Why the Pilgrims left Holland

Posted on February 10, 2010. Filed under: 17th century America, Truth v. Myth | Tags: , , |

The myth continues! A third-grader I know brought home a booklet her class had made on the Pilgrims not long ago. It was delightful in every way, as all children’s projects are, but I was sad to see yet another generation being taught a Pilgrim myth: on page 1 – Who are the Pilgrims? – the booklet reads “The Pilgrims were a group of people who wanted to worship God in their own way. So they sailed to Holland but they were not happy because they were going to be considered Dutch. The long trip to Massachusetts took place.”

I was taught the same thing. I learned back in the 70s that the Pilgrims left Holland because the children they had there were being raised as “Dutchmen,” and English patriotism balked.

In fact, the truth is that the Separatists who became the Pilgrims knew that in 1621 the long truce in the religious war between Spain and Holland would end, and if/when that war was renewed, radical Protestants like the future Pilgrims were in great danger. They would be hunted down and killed by victorious Catholic Inquisitioners. And that would come after they lost men in the war. 

The English Separatists had never intended to stay in Holland permanently; their brand of Protestantism was not really welcomed there, and there were few jobs to be had. Financial difficulty and religious coolness made Holland a temporary choice. The Separatists were working toward going to America, getting the money together for ships and the necessary permissions from England.

So it wasn’t about their Dutch children. It’s a small myth, of course, but the real story is so much more satisfying and makes so much more sense, why not get it out there?

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4 Responses to “Why the Pilgrims left Holland”

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The World of Captain John Smith By Genevieve Foster does a beautiful job of explaining this. Nice article.🙂


Thanks for the recommendation, Kim!


You’re just lucky that that third grader learned that they went to Holland! I teach fifth grade social studies and even our textbook leaves the years in the Netherlands out – claiming that the Pilgrims left Scrooby, England for AMERICA! That is my constant myth battle!


Hello Brittany; the fight to make textbooks accurate goes on… I guess it’s an opportunity to teach students to be critical readers, but not really! Keep up the good work.


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