In 2020, The United States, The Netherlands and England will be commemorating the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. This offers a unique opportunity to honour the legacy of the passengers and crew who sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth UK to Plymouth USA, and to highlight their stories and heritage. The sailing of the Mayflower has become an almost mythical event over time: the Pilgrims became known as the founders of America.

The Mayflower 400 programme has been designed to champion the values of freedom, faith and personal liberty that drove the Pilgrims to take their journey, and will deliver a world-class series of events, public art and wider content that will commemorate the exceptional voyage of the Mayflower in 1620. The official commemoration will begin in November 2019 with the Illuminate festival of Thanksgiving. More events will be announced in the lead up to 2020. 


In the 16th century, in England King Henry the 8th wanted to divorce his wife. However, the Pope did not allow this. Therefore, Henry decided to break away from the Catholic church and begin his own church: the Church of England. This was made the state religion, and following any other religion would lead to presecution. There were a lot of people in England however, who did not agree with the Church of England, and started their own group, these were the Separatists. To avoid being prosecuted, The Separatists decided that they wanted to emigrate to a place with religious freedom, and eventually fled to The Netherlands. 

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In February of 1609, the Leiden city government granted a hundred English religious refugees permission to settle in Leiden. Many of the group that moved to Leiden for religious freedom had little trouble adapting to the dynamic, multicultural city. This however led the leaders of the group to be afraid that they would lose their religious and cultural identity. This was one of the reasons why they decided they wanted to leave and begin their own settlement somewhere new. Another important reason was that some people found life in Leiden difficult: it was very different to their rural life in England and they did not earn a lot of money working in the textile industry. After almost twelve years of living in Leiden, the leaders of the group decided they would travel to Virginia, USA to start a new community where they could live and worship as they pleased. However, only about half of the 100 people that came to Leiden in 1609 left with them. On August 16th 1620, the group left from Delfshaven on the ship Speedwell. 


In England, the Pilgrims on the Speedwell joined the Mayflower and left to sail to Virginia. However, there were issues with the Speedwell as there were leakages on board which made it impossible for the ship to go on, and both ships returned to England. Eventually, the Mayflower set sail on September 16th 1620. On board, there were about 30 crew members and 102 passengers. The journey to the United States was long, and the people on board had terrible living conditions, and due to low provisions many suffered from hunger. Due to the winter storms at sea, the Mayflower eventually ended up in Cape Harbour, instead of New Virginia, on November 21st 1620. 

Pilgrims Route - Leiden City Walk

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Follow in the footsteps of the Pilgrims, the illustrious forefathers of the United States, and discover the surprising origin of some customs and habits that they brought with them on the Mayflower from Leiden to the New World 400 years ago. Go back in time and experience what their environment was like in the Golden Age.

The walking tour, with all its lavishly illustrated background stories, numerous anecdotes and over 20 area maps around the more than 40 places of interest, is the ideal starting point for an unforgettable walk through historic Leiden. It can be bought in the VVV Leiden.

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