To bring together scholars who explain historical phenomena using the methods of the social sciences

2020 Mayflower year

2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, one of the most
influential journeys in global history and a defining moment in the shared history of
England, America and the Netherlands. Before the Pilgrims founded Plymouth
Colony in 1620, they spent twelve years living, working and praying in Leiden, free
from religious persecution by the English crown.

Connected to the anniversary there will be several exhibitions at Leiden museums and city walks
that will be of interest to the participants of the ESSHC. We also encourage session proposals around the
themes connected to this history.

The Leiden Story
Their arrival in Leiden in 1609 is no coincidence as it was a city that advocated
itself with tolerance and freedom: Leiden welcomed French Huguenots,
Walloons and Flemings fleeing from persecution. The Pilgrims’ houses stood in
the shadow of Leiden’s St. Pieterskerk, close to the newly founded university
where at that time, scientists like Snellius, Scaliger, Gomarus and Arminius
worked. In those years, Clusius grew the first tulips in Leiden’s Hortus botanical
garden and a young Rembrandt attended the Latin school, all at a stone’s
throw from each other. The Pilgrims lived in Leiden at the very heart of this
dynamic period and even contributed in to the start of Holland’s Golden Age:
John Robinson took part in the Arminian debates and William Brewster taught
English to Dutch Leiden University students.

Influence on the new world
From the departure of the Pilgrims in 1620, the story continues, linking our city
to other places in the world, from Delftshaven, Southampton and Plymouth to
Cape Cod. It is estimated that today, some 25 million Americans are
descendants of the Pilgrims and no fewer than nine US presidents had
ancestors who travelled across on the Mayflower, including Barack Obama.
Leiden has tangible American heritage within its centre, like the Pieterskerk
(where John Robinson is buried) and the Pilgrim Archives. The free-thinking
spirit of Leiden has influenced the United States directly. Civil marriage for
example, lies at the very basis of the separation between church and state. The
Pilgrims had learned about this legal ‘innovation’ in Leiden and took it with
them across the Atlantic. The first street in the Unites States, called First Street,
was renamed Leyden Street in honour of the city that welcomed them and gave
them freedom.

Themes behind the commemoration
But it’s more than a remarkable chapter in history. It’s a story about themes
that are relevant today: freedom of religion, tolerance and migration. The story
of the Mayflower is also the story of 102 people in search of liberty and
prosperity who risked their lives crossing the ocean in the hold of a small cargo
ship. Strikingly, this is reminiscent of the images we see on our TV screens
daily. Today too, we struggle with the consequences of immigration. It is
important to note in this context that the migration of the Pilgrims also had
negative consequences for the native inhabitants of America. In this sense, the
story mirrors the complex issues of tolerance and intolerance.