The Pilgrims of the Mayflower were a group of English men, women and children, many of whom came to America seeking religious freedom during the reign of King James I. After two attempts to leave England and move to Holland, a Separatist group was finally relocated to Amsterdam where they stayed for about a year. From there, the group moved to the town of Leiden, Holland, where they remained for about ten years, able to worship as they wished under lenient Dutch law.
Fearing their children were losing their English heritage and religious beliefs, a small group from the Leiden churches made plans to settle in Northern Virginia – as New England was known at the time. In August 1620, the group sailed for Southampton, England, where other English colonists who hoped to make a new life in America met them.
They planned to make the crossing to America in two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. However, after many problems, the Speedwell was forced to return to England where the group reorganized. In their second attempt to cross the Atlantic, they boarded the Mayflower in September 1620 bound for the New World. They arrived as winter was settling in and endured significant hardships as they struggled to establish a successful colony at Plymouth.
In time, their colony flourished and lead the way to establishing religious freedom and creating the foundations of the democracy Americans enjoy today. Their celebration of the first Thanksgiving has grown to become a festive national holiday.