Sturton Le Steeple is the birthplace of John Robinson the “Pilgrim Pastor.” Robinson was born in the village in 1576, his parents were wealthy landowners John and Anne Robinson. It is not known exactly where they lived as most of the houses from that period have long since been demolished and replaced during the 18th and 19th centuries. More is known about Bridget White, Pastor John Robinson’s wife, she came from a family of wealthy landowners of Greasley Beauvale, they also owned land and property on Freemans Lane in Sturton and at Littleborough.
John Robinsons earliest education was conducted by the church clerk John Quyppe. This early education of Robinson and others took place in the vestry of the village Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. This covered only Latin, English and the Bible. Scientific study was not taught in those days. Later Robinson attended Gainsborough Grammar School before matriculating at Cambridge University in 1596. It was at Cambridge where he came to accept the principles of the Puritan movement.
During his early life in Sturton Le Steeple he came into contact with Edward Fenton who was born in Fenton Hall. The young John Robinson heard about the failed attempt by Edward Fenton with Martin Frobrisher to settle Meta Incognita in what is now part of Canada. Later Fenton went on to explore the east coast of North and South America and eventually joined in a life of Piracy with Sir Francis Drake in the Caribbean and South America Later Fenton captained the Mary Rose in the rout of the Spanish Armada in 1588 when Robinson was 13 years old.
The Robinson family were closely associated with the Fenton family, and were related. John Robinson’s father was named as executor on a number of Wills from the Fenton family and is described as being a cousin. It is quite obvious that the adventures of Edward Fenton was the inspiration of Robinson’s idea to emigrate and create a Theocracy in America.
The image on the back of a 1914 $10,000 bill depicts Robinson’s farewell speech to the Pilgrims.
After a short time in 1604 as a cleric at Norwich St. Andrew’s Robinson returned to his home at Sturton Le Steeple to marry Bridgette White who he had known since childhood. For the next few years he seems to have spent most of his time in endless arguments about the ceremonies of the Anglican Church and became a key figure in the nearby Radical Separatists groups at Scrooby and Gainsborough. Robinson also formed a close friendship with another Sturton-le-Steeple dissident John Smyth the Se-Baptist and founder of the Baptist movement. King James I started to clamp down on the many dissident groups in England and so Robinson and the Scrooby group decided to follow many others who had already fled to Holland. After one failed attempt in 1607 and a months imprisonment in Boston Guildhall, Robinson and the small group from Scrooby arrived in Amsterdam in August 1608. After much strife with the various Amsterdam based religious groups, Robinson took his flock to Leiden in 1609.
The reign of King James 1st in England started in 1603. During his reign England was a troubled place. There was the real fear of a Pope inspired invasion by the Spanish who’s failed attempt in 1588 was still very much in peoples minds. The Anglican Church was being challenged by many groups who saw it as being “Papist” in its rituals and ceremonies. The new King saw himself as being appointed by God and therefore had the divine right to rule both State and Church. There was no separation of State and Church, the monarch was supreme head of both. People were very superstitious, believing in Witchcraft, Omens and thought that displeasing God would bring harsh punishment through bad weather and failed crops. The local Clergy controlled every aspect of peoples lives and were empowered to do so by the Monarch. This was a time when many were executed for offending the Church or Monarch.
Robinson and the separatists looked back to an idealised fictitious version of England and desired to build this “New England” in America , there were many other groups with similar ideas. Jamestown, Virginia was well established by this time and rumours of great wealth and easy living added an irresistible impetus to the ambitions of the Pilgrims. 43 members of Robinsons Church sailed to America on the Mayflower in 1620, they took with them 13 servants, these included Richard and Mary More who appear to have been twins from Shipton in Shropshire, they were just 6 years old and were servants of William Brewster. Two other siblings of the More family also traveled, 7 year old Jasper More was a servant of John Carver and 8 year old Ellen, a servant of Edward Winslow. Robinson planned to follow the Mayflower group but did not succeed, he died in Leiden in 1625. John Robinson is buried in Pieterskirk, Leiden.
King James did not stop the Pilgrims from sailing on the Mayflower because he wanted to expand his empire in the Americas and compete with the Spanish who were established in South America. Although the Bishops would never have agreed with the Pilgrims desire to set up their version of a Theocracy in America the King was more pragmatic and ignored the Bishops, he allowed the Pilgrims to organise a passage on the Speedwell and Mayflower through the Virginia Company in London. The original plan of the Pilgrims was to sail to Virginia and set up a Theocracy near to where Jamestown was already established but because of the arduous journey and bad weather they were forced to land at Cape Cod and here they established the Plymouth Colony.
Below is a copy of John Robinson’s record held in Cambridge University:
Matric. sizar from CORPUS CHRISTI, 1592 .
S. of John (who died at Stur(s)ton, Nottinghamshire, 1614 ). B. 1576 .
B.A. 1595/6 ;
M.A. 1599 .
Fellow, 1598-1604 .
For a time held a curacy in Norwich, Norfolk; afterwards, Congregational minister at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, where William Brewster and Richard Clifton were his colleagues.
Fied to Amsterdam, 1608, and ultimately joined the Separatists.
Removed with a section of the community to Leyden and became pastor of the Church there.
Adm. at Leyden University, 05 Sep., 1613, as a student of theology.
He and his friends resolved to emigrate to America. A party under William Brewster sailed for New England USA in the Mayflower, 06 Sep., 1620, and founded New Plymouth. As only a minority had volunteered for emigration, Robinson, as arranged, remained behind in charge of the Leyden community. His pastoral care for the colonists is shown in his letter to the Church of God at Plymouth, New England, 30 Jun., 1621.
Married, at Greasley, Nottinghamshire, 15 Feb., 1603/4, to Bridget, dau. of Alexander White, of Sturton Le Steeple Nottinghamshire.
Died 19 Feb., 1624/5 (or 01 Mar., 1625, Dutch reckoning); buried at St Peter’s, Leyden.
Katherine White was the older sister of Bridgette, John Robinson’s wife, both daughters of Alexander and Eleanor White of Sturton. Katherine was the widow of George Leggatt and married John Carver, the author and first signatory of Mayflower Compact. Although not certain it is likely that John Carver was born in Sturton Le Steeple. Carver obviously knew John Robinson and married his sister-in-law. There was a family with the name Carver who can be traced back to Henry VIII’s time living in Sturton Le Steeple. John Carver was the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony. Both John and Katherine Carver traveled on the Mayflower with 5 of their servants. The Mayflower compact gives a good insight into the radical views of the Separatists. There were 41 signatories to the compact, all of them men and all members of the Separatists Group. Women, servants and the 60 or so “Non Believers” who were also on the Mayflower were excluded.