Monday, May 14, 2018


From the comment trail it appears that we need to clarify who some of the players in this drama are. In American colonial history the Plymouth Colony settlers were a mixture of Church of England and Separatist adherents. Today many British writers call Separatists ‘Independents,’ euphemistically meant to soften the persecution they experienced at the hands of the established church. Separatists are an English phenomenon. Many of them settled in Leiden. They believed that the established church was so corrupted with Catholic dogma and practice that it was irreformable. The only way to sound, uncorrupted worship was through separation. The crown and church saw this as treason and persecuted them mercilessly.


While Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists and others separated from the Catholic Church and were – like Separatists – Protestants, the term Separatist applies ONLY to the English phenomenon. Other than English exiles living in the Netherlands, there were no European Separatists.


Puritans were also a uniquely English growth. While there were those in Europe who sought pure doctrine and practice, Puritanism refers to those who wished to reform the English Church. Unlike their Separatist brethren, they believed the English church was reformable.  They sought reform through political power; the result was the English Civil War and abuses as sever as any under the king and church.


These are basics of American history because much of this story is the founding narrative for colonial era history. But surely at least some of this is taught in UK schools. Perhaps not. Each country’s textbooks foster myth. Myth is as surely created by omission as by falsehood.


Gary said...

Thank you Bruce. I much regret not listening carefully enough to my primary school education, which has held me back ever since. Apologies are due, but my error in describing Separatists as British was worth it for your excellent clarification. To be precise they were English. As I understand it, (and I might be wrong!), some children of English Separatists were born in Leiden, Holland. Assuming they retained the religious values of their parents during their life in the New World I guess they could therefore be described as English, Dutch or European.

B. W. Schulz said...

The Dutch-born children that neither returned to England or emigrated to America assimilated into Dutch culture and became what we know today as Dutch Reformed. They lost their identity as Separatists and as Englishmen. This happened with our ancestors. Mother, father and young daughter were on the Mayflower. The father died Christmas day 1620 at their anchorage in Provincetown Harbor. Another daughter and her husband emigrated a few years later. Others of their children assumed Dutch citizenship, married into Dutch families and lost their English identity. They also stopped being Separatists, adopting a cognate but ultimately different faith.

jerome said...

I wouldn't dream of entering this discussion because I admit that my knowledge of this era is very poor, but I was very glad to see the clarification of the use of the terms "English" and "British" and Bruce specifically using "English." Many writers (especially outside of Britain) get it wrong. The Welsh are British, the Scots are British, and the Northern Irish are British: in some contexts you would call them English at your peril.

Gary said...

Thank you Bruce for this explanation and fascinating insight into your family history. Jerome's comments remind me of the way the predominantly English press often seem to refer to the tennis player Andy Murray. When he wins he is referred to as 'our British tennis player', but if he loses he suddenly becomes 'the Scottish tennis player'. I will be glad when these national barriers are removed!