The Pilgrims Before Plymouth

A tour of the Dutch city of Leiden yields new insights into a chapter of the Thanksgiving story not taught in schools

Aerial view of the city of Leiden, Holland (© Picture Partners / Alamy)

The Walloon Church (Vrouwekerk)

Walloon Church
(John Hanc)
Among the many religious groups seeking refuge in Leiden in the late 1500s was the French Protestant sect known as the Walloons or Huguenots, who were granted use of one of Leiden’s large medieval churches, the Vrouwekerk. The Pilgrims, some of whom also attended the church, had extensive contact with the Walloons, and several Walloons joined the Pilgrims in colonizing Plymouth. Among them was Phillipe DeLannoy, who had been baptized at Vrouwekerk in 1603 and whose name is still discernible in that of his more famous descendant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR is one of four American presidents who are descended from De Lannoy and his extended family: Grant and the two Bushes are the others. (FDR’s middle name comes from his mother’s family; his distant relationship to Theodore Roosevelt is through his father.) Although only the east wall of the old church remains, a bronze commemorative plaque inscribed with the remarkable story of the route from the Walloon church to the White House will be unveiled at the site on Thanksgiving Day 2011.

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