The Doncaster journey starts in a small village called Austerfield, the birth place of William Bradford, the first elected Governor of the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts. The Manor House that William grew up in as a child can still be seen, in what was an agricultural community in the reign of King James I of England (V1 Scotland). William became one of a group of people who rebelled against the new religious regime introduced by the king and joined what we now know as the Separatists, or the Pilgrims, in finding ways to worship secretly in the way that they wanted to.
The beautiful and historic St. Helena’s Church, which dates from Norman times, is where William Bradford was baptised on 19 March 1589. You can still visit the church and find the original stone font. There is a beautiful Pilgrim themed stained glass window that was installed at St. Helena’s to mark the 400th anniversary of William’s Baptism.
In October 1955, 152 members of the Society of Mayflower Dependents visited St Helena’s for the first time, there is a plaque displayed in the vestry to mark this visit. Many descendants of Doncaster Pilgrims visit the village from all over the United Kingdom and many from the USA, searching for references to their ancestors and eager to trace their family connections and the home from which they came so long ago.
“Doncaster is proud to be part of the Mayflower 400 Compact, being the birth place of William Bradford really ties us to the heart of the Pilgrims heritage. It is great to be working so closely with local, regional, national and even international partners to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail.”
Mayor of Doncaster
In 1620, the Mayflower set sail across the Atlantic to what is now called New England. Five people did not survive the voyage, including William Butten, a young boy from Austerfield who died three days before the coast of New England was spotted, and Dorothy Bradford the wife of William, who may have fallen overboard whilst William was ashore. William Butten is remembered in Austerfield by the naming of Butten Meadow, where a tiled display plaque celebrates the journey of the Mayflower.
William Bradford was instrumental in signing The Mayflower Compact which was the iconic document in the earliest history of America. It was ratified by forty-one men on board the Mayflower on 21 November 1620 whilst anchored at Cape Cod – now Provincetown Harbour in Massachusetts.