Worshipping in ancestors' English church, 400 years on

By: John And Martha Kemp

By: John And Martha Kemp

By: John And Martha Kemp

On May 17, we worshipped at St. Mary's Church in Redenhall, Norfolk, England, where John's 10th great-grandfather, Edward Fuller, was baptized on Sept. 4, 1595. This experience was one of the highlights of our tour of 15 cities in England and Holland from which the Mayflower Pilgrims came before they traveled to North America in 1620.

One of the discoveries of our genealogical research has been that John is the descendant of Edward Fuller, who, along with his wife and their 12-old-son, Samuel, was one of the 103 Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower. Edward, one of the 41 signers of the Mayflower Compact, is not well-known because he and his wife, along with nearly half of the Pilgrims, died the first winter in Plymouth, Mass.

Fortunately for John, their son Samuel survived the first winter and lived to old age in Massachusetts. Because of his heritage, John is a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, an organization open to all descendants of the Mayflower.

The Mayflower Pilgrims were part of the Separatist and Puritan movements against the Church of England during the latter part of the 16th century. Much of the initial protest activity began in the small towns of Scrooby and Austerfield in the Nottinghamshire area. William Brewster and William Bradford, two of the most famous Mayflower Pilgrims, came from this area.

Many of the Separatist meetings took place in the Brewster family home, Scrooby Manor House, which we visited. Because it stands on the Great North Road, the main thoroughfare between London and Edinburgh in the 15th and 16th centuries, it probably hosted visits by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and many other royal visitors.

Due to persecution by the civil and church authorities in England, both Brewster and Bradford, along with Edward Fuller, traveled to Holland in 1607. They settled first in Amsterdam and then moved to Leiden. By 1618, however, the local community became upset with them, and they made their decision to go to the new world of America.

Therefore, on July 20, 1620, a group of the Separatists left Leiden on the ship Speedwell to join the Mayflower, which was sailing from London with another group of Separatists. The two ships met in Southampton and sailed on Aug. 20.

Unfortunately, the Speedwell developed severe leaks and had to stop in Dartmouth to be repaired. As they started out, however, the Speedwell again developed problems, so both the Speedwell and the Mayflower returned to Plymouth, England.

There it was determined that only the Mayflower could go on. Some of the people would have to stay in England, but 103 people managed to crowd onto the Mayflower to continue the journey on Sept. 6, 1620. (One of the passengers, William Button, died on the crossing, so 102 arrived in America on Nov. 11, 1620.)

Our experience in Plymouth was awe-inspiring. We visited the house in which the Pilgrims met to decide who would go on the Mayflower. We met and prayed together in the Elizabethan garden where the Pilgrims prayed for the last time before they began their journey.

We walked down the steps to the ocean where they took their last steps on English soil before embarking on their journey. Most of them never set foot on English soil again nor did they ever see their family and friends in England again.

Our tour gave meaning to what it has meant for John to be descended from one of the pioneering founders of this country. His ancestor had the courage to give up everything in his home country to start on a journey to an unknown future.

He, along with the other signers of the Mayflower Compact, helped lay the foundation for a new nation that would provide new freedoms to millions of future immigrants who would come from all over the world for many centuries to come.

John and Martha Kemp have lived in Urbana for 45 years. John is retired from the University of Illinois, where he was coordinator of School & College Relations, state director of the North Central Association of Colleges and School, and assistant professor of educational administration. Martha is a retired teacher at Thomas Paine Elementary in Urbana.

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