The core of the group of colonists who founded Plymouth Plantation (meaning Plymouth Colony) were members of a single congregation, the Scrooby Congregation. They were Puritan Separatists, so called because they desired complete separation from the Anglican Church (unlike some other Puritans).
Their religious leaders were vicars Richard Clyfton and John Robinson (1576-1625). Both were followers of the Anglican priest Robert Browne, the founder of the Separatist movement, also called the Brownist Movement.
Starting in 1607, many of them moved to Amsterdam and from there to the smaller university city of Leiden in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. William Bradford emerged as a civil leader here and would later serve as Governor of Plymouth Plantation five times. A few of them found work at Leiden University, but quite a lot of them could only find work as unskilled laborers and spent their savings.
Some of them returned to England for financial reasons. There were also Separatist Puritans who left the Dutch Republic or wanted to leave because they found it difficult to learn Dutch, they felt Dutch culture was too permissive, or over time they could see their children becoming Dutch. Further, they feared Habsburg Spain might reconquer the Dutch Republic.
At Leiden University, Robinson took part in the Arminian Controversy. He sided with the Calvinists against the Remonstrant faction founded by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). This is to say, he rejected free will in favor of predestination.
They had the financial backing of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, who hired other, Anglican colonists to accompany the Separatist Puritans. Today, we call the whole party “Pilgrims” but to the Separatists, the adventurers, tradesmen, and servants who came with them were “Strangers.” The Separatists called themselves “Saints.”
A group from the congregation who were thought to be strong enough to make the voyage and establish the colony took a canal ride from Leiden to the port of Delvshaven, where they set sail aboard a small ship they had purchased, the Speedwell, and rendezvoused with the Mayflower, which the colonists had leased to carry a party from England, at the port-city of Southampton in Hampshire on the south coast of England.
The two ships left port in August of 1620 with 121 passengers. However, the Speedwell began to leak and had to return to port.
The two ships went to the port-city of Dartmouth in Devonshire (north of Cornwall) in South West England. They set sail again, but the Speedwell sprang a leak a second time and the two ships stopped again, this time at the port-city of Plymouth, also in Devonshire. There, they sold the Speedwell.
The Mayflower set out alone in September with 102 passengers. They found the Atlantic Ocean calm at first, but encountered storms during the second half of the journey, which took sixty-five days, during which time one crewman died, one passenger died, and a baby boy was born.
She was supposed to take the colonists to the mouth of the Hudson River in what the English considered North Virginia (now New York), not the colony of New England, which the English government was trying to establish north of Virginia, but the Mayflower ended up far off course. This land belonged to the Plymouth Council for New England, a joint-stock company, had received a royal charter from King James I of England/King James VI of Scotland in November of 1620, but the charter had not been granted by the time the Mayflower set sail.
Since they were so far off course, some of the passengers felt they could do whatever they wanted when they went ashore, ignoring their debt to the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London. To address this issue, while the Mayflower was anchored off Cape Cod, some of the Separatist Puritans wrote the Mayflower Compact, a contract under which they voted to form a body politic. Most of the men – forty-one of the 101 passengers – signed the Mayflower Compact.
In December, the colonists explored the coastline and decided to plant their colony near the abandoned Wampanoag village of Patuxet, the unfortunate residents of which had been wiped out by an epidemic, possibly smallpox. They called the colony Plymouth Plantation (in honor of the port-city of Plymouth they had left).
Accustomed to the more moderate climate England enjoys (we now know thanks to the Gulf Stream), they were ill-prepared for their first winter in New England. Only fifty-three of the 102 passengers survived that first winter and half the ship’s crew died, as well.
Their first encounters with natives did not go well because some of the Englishmen who had earlier visited the area ostensibly to fish in the waters off the coastline had attacked native villages. In one case, Thomas Hunt captured natives hoping to sell them into slavery in Malaga, Spain. One of those men was Squanto, who had managed to return to the area and was able to help negotiate a treaty.
When the Separatist Congregationalist Pilgrims landed in 1620, they carried ashore both Henry Ainsworth’s translation of Psalms (in prose and meter) and The Whole Book of Psalms Translated into English Metre by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and Others. They became dissatisfied with these texts because they wanted more exact translations from the Hebrew and wanted their own “divines” (theologians) to carry out the task.
A group of about thirty divines – including John Cotton and Richard Mather – divvied up the work of translating the 150 psalms into English metre. While they were at work, the Reverend Josse Glover, a Calvinist in London, organized the furnishing of paper, press and type.
Rev. Glover raised the funds in England and the Dutch Republic to purchase and ship French paper along with an English printing press and type. Glover also arranged for an indentured locksmith, Stephen Daye, to operate the press, though his eighteen-year-old son, Matthew Daye, who had been apprenticed to a printer, may have done much of the work.
The Glover and Daye families set sail for Plymouth Colony in 1638 on the John of London. Glover died aboard ship. His widow and Stephen Daye set up the press and began printing, possibly in 1639.
James Barron pointed out in The New York Times, “The press operator was a locksmith who was apparently learning as he went along: some of the pages were bound in the wrong order. At the bottom of one, someone wrote, ‘Turn back a leaf.’”
The Old South Church congregation formed in 1669 as the Third Church in Boston. At the time, the ministers of both the First and Second Churches of Boston required that baptized adult members of their congregations have “born again” experiences before their children could be baptized.
Twenty-eight laymen who belonged to the First Church of Boston and accepted the “Halfway Covenant” of 1662 formed the Third Church with the understanding that children who were baptized could join the church as full members as adults and have their children be baptized.
The Old South Church states on its Web site, “In the early 19th century, this congregation, under the leadership of ministers Joseph Eckley, Joshua Huntington and Benjamin Wisner, again went against the prevailing congregational theology of the day, and resisted becoming Unitarian. Old South Church was in fact the only congregational church in Boston to remain Trinitarian during the Unitarian movement, and to continue worshiping God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today this Trinity is expressed as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.”
The congregation’s first church building is now called the Cedar Meeting House. It opened in 1670.
At a meeting there is 1697, Judge Samuel Sewell – one of the nine judges in the Salem witch trials in 1692 – publicly recanted his rulings. In 1700, he would published the first American anti-slavery tract, The Selling of Joseph.
The second meetinghouse opened in 1730. It was called the Meeting-house.
Benjamin Franklin was baptized in the Meeting-house within hours of his birth. Other famous congregation members included revolutionaries Samuel Adams (1722-1803) and William Dawes (1745-1799); Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), America’s first published Black poetess; and Elizabeth Vergoose, whom some scholars believe inspired the Mother Goose of nursery rhymes.
Jacob M. Manning, the minister from 1857 to 1882, was a radical abolitionist who allowed the Meeting-house to be used as a recruiting station for the U.S. Army. In one day, 1,019 men enlisted to defend the Union.
The congregation’s third and current house of worship is unmistakably a church, and bears a much greater resemblance to Catholic (and Anglican) cathedrals and churches than one might expect based on the congregation’s antecedents. They acknowledge as much in this statement from the Old South church’s “History” Web page, “This National Historic Landmark building is an unusually ornate design for a New England Congregational church. It radiates the opulent taste and the sense of optimism and progress of the Industrial Revolution following the Civil War.”
This church is the “New” Old South Church, which opened in 1875. Since the first Boston marathon in 1897, it has also been called the “Church on the Finish Line.”
It stands at the northwest corner of Copley Square in the Back Bay area. Architects Charles Amos Cummings (1833-1905) and Willard Thomas Sears (1837-1920) were devotees of the English art critic Ruskin (1819-1900), an advocate of the Gothic Revival style, and drew on Venetian Gothic style for inspiration.
The walls are of Roxbury Conglomerate, also known as Roxbury puddingstone. The sandstone façade is mostly beige with red decorative bands and an occasional yellow stone, as well. The roof has alternating bands of black and red slate tiles.
The copper-clad cupola evokes the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice and has twelve Gothic arched windows. This is an example of a roof lantern.
A distinguishing feature is the 246-foot-tall campanile (bell tower). The original campanile began to list in the 1920s and had to be torn down lest it collapse. The architectural firm of Allen & Collens designed the replacement tower and a chapel dedicated in memory of Rev. George Angier Gordon, the minister from 1884 to 1927.
The narthex screen is carved Caen limestone (which is to say quarried in Caen, France). The English firm Clayton & Bell manufactured the stained glass windows in the English 15th Century style. The sanctuary has been renovated three times, most recently in 1985.
Old South Church was part of the Congregational denomination. It joined the United Church of Christ (UCC) when it formed in 1957 as a result of a merger between the Congregational Christian Churches, of which Old South Church was a part, and the Evangelical & Reformed Church.
Old South Church describes the United Church of Christ as “a socially inclusive and progressive denomination.”
Everything one might want to know about what Old South Church is like now is probably summed up by this statement posted on the Old South Church in Boston Media Relations Portal. “For 344 years, Old South Church has stood as a vibrant Christian community. From Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Adams, from the first published African American poet to the first anti-slavery tract, from civil rights to LGBT rights, from affordable housing to overcoming racism, we engage in ministries of freedom, mercy, justice and beauty. We are a congregation of the United Church of Christ, welcoming all who seek to journey toward the promised realm of God. Our life together is animated by our belief in the presence of the Living God, whom we come to know through the rhythms of worship, prayer, scripture and learning, generosity, kindness and hospitality.”
There is also this statement from the “History” web page, “Old South Church is a spiritual home to more than 650 people raised in many different faiths, who have responded to the invitation of Christ carved into the stone of the church’s portico, ‘Behold, I Have Set Before Thee An Open Door’ (Revelation 3:8). We affirm each individual as a child of God, and recognize that we are called to be like one body with many members, seeking with others of every race, ethnicity, creed, class, age, gender, marital status, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to journey together toward the promised realm of God, relying upon the healing, unconditional nature of God’s love and grace to be our help and guide.”