Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pilgrim : featured library resource for November 2012

As we prepare to commemorate the first Thanksgiving feast of the Mayflower settlers and Native Americans, let's reflect on the life of one of the immigrant leaders, Elder William Brewster.

While many of the books in our Biography section are genealogies, in the case of Brewster we have two historical biographies:

  • Pilgrim, a biography of William Brewster by Mary B. Sherwood, and
  • Elder William Brewster by William Howell Reed
Brewster was the senior church official of the Separatist group which had emigrated first to the Netherlands, and then comprised about half of the Mayflower passengers who settled New England.  Brewster was the only one of the party who had diplomatic experience, having served as assistant to Queen Elizabeth's envoy to the Netherlands.  Interestingly, this envoy William Davison was the scapegoat for Elizabeth's execution of Mary Queen of Scots, unjustly imprisoned and impoverished for carrying out Elizabeth's wishes which she later denied.

Raised in Scrooby, where he later encouraged a Separatist congregation, Brewster was 13 (not atypical) when he entered Peterhouse College at Cambridge University.  He was already well-versed in Latin when he arrived at Cambridge.  Among his contemporaries there were Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and the playwright Christopher Marlowe, as well as numerous religious radicals, some of whom were later executed or imprisoned.  Brewster left Cambridge without earning a degree to join Elizabeth's royal Court in London and become secretary to William Davison, returning to Scrooby after Davison's fall from grace.  When Brewster later went to the Netherlands with his Separatist congregation, he was responsible for publishing seditious religious pamphlets which were illegally distributed in England and Scotland.  Consequently he was in hiding from the authorities in the months immediately preceding the sailing of the Mayflower.  Brewster was accompanied on the voyage by his wife Mary and their two younger children, Love and Wrestling.  (Their three older children, Jonathan, and daughters Patience and Fear, arrived on later ships.)

Brewster was a popular and respected figure, who served as leader of and preacher to the Plymouth colony church until an ordained preacher arrived in 1629.  A few years later Brewster established a farm in Duxbury with his son Love, on a peninsula shared with Miles Standish.  He died in 1644, outliving his wife and two daughters, and is buried in Plymouth.  At his death his library numbered 346 books on theology and a wide range of other subjects, a truly impressive collection for that time and place.

Our two biographies of Brewster were both gifts to the collection.  Sherwood's is the more substantial, and includes appendices quoting the Mayflower Compact, and the letter written by Edward Winslow describing "the first Thanksgiving," as well as notes, bibliography, and index.  Reed's biography, privately printed in 1894, is only 43 pages long, but contains illustrations of Scrooby and other locales important in Brewster's life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and we hope to see you soon at our CCGS reading room, located within the Dennis Public Library.  Please note that we will be closed on Thanksgiving day.

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