In England in the early 1600s, everyone was forced to join the Church of England. Young William Bradford and his friends believed they had every right to belong to whichever church they wanted. In the name of religious freedom, they fled to Holland, then sailed to America to start a new life. But the winter was harsh, and before a year passed, half the settlers had died. Yet, through hard work and strong faith, a tough group of Pilgrims did survive. Their belief in freedom of religion became an American ideal that still lives on today.
James Daugherty draws on the Pilgrims' own journals to give a fresh and moving account of their life and traditions, their quest for religious freedom, and the founding of one of our nation's most beloved holidays; Thanksgiving.
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The blast of the courier's horn sounded gaily across the fields. The post riders were nearing the town of Scrooby on the great North Road from London. The dogs barked, and children ran out shouting. A few villagers hurried toward the big house called the Manor. All were eager to see the post riders change horses in the Manor courtyard.
Young Will Bradford heard the noise and broke into a run. If he hurried now he would be just in time to see the riders gallop in. As Will came panting into the courtyard, the stable boys led out the two fresh horses. The animals were saddled and all ready to be mounted by the post riders who were about to arrive.
In a few moments the horn sounded again. The two riders came pounding over the drawbridge on their lathering horses, and through the gate to the Manor courtyard.
The post rider in his high boots and scarlet coat leaped from his horse and quickly unstrapped the two leather mail bags.
At that moment, William Brewster, the Postmaster of Scrooby, came down the stone steps of the Manor to receive the mail. While Brewster entered the contents of the post bags in his books of registry, the post rider and his bugler were guzzling their dinner of cold mutton and beer. In fifteen minutes they must be riding their fresh mounts north on the road toward York.
Having finished the meal, they swung into the saddle and were off. The gay notes of the postman's horn faded sweedy into the distance. The village again settled back into the drowsy dullness of a long afternoon.
Not so William Brewster, who, with his many duties, found litde time for idleness. Brewster, as Postmaster at Scrooby, was the great man of the countryside. He was Steward of the Manor and collected the rents from the tenants of the wide domain of the Archbishop of York. He was the administrator of law and justice for the district. A man of learning, Brewster had attended Cambridge in his youth, where he had studied Greek and Latin.
Later, in the service of Queen Elizabeth, he had accompanied one of her ambassadors on an important mission to the Low Countries. He had seen the- great world, yet he had come back to this remote corner of England to be Postmaster at Scrooby where his father had held the same office.
Although Brewster had moved among the great ones of his day, he was neither proud nor vain. He was respected by his neighbors for his wisdom and godliness. When a neighbor was sick or in trouble and needed the help of a friend, he knew that he could find it at the hands of the Postmaster of Scrooby Manor.
No one had felt the warmth of Master Brewster's kindness more than young Will Bradford, who looked to him almost as a father. When the boy had been left an orphan and was long ill, Master Brewster had often traveled the two miles from Scrooby to Austerfield, to visit him and bring presents. As young Will slowly recovered, his friend had helped him in his studies and had given him a copy of the Bible printed in English at Geneva. This Geneva Bible wis still a new and rare book in that part of England. Will spent happy hours absorbed in its wondrous pages. He and the Postmaster often talked together of its beauty and meaning. In hours of loneliness and pain the book had brought the boy a marvelous comfort and peace.
Later when Will had visited Master Brewster at the Manor, he had heard him tell brave tales of the great world of London and of the brilliant court of Queen Bess. The lad thrilled to hear the story of how, in 1588, the year before he was born, the terrible Armada of King Philip, with all the might of Spain, had sailed against England; and of how Sir Francis Drake and his fearless sea dogs had sallied forth against the great array.
Will felt as if he himself had been upon the English decks in all the flame and thunder of the fierce encounter. In the night, Drake had loosed the terrible fire ships blazing among the Spanish fleet. Cutting their cables, the Spaniards had put to sea, and a great wind had blown them toward the coast of Holland. There the English gunners hammered the enemy to pieces as the great hulks of Spain's proudest ships went up in smoke and flame.
In his imagination young Will pictured himself as a sea captain capturing treasure ships on the Spanish Main. When I become a man, he thought, I shall sail a ship across the wide ocean sea and go adventuring in wild America.
Now he was in his teens and had never even seen the sea, although the coast was but fifty miles from where he lived. Perhaps he never would see it, for his uncles planned, very sensibly, that he should be a farmer and cultivate the goodly lands his father had left him.