Brewster, William, 1863, Biographical Sketch

Upon the departure of the Pilgrims from Holland, it was agreed that their pastor, Robinson, on account of his age and infirmities, should remain with those who were to come over when the settlement was effected; and the choice for a minister fell upon William Brewster, who, although not regularly ordained, was well qualified by his natural powers, by education, and by having long been a leading elder in the church, to fill that office.

Image of William Brewster signature

He was a man of good family, had been educated at Cambridge (probably at Emmanuel College, founded in 1585, by Sir Walter Mildmay); and afterwards went up to London to seek employment at court. Here he became acquainted with William Davison, Secretary of State, and entering his sendee was employed by him in various matters of trust. Davison being sent by Elizabeth to the United Provinces to conclude a negotiation for a loan which she had consented to make on the security of three important seaports, Brewster accompanied him; and was entrusted by him with the safe keeping of the keys of Flushing. At their return, Davison was presented by the authorities with a golden chain, which Mr. Brewster wore in England as they rode together through the country, on their way to the court. Davison and Brewster were, however, destined to feel to the full how little faith can be placed in the favor of princes. Of inflexible integrity, high principles, lofty sense of honor, and unsuspicious temper, they were both ill-adapted to sustain for any considerable time, a position in a court practised in intrigue, and given up to dissimulation of every kind and degree.

Elizabeth having determined upon the death of her lovely and unfortunate rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, sent privately for Davison, and ordered him to draw the death-warrant, which she immediately signed, and sent by him to the chancellor to receive the Great Seal. Upon the death of Mary, the Queen, with her usual insincerity, affected great indignation at what she was pleased to term the precipitancy of her unfortunate secretary, whom she threw into the tower, and stripped of the greater portion of his estates. Deeply affected by this striking example of hard-hearted duplicity, Brewster still continued by his unfortunate master, rendering him every service in his power.

Having at length satisfied every demand of duty to his master, and gratitude to his patron, he seems to have decided to retire from a life, which required for success the sacrifice of every principle of honor and virtue, to one more congenial to an honorable and ingenuous nature. He withdrew to his estate in the country, where he lived for many years," doing the best good he could, and walking according to the light he saw, until the Lord revealed further to him." The tyranny of the church, constantly exercised against both preachers and people whose consciences led them to depart from its usages, led at length to the final separation of great numbers; and of these, Brewster was one of the leading spirits in his immediate neighborhood, encouraging others both by precept and example, to help forward the work of promoting the views which they entertained in common ; and assisting them, in their necessities under the privations of a relentless persecution, often, perhaps, beyond his means.

Upon the determination of James to harry the Puritans and Seperatists out of the land, in which he was worthily seconded by the prelates and their agents, acting by means of the Court of High Commission, Brewster with many others resolved to fly for refuge to Holland. In the arrangement necessary for the accomplishment of this object he appears to have had mainly the charge and direction of their business. Although they failed at the first attempt to leave England, at Boston, through the treachery of the captain of the vessel hired to transport them, and were seized, searched, rifled of their money and goods, thrown into prison, and the ringleaders finally bound over to the assizes, they managed afterwards, but after many vicissitudes, to reach that haven of the oppressed.

On their arrival in Holland, Brewster, originally a man of property, was so reduced that he was compelled to labor for his subsistence. His occupation was to teach English, which he did with such success that numbers of the students at Lcyden resorted to him to acquire that language after their regular studies at the university were concluded. In addition to this he set up a private printing press, at which many Puritan books and pamphlets were printed in English, and sent over to England for private distribution. This rendered him so obnoxious to James and his bishops that the English ambassador at the Court of Holland was directed to have him sought out and apprehended, the Dutch assenting, being desirous from motives of policy to preserve the friendship of the English king. He transported himself and family for a time to London where he remained securely hidden until the danger was over.

When the Pilgrims had established themselves at Leyden, Robinson was formally ordained as their pastor, and Brewster was at the same time appointed elder. Upon the departure for America, as related at the commencement of this article, he was chosen to be the pastor of the emigrants until Robinson should be able to join them. This long-hoped for event never occurred, Robinson dying in Holland; and up to a few years of his death, at the age of eighty, Brewster regularly conducted the services of the church when there was no other minister, preaching twice every Sunday and this "both profitably and powerfully."

"He died in his bed in peace, in the midst of his friends, who mourned and wept over him, and ministered what help they could unto him." A memorial of Elder Brewster in the shape of his chair, a cut of which is given below, is still preserved in Pilgrim Hall; and at the head of this article is a facsimile of his signature.

Image of William Brewster memorial

1. "William Brewster," The Illustrated Pilgrim Memorial, 1863, page 14.

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