Most people think of the Pilgrims as stuffy, mournful souls who dressed in black and never smiled. The life of William Brewster quickly dispells these myths, for he was a bold leader of the Pilgrim Church. Born in 1566 or 1567 in Scrooby, England, he entered Cambridge University and became an assistant to William Davison, one of Queen Elizabeth’s Secretaries of State. William went to Holland on a diplomatic mission with Davison in 1585 and thus became familiar with the Netherlands.
During the time the Pilgrims were staying in Leyden a famous synod was called by the Dutch Reformed Church to settle a doctrinal dispute initiated by Jacob Arminius. Though Jacob had already died, his disciples presented their objections to the teachings of John Calvin. This challenge was called the Remonstrance of 1610. Those defending the Calvinist position of a) human depravity, b) election, c) atonement, d) grace, and e) falling from grace were called the Contra-Remonstrance. The synod took place in the Netherlands from November 13, 1618 to May 9, 1619 in Dordrecht (Dort), Holland. Today we might hardly notice such a gathering, but in the early 17th century, theological differences and their consequences were taken quite seriously.
“From my years in days of youth, God did make known to me his truth. And call’d me from my native place, for to enjoy the means of grace. In wilderness he did me guide, and in strange lands for me to provide.” So wrote William Bradford about his youth in one of his many poems. Based on baptismal records William is presumed to have been born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England in March of 1590. Before turning 6 he lost both his father and mother, and was raised by his uncles. A long sickness kept him in bed for years as a child and later Bradford wrote that this “kept him from the vanities of youth.” He was drawn to know God by the reading of the Scriptures by the time he turned 12. His desire was to go to a “separatist meeting” in Babworth, but it was eight miles away from his home in Austerfield.