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Question: I heard recently that the Pilgrims who sailed to America on the Mayflower in 1620 were seventh-day Sabbathkeepers. Is this true?

Answer: The idea that the Pilgrims observed a seventh-day Sabbath seems to originate in the book A History of the True Church Traced From 33 A.D. to Date by Andrew N. Dugger and Clarence O. Dodd (1936). 1 In chapter 21 of this book, Dugger and Dodd state,

``That the Pilgrims were Sabbath-keepers, and evidently from the same line of Sabbatarian-Puritan preachers mentioned in this work, the following evidence will confirm.
While one of the authors was living in the city of St. Joseph, Missouri, during the winter of 1934, the following editorial appeared in the St. Joseph, Mo., Daily Gazette, during the Christmas season, written by the editor, Mr. Hugh Sprague.
`Strange as it may seem, in the early history of America there was an attempt at suppression of Christmas spirit. The stern Puritans at Plymouth, imbued with the rigorous fervor of the Old Testament, abhorred the celebration of the orthodox holidays. Their worship was on the Sabbath (Saturday), rather than Sunday, and Christmas in particular they considered a pagan celebration. Later immigrants attempted to observe Christmas as a time of joy, but were suppressed. Governor Bradford, Elder Brewster, Miles Standish and other leaders were firm against the yuletide spirit as we know it today.'
The author's wife, having first noticed the above editorial, called his attention to it. He immediately drove over to the Gazette office where, upon finding Mr. Sprague, he asked him where he obtained the evidence of the Pilgrim Fathers keeping the Sabbath on Saturday. He said, `Why do you desire this information? Do you doubt the truth of the statement!' He answered, that from information already at hand he had frequently made the statement that they were observers of the seventh day of the week, but thought he might have something additional. He said he did not know of any book mentioning this, but that he had additional evidence. He said, `The Pilgrims are my direct ancestors, and we know very well their religious practice, and belief.' He assured him that all his grandparents and great-grandparents knew that the Pilgrims of the Mayflower days were strict Sabbath-keepers on the seventh day of the week instead of Sunday.''

However, despite the claims of Hugh Sprague, there is strong evidence that the Pilgrims actually observed a Sunday Sabbath. One good source of information on this question is the Journal of the English Plantation at Plimoth, which was published in London in 1622. This book is our earliest record of the voyage of the Mayflower and the establishment of the Plymouth colony. It gives a first-hand, day-to-day account of the experiences of the Pilgrims.

Two of the entries in this journal indicate that it was the custom of the Pilgrims to rest and meet for worship on Sunday. In early December 1620, the Mayflower was off the coast of what is now Massachusetts as the Pilgrims looked for a good location for a settlement. According to the journal,

``10. of December, on the Sabbath day wee rested, and on Monday we sounded the harbour, and found it a very good Harbour for our shipping ... .''

Then for January 1621, the notes include the following:

``Saturday 20, we made up our Shed for our common goods.
Sunday the 21. we kept our meeting on Land.
Monday the 22. was a faire day, we wrought on our houses, and in the after-noone carried up our hogsheads of meale to our common storehouse.''

All the sources on the Pilgrims that I have examined agree that the Plymouth Colony kept a Sunday Sabbath. It is true, though, that Edmund Dunham, the grandson of Plymouth settler John Dunham, later became a prominent Saturday Sabbatarian [2, pp. 111-112]. Dunham, a Baptist who lived in New Jersey, once reprimanded Hezekiah Bonham, his brother-in-law, for working on Sunday. When Bonham challenged Dunham to find a biblical command prohibiting Sunday work, Dunham began a study of the scriptures and soon became convinced that he should observe the Sabbath on Saturday. In 1705, Dunham founded the Piscataway, New Jersey, Seventh Day Baptist congregation. Several other members of this congregation were also descendants of Plymouth colonists.

For more information on seventh-day Sabbathkeepers in Puritan England and colonial America, I recommend [1] and [2]. Both of these books are carefully researched, and they agree that the first known Saturday Sabbatarians in America were Stephen and Anne Mumford, who arrived in Rhode Island in 1665.

In investigating history, it is important to seek out reliable and well-documented sources. We have found that the aforementioned book by Dugger and Dodd is often not reliable, and we recommend that one should carefully corroborate its claims before giving credence to them.

Doug Ward


1. Bryan W. Ball, The Seventh-day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600-1800, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994.
2. Don A. Sanford, A Choosing People: The History of the Seventh Day Baptists, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1992.


1See http://www.giveshare.org/churchhistory/DuggerDodd/Dugger0.html. This book was reprinted in 1996 by Giving & Sharing, P.O. Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849.



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