Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Brewster, William (pilgrim)

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BREWSTER, William, pilgrim, b. in England in 1560; d. in Plymouth, Mass., 10 April, 1644. There is a conflict of authorities as to the dates of his birth and death. Those here given agree with the official records of the colony as kept by Nathaniel Morton. Nottinghamshire was the county of his birth; but whether his father was William Brewster of Scrooby, or Henry or James Brewster, vicar of Sutton-cum-Lound, has never been positively determined. Gov. Bradford says that Brewster entered Cambridge university and remained there for a short time, but his college is not named. He was of good family, and his coat-of-arms is identical with that of the ancient Suffolk branch. After leaving Cambridge, probably in 1584, he entered the service of William Davison, ambassador, and afterward secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth, and with him visited the Netherlands, remaining in his service two years. Then, having become an earnest devotee of the Christian religion as taught by Hooker and his followers, he went to Scrooby, and so zealously interested himself in advancing the cause that he fell eventually under the ban of the church. First, however, he became postmaster at Scrooby, an office of much more consequence then than now, as it involved the supplying of relays of horses and the entertainment of travellers. Such offices were in that day often filled by persons of high social station. While holding this office, Mr. Brewster occupied Scrooby Manor, a possession of the archbishop of York, where royalty had often been entertained, and where Cardinal Wolsey passed several weeks after his deposition. His salary was 20d. a day until July, 1603, when it was raised to 2s. a day. By this time he and his associate “separatists” had become obnoxious to the “establishment,” and in 1607 they embarked in a sloop at Boston, bound for Holland, intending to flee the country; but the skipper betrayed them, and they were arrested. Brewster was imprisoned and bound over for trial. In the summer of 1608 he was more successful, sailed from Hull, and reached Amsterdam in safety. Having spent most of his property in effecting his own escape and aiding his poorer associates, he was obliged to teach English for a living. With the aid of friends he set up a printing-press, and did very well in a business point of view by printing religious books that were contraband in England. Through the assistance of his friend, Sir Edwin Sandys, treasurer of the Virginia company, he obtained a grant of land in North America, and in September, 1620, the first company of pilgrims set sail in the “Mayflower,” landing where Plymouth, Mass., now stands, on 21 Dec., 1620. Brewster was ruling elder of the church, and until 1629 acted as teacher and minister, enduring the hardships of the memorable first winter with wonderful courage and cheerfulness. He left four sons and a daughter, and his descendants are among the most honored New England families. His sword and many relics of his personal property are still preserved in the museum of the Massachusetts historical society in Boston, and at Plymouth, Mass. See “Life and Times of William Brewster, Chief of the Pilgrims” (Philadelphia, 1857).