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)

Church of St. Louis (Lodewijskerk)

Church of St. Louis
(John Hanc)
Despite the occasional respite at the Burcht, the Pilgrims’ life in Leiden was principally one of long, hard labor, much of it at the looms, where they wove various fabrics—linen, fustian, serge, wool cloth—that made the city rich. William Bradford, a weaver like many of his fellow Pilgrims, was a member of the cloth guild that met in the Lodewijskerk, a 16th-century church with a decorative tower. The chapel served as a guildhall in the early 17th century. “That’s where Bradford and other weavers had to bring their products for guild inspection before anything could be sold,” Bangs says. Once in the New World, Bradford put aside his loom and proved to be a most capable leader. He became the governor of the Plymouth Colony, a post he would hold for more than 30 years, and wrote Of Plymouth Plantation, still considered the most complete history of the Pilgrims.

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