Brewster, William (DNB00)

BREWSTER, WILLIAM (1560?–1644), one of the chief founders of the colony of Plymouth, New England, was possibly a native of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire. According to the 'Memoir ' by Bradford, he was at the time of his death in his eightieth year, but Morton, secretary of the colony, states that he was eighty-four at his death, so that he was probably born in 1560. It has been conjectured that his father was either William Brewster, who was tenant at Scrooby of Archbishop Sandys, or Henry Brewster, vicar of Sutton-cum-Lound, or James Brewster, who succeeded Henry. The coat-of-arms preserved in the Brewster family in America is identical with that of the ancient Suffolk branch. Bradford states that Brewster, after obtaining some knowledge of Latin and some insight into Greek, spent a short time at the university of Cambridge, but he mentions neither the school where he made his preparatory studies, nor the college which he entered at Cambridge On leaving the university, Brewster, probably in 1584, entered the service of William Davison [q. v.], ambassador, and afterwards secretary of state of Queen Elizabeth, who, according to Bradford, found him 'so discreet and faithful, that he trusted him above all others that were with him.' He accompanied Davison in his embassy to the Low Countries in 1585, and remained in his service till his fall in 1587.

The information supplied by Bradford regarding the immediately succeeding period of his life is comprised in the general statement that he 'retired to the country,' where he interested himself 'in promoting and furthering religion' by procuring good preachers 'in all places thereabouts.' Possibly he owed the bent towards ecclesiastical matters to his intimacy with two favourite pupils of Hooker—George Cranmer, also one of Davison's assistants, and Sir Edwyn Sandys, afterwards governor of Virginia. The part of the country to which Brewster retired was identified by Joseph Hunter (Collections concerning the Early History of the Founders of New England} as Scrooby, Nottinghamshire. Hunter has further modified the information of Bradford by discovering, from an examination of the post-office accounts, that from April 1594, or earlier, to September 1607, Brewster filled the office of 'post,' that is, keeper of the 'post office,' at Scrooby, a station on the great north road between Doncaster and Tuxford. Such an office was then one of considerable importance, and was not unfrequently held by persons of good family. It implied the superintendence of the despatch of mails to the various side stations, the supplying of relays of horses, and the providing of entertainment for travellers. While holding this office Brewster occupied Scrooby Manor, a possession of the archbishop of York, where royal personages had more than once resided, and Cardinal Wolsey after his dismissal had passed several weeks. His salary was 20d. per diem until in July 1603 it was raised to 2s. It was at Scrooby Manor that Brewster' on the Lord's day entertained with great love' the company of Brownists or Separatists presided over by Clifton. Much of the progress of the movement was owing to his zeal and his influence, his social position being undoubtedly higher than that of the other members of the community. After they 'had been about a year together,' the threat of persecution made them resolve in 1607 to remove to Holland, but the skipper in whose sloop they embarked at Boston having betrayed them, they were apprehended, and Brewster as one of the principal leaders of the movement was imprisoned and bound over to the court of assize. In the summer of the following year they were more successful, and, having set out, from Hull, reached Amsterdam in safety. In 1609 they removed to Leyden, where Brewster, 'having spent most of his means,' employed himself in 'instructing students at the university, Danes and Germans, in the English language.' He 'prepared rules or a grammar after the Latin manner' for the use of his scholars. By the help of some friends he also set up a printing-press, and so 'had employment enough by reason of many books which would not be allowed to be printed in England' (for list of principal works printed by him see Steele's Life of Brewster, pp. 172-174). In 1619 inquiry was instituted by the authorities regarding his publications, but he was then absent in London negotiating about a grant of land in Virginia. Through the assistance of his friend Sir Edwyn Sandys a patent for a tract of land within that colony was finally granted, and Brewster, with Bradford [see Bradford, William, 1590-1657], as the chief leaders of the enterprise, set sail in September 1620 with the first company of 'pilgrims' in the Mayflower. In the church at Leyden he had acted as ruling elder, and he discharged the same duties in the church at New Plymouth. As no regular minister was appointed until 1629, he up to this time also acted as teacher and preacher, officiating twice every Lord's day. During the early difficulties of the colony he conducted himself with untiring cheerfulness. He was charitable to others, and his own personal habits were frugal. He drank nothing but water until the last five or six years of his life. Bradford gives the date of his death as 18 April 1643, but Morton, secretary of the colony, entered the date in the church records as 'April 10th 1644, and various other circumstances confirm this entry. He had four sons and four daughters. He left a library of 300 books valued at 43l., the catalogue of which is preserved in the records of the colony, and an estate valued at 150l. His sword is preserved in the cabinet of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

[Bradford's Memoir of Elder Brewster, published by Dr. Alex. Young in Chronicles of the Pilgrims, 1841, and printed also in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th ser. iii. 408-14; Hunter's Collections concerning the History of the Early Founders of New Plymouth, 2nd ed. 1854; Steele's Life of William Brewster, 1857; Savage's Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers in New England, i. 245-6; Belknap's American Biography, ii. 252-6.]

T. F. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.36
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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304 ii 2-1f.e. Brewster, William: for but he mentions ... nor read He matriculated from Peterhouse in 1580, but apparently failed to graduate
305 i 1 omit the line