Skip to content

From Boston, Lincs to Boston, MA

Many visitors from America come to Boston in search of their roots. And while the Pilgrim Fathers' connection with the town was fleeting, it was influential in the development of the modern-day USA.

Those pilgrims of today from across the pond come to Boston because of the documented escape to religious freedom from these shores of their forefathers.

So far as the historic records can be trusted there is no doubting that the Pilgrim Fathers sought to make their first escape bid overseas from the Lincolnshire coast, close to Boston, in 1607, were betrayed, arrested and locked up in the Guildhall.

Escape from religious persecution was their aim; their crime was seeking to leave the country without the permission of the King.

And it is this first recorded act of defiance, and the first recorded steps along the path which was to eventually take them to America to become an important part of the founding fathers, that forms such a close bond with Boston for Americans.

After gathering as a group from various parts of the country the Pilgrim Fathers (Separatists as they were then know because of their desire to separate from the Church of England) travelled 60 miles to Scotia Creek where they had paid for transport across the North Sea to Holland.

After taking on board their belongings, and no doubt their fare, the ship's master double-crossed his passengers and the local militia turned up to arrest them.Neither the name of the master, nor that of the ship, has been recorded.

Whatever his reasons for the betrayal, the entire party of around 20 men, women and children were rounded up at a point near the Witham, now marked by the Pilgrim Fathers memorial near Fishtoft, and brought back up river in small boats to Boston where they were taken to the Guildhall, the home of the magistrates and the cells.

Their incarceration in the Guildhall proved a problem - the accommodation was small - the two cells each measure around seven feet by five-and-a-half feet - and there appears to have been some little sympathy for the religious prisoners.They were likely given free range in the kitchen area and the group was held for a month until going before the magistrates at the Quarter Sessions. The majority were 'sent back to whence they came' but the seven ringleaders were held longer and told to attend the higher assize court in Lincoln. Not surprisingly none of them reported to that higher authority.

Despite being held in the Guildhall William Bradford, later recalled in his memoirs that they were treated fairly while in Boston.

They were not really pursued with vigour and a year later sailed from North Lincolnshire to Holland where they spent the next 12 years.

Eventually concerned that they were not achieving the dream of their ideal society they secretly travelled to England to join other settlers to board the famous Mayflower in Plymouth and then set sail for their new life in the New World - America.

Brewster Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
William Brewster signs the Mayflower Compact in 1620. The Compact was an agreement drawn up by the Pilgrim Fathers for local government in their new homeland.

Guildhall cell Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
Luke Skerritt, Boston Borough Council's principal museum, arts and heritage officer, plays jailer and locks one of the cell doors at the Guildhall where the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned.

Guildhall cells Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
The two tiny cells where the Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned in Boston's Guildhall.

Guildhall courtroom Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
"Bring the prisoners up." The dock in Boston's Guildhall where, in 1607, the Pilgrim Fathers faced Boston Magistrates.

America Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window
God's outlaws, the Pilgrim Fathers, land in New England.