Pilgrims to America: A Pictorial History - LIFE IN LEIDEN

LIFE IN LEIDEN (Illustration) Famous Historical Events Famous People Geography Law and Politics Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs Visual Arts American History

When the Leiden Separatists (later known as “The Pilgrims”) lived in the Dutch town of Leiden, they would have seen people skating on iced-over canals during the winter months. Anthony Beerstraten created this painting, depicting the frozen town of Leiden, circa 1665. Image online via Wikimedia Commons.


The Pilgrims received permission to reside in Leiden on February 12, 1609 and arrived there on May Day of that year. A university town (then and now), the city provided a rich intellectual environment for the Englishmen. They remained in Leiden until 1620.

Walking through the city today, we can still see many of the places which were important to the future American colonists:

  • Continuously since the 13th century, Dutch people in Leiden have bought and sold goods in a marketplace near today's Koornbrug (Corn Bridge).
  • A block from the bridge is the Stadhuis (Town Hall) where William Bradford (the Pilgrim's future governor and adopted son of William Brewster) reportedly married his wife, Dorothy May.  (Actually, historical records tell us that Bradford married his wife in Amsterdam where she was living with her English parents.)
  • Because they were poor, the English families likely bought their meat at the Penshal, across the street from the Staduis.
  • Miles Standish, a soldier who joined the Pilgrims on their Mayflower crossing, was treated at St. Catherine's Hospital in 1601. Today the chapel of that hospital is known as the Waalse Kerk (Walloon Church).
  • The Pieterskerk (Peter's Church) was a significant place for the Mayflower Pilgrims. Their pastor in Leiden, John Robinson (who had intended to join the settlers later) is buried there.
  • While he was alive, John Robinson lived near the Pieterskerk. Although his house is gone, another home (the Jean Pesijnshofje almshouse, built in 1683) stands in its place. A plaque commemorates Robinson's time there while a map from 1600 (made by Pieter Bast) gives us a contemporary view of the area around the church.
  • The Pilgrims built 21 houses near the home of their pastor and lived in a garden area called "The Green Close." Although their houses are also gone, one can see the location where they lived.
  • Some of the Pilgrims left families in Leiden when they crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower. Thomas Rogers, one of those individuals (who took a son - Joseph - with him on the crossing), died the first winter in America. While he was away, his family lived in Leiden. (They later joined Joseph in the "new world.")
  • While living in Leiden, William Brewster (the author of the Mayflower Compact and chief elder for Pastor Robinson) wrote (and, with the help of Edward Winslow, published) books about his religious beliefs. (Writing such things would have been illegal had Brewster still lived in England.) Today, only a wall remains of the Brewster home, but the alleyway in which the house stood is called William Brewstersteeg (William Brewster Alley).

It was those books which, at least in part, forced the Pilgrims to leave Holland.

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
2 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: May 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Jan 28, 2020

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"LIFE IN LEIDEN" AwesomeStories.com. May 01, 2006. May 26, 2020.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips