Delfshaven; The First Leg Of The Pilgrim’s Voyage To America

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Delfshaven, a historic neighborhood in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, holds great significance for Americans as it is closely associated with the Pilgrims’ voyage to America.

Sailing from Leiden to Delfshaven was the first leg of the Pilgrim’s voyage to America

In Delfshaven, the Pilgrims boarded the Speedwell, a small ship that later joined the larger Mayflower in Southampton, England.

However, Delfshaven was not the starting point of the Pilgrim’s voyage. Most Pilgrims on the Speedwell lived in Leiden before they voyaged to America.

Sailing from Leiden to Delfshaven was the first leg of the Pilgrim’s voyage to America.

Delfshaven was a sea harbor in The Netherlands from where they could sail to Southampton and embark on the Mayflower.

I live between Leiden en Delfshaven and followed in the Pilgrim’s footsteps to discover what still reminds us of this voyage that changed the world.

The Pilgrims left Leiden on barges and sailed over the river Vliet to Delfshaven. They spent the night in Delfshaven, in and around the Pilgrim Father’s Church. The next day, the Pilgrims embarked on the Speedwell and sailed for Southampton, where the Mayflower awaited.

Fortunately, we know a lot about this famous voyage of the Leiden Pilgrims because one of these Pilgrims, William Bradford, kept a diary.

This diary, titled of Plymouth Plantation, tells us what the Pilgrims did and what they were thinking during their years in Leiden, their voyage to the New World, and their early years in the New World.

Read on because there is much more to know about the first leg from Leiden to Delfshaven of one of the most important voyages in history.

The Pilgrim’s Departure From Leiden

The Leiden city center is exceptionally well preserved and feels like walking in an open-air museum on its cobblestoned streets. All the important locations in the Pilgrim’s period in Leiden are within walking distance.

If you visit Leiden, I highly recommend the Pilgrims walking tour, which will allow you to see all the highlights of the Pilgrim’s period in Leiden. You can also watch the video below to get an impression of Leiden and Delfshaven in under two minutes.

The Pilgrim William Bradford described their departure from Leiden extensively in his diary. Below, I have summarized their reasons for leaving Leiden and relocating to the New World.

So, they left the good and pleasant city,
which had been their resting place for nearly twelve years;
but they knew they were pilgrims,
and lifted up their eyes to the heavens,
their dearest country and quieted their spirits.

William Bradford, of Plymouth Plantation

When the congregation decided to relocate to the New World, the Leiden congregation had grown to around 300 souls. The congregation had a limited budget for travel and supplies, and it was clear that not all members could depart on that first journey.

John Robinson, their pastor, would remain in Leiden with the larger congregation, and William Brewster would lead the American community. William Brewster led 46 members of the Leiden congregation (16 men, 11 women, and 19 children) on their dangerous journey to the New World.

After lengthy discussions and careful consideration, it was decided that the younger and stronger congregation members should go first to set up the colony. The others would join them later when they could.

First, the Leiden Pilgrims needed to travel to Southampton, where the Mayflower waited. The nearest Dutch sea harbor was Delftshaven, about 36 km (22 mi) south of Leiden. Delfshaven could be reached from Leiden by sailing over the Vliet and Schie rivers.

On July 21, 1620, the pilgrims boarded barges on the quays of one of the canals in Leiden, Rapenburg. Those cobblestoned quays in the city center can still be visited, and you can easily imagine the pilgrims walking around on those quays. Rembrandt lived in Leiden in the same period as the pilgrims and may have watched their departure.

Leiden has a small statue to commemorate the Pilgrim’s departure from Leiden. This statue symbolizes the “step into the unknown” of the pilgrims. Unfortunately, the location of this monument does not mark the exact spot where the Pilgrims boarded the barges.

Instead, this Pilgrim statue is close to the Vlietbrug that used to be part of the city walls. Therefore, the monument’s location is where the pilgrims left Leiden, which is still a very suitable location, in my opinion.

According to William Bradford, the pilgrims were accompanied to Delfshaven by most of the other members of the Leiden congregation. Even people from Amsterdam came to Delfshaven and bid them farewell.

The Pilgrim’s Night in Delfshaven

The Pilgrims arrived in Delfshaven at the end of their first day of travel and stayed in Delfshaven that night. Nowadays, Delfshaven is one of the more popular residential neighborhoods of Rotterdam.

The Pilgrims spend the night in and in front of the Pilgrim Father’s Church in Delfshaven. This church was built in 1417 as the St. Anthonius Chapel and converted into a church in the late Gothic style in the 16th century.

The Pilgrim Fathers Church on the Aelbrechtskolk in Delfshaven can be visited, although it has limited opening hours, on alternate Friday and Saturday afternoons. You can check their website to find the exact opening dates and times.

When Did The Pilgrim Embark On The Speedwell?

The picture above on the left is the plate next to the front door of the Pilgrims Church. You may be a bit confused about August 1, 1620, as the date of the Pilgrim’s departure from Delfshaven, while I used July 22, 1620, as the Pilgrim’s departure date in this article.

The different dates of the Pilgrim’s embarkation are due to two different calendars, the Gregorian and the Julian calendar.

According to the Gregorian calendar, August 1, 1620, is the departure date of The Pilgrims from Delfshaven. However, the Julian calendar was still used in The Netherlands in 1620. According to the Julian calendar, the departure date of the Pilgrims was July 22, 1620.

I use July 22, 1620, as the date of the Pilgrim’s departure from Delfshaven because the Gregorian calendar was only introduced in The Netherlands in 1700, about 80 years later.

The Embarkation On The Speedwell

On July 22, 1620, the wind and the tide were good to embark on the Speedwell and sail to Southampton. The embarkation in Delfshaven occurred on the Middenkous quays, about 200 meters to the left of the Pilgrim Father’s Church, where they had spent the night.

William Bradford described the emotional farewell that even moved the Dutch spectators to tears. It was the last farewell for many of them.

And truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting,
what sighs and sobs and prayers rose amongst them,
what tears gushed from every eye,
and pithy speeches pierced each heart
And their reverent pastor, falling down on his knees, and all with him,
with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers
to the Lord and His blessing
William Bradford, of Plymouth Plantation

Rober Weir captured this emotional scene in his magnificent painting The Embarkation of the Pilgrims. This painting can be admired in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Painting by Robert Weir of the embarkment of the Pilgrims on the Speedwell

In this painting, the central figures are William Brewster, holding the Bible; Governor Carver, kneeling with head bowed and hat in hand; and pastor John Robinson, with extended arms, looking to heaven.

How Many Pilgrims Were On The Mayflower?

The pilgrims originally planned to sail together to the New World with the Mayflower and Speedwell. However, the Speedwell did not prove seaworthy and leaked too much to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the pilgrims left the Speedwell in England and only used the Mayflower to journey to the New World.

Not all 46 Leiden Pilgrims could embark on the Mayflower because the Mayflower could not carry everybody. As a result, nine of the forty-six Pilgrims from Leiden had to stay behind in England.

Out of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, only 41 passengers were Pilgrims who left for religious reasons. Out of those 41 Pilgrims, 37 came from Leiden. Among them were leaders such as William Brewster and William Bradford.

The other passengers on the Mayflower were selected for their practical skills that would come in handy in founding a new colony.

Another 3 Pilgrims from Leiden traveled on the Fortune in 1621. It is unclear how many Pilgrims from Leiden were on the Anne and Little James, two other ships that arrived in America in 1623.

The Pilgrim’s Journey After Leaving Delfshaven

Watch the brief video below to learn more about the Leiden Pilgrims after leaving Delfshaven to embark on the Mayflower in Southampton.

Frequently Asked Questions

When Was The Word Pilgrim First Used?

It must have been an emotional departure on those quays in Leiden on July 21, 1620. Many pilgrim families were split, as some members stayed behind in Leiden, planning to travel to the New World later.

William Bradford used the word Pilgrims for the first time during their departure from Leiden on July 21, 1620. However, while on the Mayflower, the Pilgrims called themselves Saints, and it took until the early 1800s before Pilgrims became a popular term as part of the Mayflower myth.

William Bradford also coined the term “Pilgrim Fathers” but used that much later, in 1630, and not on this occasion.

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Pim Tijburg
Pim has lived his entire life in The Netherlands and he enjoys writing this blog about his home country. His mission is to make you like The Netherlands as much as he does.