After a pleasant day of getting a feel for Leiden, it was time to get to work. Our mission was to explore the place where 50 Mayflower passengers lived for nearly a decade before their dangerous but historic voyage 403 years ago.

There are no walking tours featuring the Pilgrims in Leiden. We chose a self-guided Mayflower tour but wanted a live guide for our questions. Aaron was Arawak.

The city was compact in those days and our self approximate eight-mile self-guided tour was easily walkable and doable in one day.

You only need a minimum of knowledge before you begin. We knew the Mayflower sailed from England to the New World with 102 religious refugees and adventurers on board. Nearly half came from Leiden and their millions of descendants included the rich, famous, and yours truly.

Leiden was a dynamic and tolerant city that welcomed tens of thousands of refugees from England including our ancestors. But also from throughout Europe, fleeing wars, religious persecution and poverty. Here they had religious freedom and relative enlightenment, unlike in England.. They learned about good governance in this university city, which later helped them write the Mayflower Compact and govern the colony..

Pilgrims in Leiden In 1609, a group of English religious refugees arrived in Leiden. Their leaders were William Bradford and John Robinson. These refugees were to become known as the Pilgrims. There were about 300 Pilgrims living in various places in Leiden. John Robinson bought a house with grounds near the Pieterskerk. There he had 21 small houses built for his followers. The area became known as the Engelse Poort (English Gate). In 1683 the houses had to make way for the Jean Pesijnhof (Kloksteeg 21)an almshouse.

The Pilgrims feared that they were in danger of losing their identity and so they began leaving Leiden in 1620They were on their way to the New World: America. There we would later see them as the Founding Fathers of the United States. About half of them stayed behind their names were made Dutch. Coit’ became ‘Koet’ and ‘McRaeMakreel’. John Robinson did not get to America. He died in 1625 and is buried with several of his followers here in the Pieterskerk. A number of American presidents have had Pilgrims as ancestors, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bush senior and junior, and Barack Obama. Obama’s forefathers. the Blossoms, lived here, on Pieterskerkhof.

We began our tour studying the tour booklet across the street from the visitors center at a cafe sipping cappuccino and munching on fresh warm croissants with jam. With a wonderful view of the canal and a gigantic windmill, it was a perfect beginning.

The first half of our tour dealt with the historic people, sites and events of the city giving context to the lives of the Pilgrims ‌. For instance, we visited site where Rembrandt van Rijn was born, grew up and went to school. My great-grandmother x15 Mary Chilton and the young Rembrandt were peers. Mary lived on the Langebrug and Rembrandt went to school nearby and had painting classes here. It’s certainly possible that they knew each other. According to tradition, she was the first female on the Mayflower to set foot in America.

Another destination, called stink alley is the entrance to the narrow alleyway where William Brewster lived with his wife Mary lived and along with Edward Winslow published radical pamphlets. Today, it is better known as William Brewstersteeg (alley). Just the brick alley entrance remains with a memorial plaque.

Most of the Pilgrims lived in small houses in the Pieterskerk part of the city. It’s dominated by the Pieterskerk church, the oldest church in the city. John Robinson held his meetings nearby, in his home in the Groene Poort (now Jean Pesinhof courtyard). He is buried in the church.


There are plaques just off the canal in front of our hotel where the Pilgrims got on the small boats to go to board the Mayflower. Here’s the text on the plaque.

“From 1608, Leiden offered refuge to the Pilgrims who had fled religious persecution in England. William Brewster established the Pilgrim Press, printing the books that were banned in England. They smuggled these back to the Pilgrims’ homeland. In 1620, they left the town. They entered boats in the water opposite this spot and went to Delfshaven. There they boarded the Speedwell, and later transferred to the Mayflower. They then sailed to America, where they would lay the foundation of the United States.”

And we had dinner at the place where they first arrived in Leiden.


Ron’s Mayflower Ancestors

Mary (Chilton) Winslow (bef.1607-bef.
Edward Doty Sr. (abt.1599-1655)
Francis Cooke (abt.1583-1663)
James Chilton (abt.1556-1620)
(Unknown) Chilton (abt.1564-aft.
John Howland (abt.1598-1673)
Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland (bef.1607-1687)
Degory Priest (abt.1579-1621)
John Tilley (bef.1571-abt.1621)
Joan (Hurst) Tilley (bef.1568-abt.1621)