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by Robert F. Huber

If Jackie Robinson had been a 17th century clergyman instead of a 20th century baseball player he might have offered this advice to the Pilgrims:

“Keep your eye on the ball” and “watch out for the Indians.”

If John Robinson had been a baseball player instead of the pastor left behind in Leyden when the Pilgrims sailed to the New World on the Mayflower he might have offered some wise suggestions still applicable in today’s world of greenback greed:

John Robinson's House, Leyden, Holland“Avoid the pursuit of private profit as a deadly plague.”

It was the pursuit of profit rather than wealth that bothered him. As a matter of fact, Robinson did give some words of wisdom in letters to the Pilgrim leaders. His soul ached to join the congregation already in Plymouth but church politics kept him in Europe. His letters spell out his love of the church members and his concern for the colony’s welfare as wall as for sound religious doctrine.

Before the Pilgrims left in 1620, however, Robinson preached his famous “farewell sermon” and wrote a “last letter” that Elder William Brewster read to the group.

In his sermon Robinson urged the departing members to be ready to receive whatever further truth God might reveal to them. “For it is not possible,” he said, “the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness, and that the full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.”

He called on them to seek unity in the Christian church rather then division.

In his letter, Robinson said the members were to:

  • Repent of all their sins, both known and unknown.
  • Store up patience “against ye evill day, without which we take offense at ye Lord himselfe in his holy and just works.”
  • Avoid the pursuit of private profit as a deadly plague.
  • Direct their efforts to “ye general conveniencie.”

Above all, he warned them, they should cultivate peace and harmony with all men, and especially among themselves. And he added: they must not shake the house of God with “unnecessary novelties.”

Robinson was somewhat of a political philosopher and in his last letter he noted that they were about to become “a body politic” and urged them to select leaders who would promote the common good.

In another letter delivered by Robert Cushman who arrived on the Fortune in 1621, Robinson noted the quarrels and dissentions in the Plymouth group and with the merchant adventurers and admonished the:

“I hope I need not exhort you to obedience unto those whom God hath set over you, in church and commonwealth…”

Robinson left more than a legacy of leadership, philosophy and faith. He left a family that shared his interest in America.

Robinson was born in 1576 in Sturton-le-Steeple, England, which also was the home of Alexander White whose children were closely associated with the Pilgrims.

In 1592 Robinson received his master of arts degree from Cambridge University. After graduation he took orders in the Church of England but because of his progressive views he was suspended by the bishop of Norwich. For a time he assisted Richard Clyfton, pastor of a separatist church that met in William Brewster’s home in Scrooby.

Embarkation of the Pilgrims By Edgar Parker after Robert Weir. 1875. Image courtesy of Pilgrim HallHe became pastor of the little church but after much persecution he led his congregation to Holland, finally settling in Leyden. Robinson married Bridget White on February 14, 1603 in Norwich. She was the daughter of Alexander White and Eleanor Smith. Bridget’s sister Catherine was the wife of John Carver, first governor of the Plymouth Colony. Another sister Jane wed Ralph Thickens while a fourth sister Frances married Francie Jessop.

Robinson and Bridget had six children at least one of whom went to America. Born in Holland were Isaac, John, Bridget, Mercy, Fear and James.

Isaac Robinson, born in 1610, sailed to America in the Lion in 1631 when he was 21 years old. He was a freeman of Plymouth colony and moved around a bit, from Plymouth to Scituate, to Barnstable to Falmouth and back to Barnstable.

In 1636 he married Margaret Hanford.

Isaac got into a little trouble when it came to religion. In 1659 he was disenfranchised for opposing the persecution of Quakers and Baptists. In 1665 he became a Quaker and settled in Falmouth and kept a tavern at Succanett.

In 1701 he returned to Barnstable where he had retained his church membership. He died about 1704.

By his first wife Isaac had five children; he had four more children by his second wife Mary Faunce. Isaac’s son Peter had 15 children and his grandson fathered 12, so the Robinson influence was well established in America.

John Robinson never realized his greatest wish—to join his congregation in America—and he died five years after the first pilgrims left. Death came on March 1, 1625 after an illness of eight days. He was buried under the floor of St. Peter’s Church which was just across the alley from his home. In 1891 a bronze tablet was dedicated in his memory—a man who influenced the development of Plymouth without ever getting here himself. All his life he had kept his eye on the ball, so to speak, but he never got to go to bat for the Indians.