A little farther north, along the Old North Road, into the county of Yorkshire, the little village of Scrooby sat on the bank of the River Ryton. At the age of nine or ten, William Brewster came to live at Scrooby. This was in 1575 when William’s father, also named William, was appointed overseer of Scrooby manor, a position that gave him a great deal of authority and considerable income. Consequently, the younger Brewster was provided a quite thorough education which very few people were fortunate enough to have in those times. In 1589 he returned to Scrooby and succeeded his father as overseer.
During these times, England was actually ruled by the Catholic Church. Oh yes, there was a king or queen on the throne, but most authority was delegated to church officers; and they ruled with a free and heavy hand. Local congregations had no voice in the choice of their ministers and were told exactly how they should worship. Failure to attend church regularly was severely punished, as was any attempt to form congregations outside the narrow confines of the Catholic Church. Guilt of these and such other infractions as unpaid taxes, public misbehavior and lack of patriotism was decided and sentences imposed with cruel and wanton indifference, at the whim of any and all officers of the church and state. People were thrown in prison, hanged and even burned at the stake for minor offenses. A desire for religious freedom was driving more and more people to take the risk of joining together in secret congregations separate from the strict and harsh Church of England. William Brewster was one of the many around Scrooby taking this risk. Much is known about Brewster during these times because he later wrote and published a complete account of his life. His writings left a record of the progression of life and events at Scrooby and there can be little doubt that it was the same elsewhere. People over in Norfolk County were joining together in secret congregations too and, there as in Scrooby, some were caught, some were fined, some were jailed and some were executed. In fear and desperation, they began to flee the country. Holland permitted religious freedom and accepted any honest and decent refugees. So, beginning in 1593, the first Pilgrims began fleeing to Amsterdam. Here they established an new church which was called the Ancient Brethren.
At least two of Robert Fuller’s children were among these Pilgrims. Edward and Samuel were in Holland although there seems to be no record of when they fled England. This is certainly not surprising since it was forbidden to leave England without permission; and permission was denied to religious separatists. So, of course, the Fullers and most other Pilgrims, slipped away as quietly as possible and tried to leave no evidence for anyone to follow. Some, like William Brewster, later wrote of these times and so left a record of the dates and events but apparently none of the Fullers did.
Beginning in Amsterdam, however, many records were kept and books were written and published. In fact, one of the main reasons that the Pilgrims came to be so famous was because some of them were quite literary and readily used the printing press to promote their cause and their fame. From these records, it is known that the Church of the Ancient Brethren was torn by bickering and scandal; and in 1609 Samuel Fuller was the leader of a group that left that congregation and moved to Leyden. Here they bought a building known as the Green Gate. Although they themselves never adopted a name for this congregation, it has since been known as the Green Gate Congregation. Samuel was the first deacon of this congregation and, for several years, the only deacon.
These were hard times for the Pilgrims at Green Gate. In the course of fleeing England and traveling overseas and overland to Leyden most of them had spent, or been robbed of, their money. In Leyden they found it difficult to find employment because they were not Dutch citizens. In addition to that, most of them were shopkeepers, innkeepers or tradesmen and not accustomed to common labor. Being poor meant that their diets were deficient and that they had to live in a poor section of town where sanitation was lacking. They lived a miserable existence for a time and death took its toll. In time, however, one by one and little by little, they began to recover from their destitution and some of them even accumulated some wealth. Green Gate was a congregation of high morals and efficient management. This group of Pilgrims was industrious and honest and won the respect, as well as acceptance, of the Dutch. By 1620 they were back on their feet and still enjoying the freedom to worship as they pleased.
But, regardless of the improved circumstances, an uneasiness had crept in and talk had begun of relocating. Even though they were doing well now and enjoying a good relationship with the Dutch, they began to worry about their little group blending in with the Dutch and eventually disappearing. This was a valid worry because there had already been intermarriages with the Dutch and the great difference in their numbers was sure to result in them being swallowed up in the Dutch population. Also, their children were constantly picking up Dutch customs and attitudes which were considered frivolous and unchristian by the Pilgrims. So, it was decided that a group of them should go to America right away and, after they had established a colony there, the rest would follow.
Excerpted from “Wool Trompers” by J.L.Fuller