At an early hour all the passengers of the Mayflower were assembled upon the deck of their little ship, bowed down by emotions not easily described. Men, women and children, all were there, oppressed by thoughts too deep for utterance. Elder Brewster conducted their morning devotions as the wintry gale breathed forth its requiem through the icy shrouds. Sublime as was the hour, not one of those men of martyr spirit could have had any true conception of its grandeur. They could not have been conscious that then and there they were laying the foundations of one of the mightiest empires upon which the sun has ever shone.
William Hilton, in a letter addressed to his friends at home, immediately after his arrival, having written in glowing terms of the richness of the country and the prospects of the colony, adds:
“We are all freeholders. The rent day doth not trouble us; and all those good blessings we have of which and what we list in their seasons for taking. Our company are, for the most part, very religious, honest people. The word of God is sincerely taught to us every Sabbath; so that I know not anything a contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish were all the friends I have in England.”
Their mode of assembling for public worship is described by Isaac de Rassieres, who visited Plymouth in 1627:
“They assemble,” he writes, “by beat of drum, each with his musket or firelock, in front of Captain Standish’s door. They have their cloaks on, and place themselves in order, three abreast, and are led by a sergeant without beat of drum. Behind comes the Governor, in a long robe. Beside him, on the right hand, comes the preacher, with his cloak on; and on the left hand the Captain, with his side arms and cloak on, and with a small cane in his hand. And so they march in good order, and each sets his arms down near him.”
A very pleasing account is given by Prince, of the mode in which public worship was conducted by these Christians, who were anxious in all things to be conformed to the habits of the disciples in apostolic days. The customs they observed have been transmitted to the present times in our meetings for conference and prayer. On Thursday, the 25th of October, 1632, Governor Winthrop, with Mr. Wilson, who was pastor of the church in Boston, with several other Christian friends, made a visit to Plymouth. They were received with great hospitality. Governor Bradford, Rev. Mr. Brewster, the ruling elder, and several others of the prominent men of Plymouth, came some distance out from the village to meet their friends, who probably travelled on foot. They were conducted to the house of Governor Bradford, where most of them were entertained during their stay. They were, however, every day invited to dinner parties at the houses of the more opulent of the villagers.
On Sunday the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered, in the morning. The service occupied the whole time. In the afternoon devotions, the service was opened by Mr. Roger Williams, who propounded a question of theology, or of conscience, upon which he made sundry remarks. Rev. Mr. Smith, pastor of the Boston church, then spoke briefly upon the subject. Mr. Williams again spoke, quoting freely from the Bible in explanation of the question which he had proposed. Then Governor Bradford, who had studied Hebrew, and was familiar with all scriptural antiquities, expressed his views upon the subject. He was followed by Elder Brewster. His reputation, as a man of profound learning, caused all to listen attentively when he spake. Then, by special invitation from the Elder, Governor Winthrop spoke upon the question, followed by Mr. Wilson, pastor of the church in Boston. Deacon Fuller, who was also the physician of the colony at Plymouth, then called for the contribution for the support of public worship and of the poor. The Governor, and all the rest of the congregation rose from their seats and went to the deacon’s seat to deposit their gifts. The exercises were closed with the benediction.