's Massachusetts, was pure coincidence. A storm had taken them there. After a first landing on Cape Cod they discovered that the island was not suitable for their survival.

Unusual coastline on the map from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers
Unusual coastline on the map from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers

The Mayflower Compact

The Pilgrim Fathers agreed in the Mayflower Compact on the first contract of self-government. Since then, they have been regarded as precursors and masterminds of democratic ideas in the USA. A number of American presidents are proud to have members of the Pilgrim Fathers in their lineage. Among them are father and son Bush, Barack Obama and Roosevelt. No less than nine American presidents can boast of this pedigree.

Documents to the Pilgrim Fathers in the Museum in Leiden Holland
Documents to the Pilgrim Fathers in the Museum in Leiden Holland

The American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden

That's one of the reasons why the tiny Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is especially interesting for Americans. We wanted to look at it because a few years ago we visited the American places, where the Pilgrim Fathers made their first steps on American soil. The beaches of Cape Cod and the city of Plymouth in Massachusetts. There their memory is kept high. The Pilgrim Memorial in Provincetown on Cape Cod and the Forefathers Monument in Plymouth are reminiscent of them. We hoped to get an insight into the life of the Pilgrim Fathers in Europe from this museum.

Old city map of Leiden Holland
Old city map of Leiden Holland

In the oldest house of Leiden

At first we had a hard time finding the museum. It is located in Leiden's oldest house from 1370, on the Beschuitsteeg 9. The building has little to do with the pilgrim fathers. It is led by Jeremy Bangs, a historian from the USA. He has been living and working in Leiden for more than 30 years. He has been involved in the history of the Pilgrim Fathers since the 80s. He has published several books and numerous articles about the Pilgrim Fathers. He is the one who opens the door to the museum, when we almost started to leave again. Although the museum is open, you have to ring to get admission. The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is an extraordinary museum.

It consists of two rooms. In one Dr. Bangs works on his studies, when there are no visitors. Over the years he has collected numerous documents and objects from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. He shows them in these two rooms. He is particularly proud of a map of Leiden from the time and a map that shows the coast of America, as it was known a few years after the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers in the New World. With bays and lochs, as we know them today, only that they are in a different direction than they are familiar to us. Manhattan and Long Island are located west of Plymouth, not south. Navigation devices, that did not exist at the time, distort the information on this map.

Jeremy Bangs explains objects from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers
Jeremy Bangs explains objects from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers

The house of the priest of Leiden

When I asked what this house had to do with the Pilgrim Fathers, Dr. Bangs laughs. He says: “It was the home of the priest of Leiden, and so there is a possibility, that William Brewster, the elder of the English separatists, was a guest here. However, we have no proof of this.” What makes the museum interesting are the stories, that Bangs tells its visitors. He tells of how people lived at the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. He shows us documents from that time and leads us to the neighboring house. In it he collected pieces of furniture from the era. These give an impression of how people lived in Leiden at that time.

What did it serve for?
What did it serve for?

The American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden

The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is exceptional and certainly not the right place for everyone. However, who is interested in the history of the US and the time in Holland at the beginning of the 17th century will like to listen to Bangs' stories. One should not expect a normal museum operation. The whole thing is run as a one-man business. When Bangs is out and about with a group of visitors, visitors must wait in front of the entrance to the museum until they are back. However, it is this personal style of museum tour, that makes it so special. This is how we feel the enthusiasm with which Jeremy Bangs sets out to trace the past. Anyone who gets involved can get a good insight into that time.


Leiden American Pilgrim Museum
Beschuitsteeg 9, Leiden


Source: own research on site. We thank the city of Leiden for the friendly support.

Text: © Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline
Photos: © Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline

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