William Brewster was our 11th great-grandfather from our Bostick side. He was an elder amongst the Puritans and their spiritual leader. He was the leader of the Puritans once they landed until his death in 1644. He died at a place called Duxbury at the Plymouth colony.
In fact, when the separatists split off from the Anglican church, William Brewster was the head of that organization now called the Separatists. He was their leader when they went to the Netherlands. Once there, they found that their children were losing touch with their English roots, and also they were not able to make a living in the Netherlands. That is when they approached a ship’s captain about passage to the New World. There were 102 people on the Mayflower including the crew. 37 of them were the separatists which included William Brewster, and the rest were tradesmen and people who just wanted adventure. The separatists called themselves Saints, and then they called the rest of the people Strangers. Eventually both groups came to be known by the word Pilgrims.
There is much more to his story then can be written here and there will be an attachment at the end of this article.
Once he arrived at the Plymouth colony, he also became an advisor to Governor William Bradford. In case you are thinking that the pilgrims who came here were the first people here, they were far from it. Had they landed where they had planned to land, you never would’ve heard a thing about them. One of the reasons that they wrote the Mayflower Compact was that they were not under the government of New London because they missed where they were supposed to land. They landed at Cape Cod, not Plymouth Rock
there is a tremendous amount of information on William Brewster if you care to do the research. He was a very important person starting with the beginning of the separatist movement, to the move to the Netherlands, and then the move from the Netherlands to the New World. Along the way they were arrested for not following the Anglican church laws. But eventually they were allowed to leave.
William Brewster was born in 1566, most probably in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England. He died on Apr. 10, 1644, Duxbury Plymouth County Massachusetts, USA
Pilgrim colonist, leader and preacher
Elder William Brewster came from Scrooby, in north Nottinghamshire and reached what became the Plymouth Colony in the Mayflower in 1620. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary Brewster, and his sons, Love Brewster and Wrestling Brewster. The town of Brewster, Barnstable, MA was incorporated Febr 19, 1803 and was named for Elder William Brewster. A large part of the inhabitants being his descendants
William Brewster attended Peterhouse College, Cambridge 1580-1583; was postmaster and baliff-receiver at Scrooby, England 1590-1607. Organized Scrooby congregation 1606-1609; removed his family to Amsterdam and later to Leyden, Holland where he tutored 1609-1616 and was ruling Elder 1616-1619. He was in flight and hiding in England in 1619-1620 while arranging passage for the Sainets to New England. William, his wife and two youngest sons arrived Plymouth via the Mayflower in 1620. At Plymouth, William was Ruling Elder until 1643. He was also purchaser 1626; Undertaker 1627-1641
Biography compiled by William L. DeCoursey, GSMD #68501, a descendant of William Brewster.
William BREWSTER, son of William and Mary (SMYTHE) BREWSTER of Scrooby, England, was born in January 1563/4. He was regarded as leader of the Pilgrims at Scrooby (near Sherwood Forest), where his father became bailiff of the Manor of Scrooby in 1675, and was later appointed postmaster by Queen Elizabeth. In 1580, William Brewster (1563-1644) matriculated at Peterhouse College, in Cambridge, where it is believed he acquired his earliest Separatist ideas. The Separatists held the view that “the worship of the English Church is flat idolatry; that we admit into our Church persons unsanctified; that our preachers have no lawful calling; that our government is ungodly; that no bishop or preacher preacheth Christ sincerely and truly; that the people of every parish ought to choose their bishop, and that every elder, though he be no doctor nor pastor, is a bishop; that set prayer is blasphemous.” These were radical views, which struck at the very roots of the government established English church. In Cambridge William BREWSTER joined the Separatist “underground” teachers and students who militantly refused to attend the compulsory services in the state-controlled churches. After competing his studies at Cambridge, William BREWSTER (Jr.) was employed by Puritan, Sir William DAVISON, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth and her personal envoy to Holland. William BREWSTER accompanied DAVISON, as his personal aide, to Holland, during the war with Spain. When the Netherlands surrendered their “cautionary towns” to Elizabeth, the keys of these towns were entrusted by DAVISON to the custody of BREWSTER. William BREWSTER visited the Netherlands in 1584 and again in 1585/86, returning to Scrooby in 1588 after the disgrace of DAVISON, which followed the execution of Mary STUART.
William BREWSTER (Jr.) married, ca.1585, to Mary—?—, her maiden surname unknown.. William BREWSTER had children: William, Edward, Jonathan BREWSTER (1593-1659) m. (1)—?—and m. (2) Lucretia OLDHAM; Love BREWSTER (1595-1651) m.1634 Sarah, dau. William COLLIER; Wrestling BREWSTER; Patience BREWSTER m.1624 Gov. Thomas PRENCE; and Fear BREWSTER (1606-1634) m.1626 Isaac ALLERTON.
Regarding the possible identity of William Brewster’s wife, Mary, John G. Hunt in the January 1965 issue of THE AMERICAN GENEALOGIST, v.41, pp.1-5,63, presents circumstantial evidence that William BREWSTER’s wife was Mary WENTWORTH, dau. of Thomas and Grace (GASCOIGNE) WENTWORTH. The evidence has not been accepted as conclusive, however.
In 1587, Thomas COPE/COPP presented the Presbyterian “Book of Discipline” to Parliament, and offered a bill for its enactment into law. For this offense he, together with Peter WENTWORTH, another Puritan, who then stood up for freedom of speech, was committed to the Tower by order of Queen Elizabeth. - (Note: Some say that Elder William BREWSTER, of the Mayflower, married, ca.1585, to Mary WENTWORTH, dau. of Thomas and Grace (GASCOIGNE) WENTWORTH. The Peter WENTWORTH who was condemned to the Tower, perhaps was a brother or cousin of Mary BREWSTER.)
(According to Marshall GARDNER of Yuma, Arizona, William BREWSTER married Mary LOVE. No evidence given.)
Until more evidence becomes available, all that can be said is that William Brewster’s wife was “Mary”, maiden name unknown.
In 1587, Queen Elizabeth, in an effort to conceal her own complicity in the death of Mary STUART Queen of Scots, ordered her Secretary of State, William DAVISON, to trial for supposedly concealing Mary STUART’s death warrant among other papers he presented to Elizabeth for her signature. (He was the scape-goat.) He was found guilty, fined and thrown into prison. Queen Elizabeth immediately pardoned Davison, and revoked the fine, and restored his position and title, but unable to face him, she exiled him from the court along with his entourage, including his aide, William BREWSTER.
William BREWSTER [Jr.], upon receiving news of the illness of his father, William BREWSTER, Sr., , returned to Scrooby in early 1589. Upon the death of the Senior William BREWSTER, Sir William DAVISON recommended his former aide, William BREWSTER (Jr.), for the bailiff and postmaster positions previously held by BREWSTER’s deceased father. During his father’s illness, young BREWSTER served more than eighteen months as his father’s deputy. On 22 August 1590, a letter was sent from Mr. John STANHOPE to Sir William DAVISON, Queen Elizabeth’s secretary. Mr. STANHOPE sent his regrets that he could not comply with DAVISON’s request. On the death of old BRUSTER, one Samuel REVERCOTES wrote to STANHOPE for the place of postmaster at SCROOBY, and STANHOPE had complied. He stated his reasons for not conferring the place on young BRUSTER, who had served in that place for his father, old BRUSTER. Secretary DAVISON returned the letter with notes in his own hand in defense of young BREWSTER, and pointed out that since, young BREWSTER had held the positions for over a year-and-a-half during his fathers illness, that he should be allowed to continue. Secretary DAVISON apparently was persuasive and/or able to use his influence. BREWSTER got the positions, which he held until he departed for Holland in 1609.
Parliament, in 1593, forbade the Separatists to hold their own services. Anyone who refused to attend church for forty days, and who went instead to private meetings “contrary to the laws and statutes of this realm [and] being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail or mainprise, until they shall confirm and yield themselves to come to some church.”
In the 1593 Parliament, the speaker, Edward COKE, presented the usual petition to the queen, asking for liberty of speech for freedom from arrest, and for access to her majesty. For answer he was told that privilege of speech was granted, but it consisted in saying “yea” or “no;” and that members of Parliament could have access to her majesty at times convenient, and when she was at leisure from other important causes of the realm. Considering this a sharp rebuff, Peter WENTWORTH again shocked Parliament and the Queen by bringing in a bill for settling the succession to the crown, and again he was promptly committed to the Tower. Parliament, in 1593, forbade the Separatists to hold their own services. Anyone who refused to attend church for forty days, and who went instead to private meetings “contrary to the laws and statutes of this realm [and] being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail or mainprise, until they shall confirm and yield themselves to come to some church.”
A church court was in session in 1597 to consider simony charges against James BREWSTER, vicar of Sutton cum Launde, Nottinghamshire. Before the Rev. Mr. John BENET, L.L.D., “appeared William BREWSTER, gen., brother of the aforesaid James BREWSTER, cleric, which William gave assent to the findings of the court, by which the salary of said cleric was to be withheld.”
As early as 1606, a Separatist congregation was formed in Scrooby, which met in the manor house where William BREWSTER lived. “After they were joined together into communion he was a special stay and help unto them. They ordinarily met at his house on the Lord’s Day, which was a Manor of the Bishop’s [the Archbishop of York]; and with great love he entertained them when they came, making provision for them, to his great charge, and continued to do so, whilst they could stay in England.” William BREWSTER was dismissed from his postmaster position at Scrooby, in 1607, because of his Separatist activities.
The Puritan persecution intensified under James I, and William BREWSTER, William BRADFORD and other Scrooby Separatists, at last decided to escape to Holland. “In Autumn 1607, those who had not yet been arrested and thrown into prison resolved to smuggle themselves out of the country. Packing their personal belongings and led by their pastor, Richard CLIFTON, the Separatists set out for the port of Boston, Lincolnshire, England (sixty miles from Scrooby). At Boston, they were betrayed by the captain of the ship that was to have transported them; their goods were ransacked; and they were imprisoned for a month or more. BREWSTER, BRADFORD, and CLIFTON were the last to be set free having served about a year in the prison at Boston, England.
“On 1 December 1607, William Brewster of Scrooby was cited before the High Court of Commission on information that he was a Brownist and disobedient in matters of religion. He was fined 20 pounds.” (And apparently he went to prison in addition to the fine.)
A diary entry of 1608 reads, “Seeing themselves thus molested, and that there was no hope of their continuance there, by a joynte consente they resolved to go into the Low Countries, where they heard was freedome of Religion for all men.” Their exile to a new and foreign land was not easy. “The ports and havens were shut against them. So as they were fain to seek secret means of conveyance; and to bribe and fee the mariners, and give extra-ordinary rates for their passages. And yet were they often-times betrayed, many of them; and both they and their goods intercepted and surprised, and thereby put to great trouble and charge.”
In 1608, another attempt was made by the Separatists to escape to Holland. They were pursued, and in their haste to avoid capture or worse, many of the men were separated from their wives, and families. The women left behind in England were arrested, but their captors, not knowing how to dispose of these women whose only crime was wanting to join their husbands, released them. The families gradually re-united in Holland and settled first in Amsterdam and in 1609 at Leiden, Holland.
In February 1609 permission was granted by the Burgomasters of Leyden, Holland for 150 persons, or thereabouts, to re-settle in Leyden, “provided such persons behave themselves and obey the laws and ordinances. Elder William BREWSTER removed to Leiden, Holland, where he was chosen a ruling elder in the new church. He, at first, made a living as “ribbon maker” in a silk factory, but, as an educated man, he soon was able to earn money by teaching. “His outward condition was mended, and he lived well and plentifully. For he fell into a way, by reason he had the Latin tongue, to teach many students who had a desire to learn the English tongue, to teach them English; and by his method they quickly attained it with great facility; for he drew Rules to learn it by, after the Latin manner. And many Gentlemen, both Danes and Germans, resorted to him, as they had time from other studies; some of them being Great Men’s sons.”
Elder William BREWSTER, aged about forty-two years, came before the aldermen at Leiden, Holland, 12 June 1609 (eight days before the burial of an un-named child of William BREWSTER), as guardian of Ann PECK, native of Launde (near Scrooby, England), when they granted to Thomas SIMKINSON, merchant of Hull (he probably was son of John and Mary (SMYTHE) SYMKINSON and half-brother of Elder William BREWSTER), the power to received seven pounds sterling that Ann PECK had left in the hands of William WATKIN, pastor of Clarborough (six miles south-east of Scrooby) when she left England.
Ann PECK and her brother Robert PECK were wards of William BREWSTER. That they were William BREWSTER’s neice and nephew is apparent, for it seems that their parents were Robert and Prudence (BREWSTER) PECK of Everton (about two miles east of Scrooby); which Robert PECK, in his will dated 1598, proved at York the same year, named wife Prudence and left his daughter Ann seven pounds, six shillings, eight pence.
The register of St. Pancras church, Leyden, records the burial on Saturday, 20 June 1609, of a child of William BREWSTER. The age and sex of the child are not specified. (Comment - It might be reasonable to assume that the “child of William BREWSTER” who was buried, 20 June 1609, was Prudence (BREWSTER) PECK, dau. of William BREWSTER, Sr. and wife of Robert PECK, since her brother, Elder William BREWSTER appeared in court eight days earlier as guardian of Prudence’s minor daughter, Ann PECK.) -
On 25 June 1609, Elder William BREWSTER, aged about forty-two (other records would make him closer to 45), Mary BREWSTER, about forty, and their son Jonathan, sixteen, appeared in Dutch Court to testify as witnesses in behalf of a merchant of Amsterdam who had a dispute with a supplier of cloth. Their residence was in the “stinckteech” in Leiden on the “Pieterskerkhof,” in the little colony of houses on the estate of John ROBINSON.
In 1611, the Separatists congregation purchased an estate at Leiden, where they lived and worshiped.
In 1616, William BREWSTER, with the aid of John REYNOLDS, a master printer from London and his 22-year-old assistant Edward WINSLOW, printed several anonymous Puritan pamphlets and books, that were smuggled into England for sale there. The publishing house (an extension on the rear of William BREWSTER’s house which faced the Stincksteeg, or Stink Alley) was financed by his young friend, Thomas BREWER. King James’s government regarded these publications as treasonable; and the English ambassador to Holland insisted that the Dutch authorities imprison Thomas BREWER. William BREWSTER had to go into hiding to avoid arrest, and the printing equipment was seized and impounded.
In 1619, the twelve years truce between Spain and Holland was about to expire, and Holland was again menaced by talk of war. The Pilgrims were living as exiles in poor circumstances, in a strange land that might turn into a bloody battleground. They could not return to England, but wanted to find a place that they could raise their families as English away from foreign influence. They looked to America. Elder William BREWSTER was chosen their leader, and while he was in England petitioning the Virginia Company of London, for a land patent and passage to the New World, an order for his arrest went out at the instance of the English ambassador in Holland; however he escaped.
On Friday, 31 July, 1620, William BREWSTER, his wife, his sons, Love and Wrestling and two boys “bound out” to him, Richard MORE and his brother, left Leyden along with other Pilgrims for Delfshaven on the Maas River. They boarded the “Speedwell” there and sailed the next day, and after a quick passage to Southampton, England they met the “Mayflower.” The rest of the BREWSTER children, including son, Jonathan, remained behind in Holland and came over afterwards. The two vessels set sail on 5 August, 1620; but after covering about 150 miles, the “Speedwell” was reported to be leaking, and both vessels put in at Dartmouth. There it was decided that the “Mayflower” was to make the voyage alone, and it’s final departure was from Plymouth on Wednesday, 6 September, 1620. There were 102 passengers aboard. William BREWSTER was the fourth signer of the Mayflower Compact, 11 November 1620 O.S.