Leiden in Holland was a city of free-thinkers, relative religious tolerance, and a long tradition of offering shelter to the dispossessed. Following their escape from England, the Mayflower Pilgrims carved new lives here, bought land near Pieterskerk and built houses that became known as the Engelse poort (English Alley).
Living here for 12 years, Leiden had a profound influence on the lives of the Pilgrims - even after their departure. 'Civil marriage' was one innovation that the Pilgrims took with them to the new world.
Led by John Robinson, the group of refugees were granted leave to settle in the city - the request was answered with... “No honest persons will be refused free and unconstrained entry to the city to take up residence”.
From 1620 some of the Pilgrim community emigrated from Leiden to North America.
There were several reasons the Pilgrims left Leiden. The freedom of religion was limited in the Netherlands too. On top of that the threat of war loomed large, because of the end of the Twelve Year Truce with Spain in 1621. The economic situation of the Pilgrims was not always very good and finally they were afraid that their children would integrate too much into Dutch life, and the Dutch church. They were right on the last count. More than half of the group remained in Leiden and eventually became indistinguishable from the locals.
The ships that brought the Pilgrims across the Atlantic have become famous: Mayflower (1620), Fortune (1621), Anne and Little James (1623) and the second Mayflower (1629).
Their Pilgrims years in Holland formed one of the bases from which they worked. That is why you can still discern old Leiden traditions in the modern USA.
Nine times from Pilgrim to President
Since the Pilgrims came to American no fewer than nine of their descendants have made it to President. Presidents Taylor, Grant, Roosevelt, Bush sr. and jr. and Obama all have a Leiden Pilgrim ancestor.
- John Adams – 1797-1801
- His son John Quincy Adams – 1825-1829
- Zachary Taylor – 1849-1850
- Ulysses S. Grant – 1869-1877
- James A. Garfield – 1881-1881
- Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1933-1945
- George H.W. Bush – 1989-1993
- George W. Bush – 2001-2009
- Barack H. Obama — 2009 – 2016
Leiden-born Thomas Willett became the first mayor of New York. A letter written by this Pilgrim to Hugh Goodyear, vicar of the English reformed church in Leiden on the 16th of September 1660, can be found in the archives in Leiden.