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Join in the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers

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.

Above: Pieterskerk, Leiden. The Pieterskerk is associated with the Pilgrim Fathers, whose leader John Robinson, lived nearby. John Robinson is buried here, as are the physician Herman Boerhave and the painter Jan Steen (of Rijksmuseum fame). The church itself features a small exhibition on the Pilgrims in Leiden. Photo: Kees Hummel

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. For 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.

Above: Leiden's American Pilgrim Museum. The museum presents extensive information about Pilgrim life in Leiden, together with the history of the medieval house itself. In the museum, a collection of furniture, books, and other material from Pilgrim times illuminates the lives of these people in England, Leiden, and New England. The museum illustrates its Pilgrim narrative with a collection of 16th- and 17th-century maps and engravings by Gerard Mercator, Adriaen Pietersz, van de Venne, and others. Photo: Kees Hummel

Watch the opening via livestream on Saturday 16th May 2020, 3-7pm (BST)

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.

Exhibition highlights

  • 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.

Above: John Robinson, leader of the Pilgrim Fathers, lived near the Pieterskerk at Pieterskerkchoorsteeg, which is marked with a plaque, (above). Photo: Kees Hummel

Join in

This Saturday 16th May, a live broadcast will take place from Leiden showing the many historic sites associated with the Pilgrims along with visits to exhibitions and associated museums currently closed to the public.

During the 4 hour (3-7pm BST) broadcast there will be interviews with curators and historians.

Tune in to the livestream by visiting Mayflower400NL on Facebook or Leiden, Stad van Ontdekkingen on Facebook or YouTube.

For more information see: Leiden 400 commemoration and information and


Leiden featured in the Summer 2018 issue of Timeless Travels magazine.

Find out more about the contents of the Summer 2018 issue, and you can buy the digital issue for just £3.95, which can be downloaded immediately.


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