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Why Did the Pilgrims Leave England?

Have you ever asked yourself "Why did the pilgrims leave England?" The risk involved from moving to an unknown world would seem to deter many since they would basically start from scratch.

Why Did the Pilgrims Leave England?

Pilgrims would have to build houses, create a system of government and law, and work harder to maintain foods on soil that may not even grow the same food from home. Land would have to be sought, meaning encountering unfamiliar peoples and animals. With the possibilities of failure, is there one definite answer to the question "why did the pilgrims leave England?"

What is a Pilgrim?

By definition, a pilgrim is someone who makes a special journey for religious reasons. The destination doesn't necessarily need to be holy. It can be just a place the traveler can express his religion.

Why Did the Pilgrims Leave England?

The pilgrims decided England's Act of Uniformity Law, enacted in 1559, restricted religious freedom. The law stated all British citizens must attend services and adhere to the traditions laid forth by the Church of England. One group, called the Puritans, broke off from the Church of England, unhappy they couldn't practice any religion they wanted. Their convictions were strong and their voices caused the English monarch at the time to execute Puritans for disobeying the Uniformity Law. When King James came into power, the executions ended, but the hatred for the Puritans continued.

The Puritans headed first to Holland. There, they could practice any religion they chose; however, the challenge of learning the Dutch language proved more difficult than expected. The younger pilgrims and children slowly adopted Dutch traditions, so the Puritans decided in order to completely obtain religious freedom, they needed two things: the ability to speak English and a new place they could colonize with their own people. The solution was to travel to the New World.

In 1620, the Puritans headed back to England for preparations to sail to the New World on one of the most famous ships in history, the Mayflower.

Success and Hardship

Sailing a little over two months, the Pilgrims eventually reached what is now Cape Cod, but did not colonize at that spot. Instead, the group moved north and eventually reached what is Plymouth. With new possibilities came many arguments and disagreements. Eventually, the Pilgrims divided into two, calling themselves the Strangers and the Saints. For most of the trip, the groups fought over how life should start and continue, but when they found the New World on November 10, the Saints and the Strangers merged back together, realizing they should stay together. The Mayflower Compact was born -- the two groups were now one, named the Plymouth Pilgrims.

The very first winter for the Pilgrims was tough. The weather remained harsh for most of the months following their arrival -- food was hard to find and sickness and death embattled the Pilgrims.

Help Arrives

The Indians stayed away from the Pilgrims during the first winter because the Indians were afraid of diseases and being captured for slavery. However, in March of the next year, an Indian named Samoset bravely approached the pilgrims and, soon after, introduced the pilgrims to Squanto, who could speak English. Over time, the Indians learned to trust the pilgrims. One of the most important factors in establishing that trust was the fact the pilgrims respected the Indians' burial sites since the pilgrims held strong beliefs in religion, which they practiced freely now.

With trust high, the Indians helped the pilgrims survive in the New World. The Indians taught the pilgrims to remove sap from trees, grow domestic crops, and showed them the best places to fish and hunt.


To show thanks for all the Indians help, William Bradford proposed a three-day feast where the pilgrims and Indians would sit down together and eat. This event quickly became the basis of what Americans now celebrate as Thanksgiving.

With a little history surrounding the journey to the New World, you can now answer the question "Why did the pilgrims leave England?"