Koornbeursbrug in Leiden
© Kees Hummel
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400 years since the Mayflower’s voyage

Before the Pilgrims sailed to North America, they spent 12 years in Leiden as religious refugees. Now recognized as modern America’s founders, their Dutch experiences went on to influence their early settlement across the ocean. 2020 marks 400 years since the voyage, and the Leiden400 commemoration is a chance to learn about the Pilgrims’ story from various perspectives. Don’t miss the virtual experiences that you can enjoy from home.

  • Take part in the online opening of Leiden400 on May 16.
  • Retrace the steps of America’s founders during their time in the Netherlands.
  • Discover the Pilgrims’ journey through online exhibitions.

The Pilgrims in The Netherlands

Pilgrims were known as Separatists, a religious group that broke away from the church after King Henry VIII forced England to follow the Anglican denomination when he renounced Roman Catholicism. They fled to the Dutch city of Leiden, where they lived for 12 years. In their journey to North America to start a new community in what is now the state of Virginia, they sailed from Delfshaven (Rotterdam) to England on a ship called the Speedwell, and then crowded aboard the Mayflower with 102 passengers and 30 crew. The boat arrived in Cape Cod on 21 November 1620, and eventually settled in the town now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Today, approximately 25 million Americans are estimated to be descendants of the Pilgrims, and nine presidents had ancestors who travelled on the Mayflower, including Barack Obama. The Pilgrims’ time in the Netherlands went on to influence American culture as well. Civil marriage for example, a Dutch legal ‘innovation’, lies at the very basis of the separation between church and state. And in fact, the first Thanksgiving on 3 October is linked with a commemoration of Leiden’s freedom from Spanish rule.

Watch the opening via livestream

Marking 400 years since the Pilgrims’ journey, the Leiden400 event offers a fascinating insight into their history. The opening will be livestreamed on social media due to coronavirus (COVID-19) measures, which means you can join in from home. Take a virtual tour through Leiden’s historic center and learn about the history (in English) from museum directors and curators. In addition to guiding you through inspiring monuments and exhibitions, the tour visits Leiden Botanical Gardens and the Museum of Ethnology. Tune in to the livestream by visiting Mayflower400NL on Facebook or Leiden, Stad van Ontdekkingen on Facebook or YouTube.

Plaque at Pieterskerk in Leiden

Exhibition highlights

Leiden American Pilgrim Museum
  • Explore the exciting exhibition Pilgrims to America - and the limits of freedom of Museum De Lakenhal. The museum will reopen on June 1st.
  • See the Leiden City Hall and other locations through the eyes of the Pilgrims and explore 360-degree reconstructions of Leiden in 1600.
  • Picture yourself in Pilgrim times at the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, which offers a glimpse into the daily life of the Pilgrims, and browse artifacts, maps and engravings that bring their stories to life.
  • Step into a historic church. Marriages, baptisms and deaths among the Pilgrims were noted in the records of the Pieterskerk Leiden (St Peters church), which they lived across from. Interestingly, the Pilgrims’ journey overlapped with Rembrandt’s early years in Leiden, where he sang in the church choir.
  • View hundreds of original documents detailing business partnerships, property purchases, wills, court cases and more at Leiden Heritage. The Ancestor Booth for tracing your own family’s history offers an online search while the museum is closed.
Pieterskerk in Leiden

Visit Delfshaven (Rotterdam) from home

The small port of Delfshaven was put on the map after the Pilgrims’ historic voyage. You can get a sense of this historic part of Rotterdam with the Rotterdam Routes app, in which local historian and journalist Ferrie Weeda takes you back in time. The online experience TimeTransit also launches this summer, which recreates stories from 1620 to today both in Delfshaven and Leiden.

Visiting Leiden and Delfshaven later

When it’s safe to travel again, you can continue immersing yourself in Pilgrim history in Leiden and Delfshaven, even after the 400-year commemoration concludes. In Leiden, you can take a Pilgrim Walking Tour, visit De Vliet monument, and view digital reconstructions of buildings like City Hall in 1600 and Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk church. While in Delfshaven you can visit the Pilgrim Fathers' Church and see what else Rotterdam has to offer.

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