In our occasional history series, Paul Harding, from Discover History, tells of the life and times of Edward Winslow, a pilgrim who became one of the ‘founding fathers’ of America.

When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England in the 16th Century, the country became very turbulent.

Some people wanted to follow the old religion and others thought the Church of England was not far enough removed from it.

On 18th October 1595 Edward Winslow was born in Droitwich.

His father was a salt merchant and was Under Sheriff of the town. Edward was fortunate enough to get a fine education in wealthy Worcester, then a Cathedral and wool producing city at its peak in trade and commerce.

Education was a privilege of the rich, thanks to a scholarship Edward was schooled between 1606 and 1611, at King’s School. The School was re-founded in 1541 by King Henry VIII, after Monastic learning, which began in 680 AD came to a close, during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Students had to be ‘already literate, of native genius and with an aptitude for learning.’

Edward’s time at King’s School set him up for his epic journey aboard the Mayflower and for life. Schooling took place in the magnificent College Hall, which was once the Refectory for the monks based at the Cathedral Monastery. This building is currently being studied and restored as part of the ‘Undercroft project’, where a new Cathedral Education Centre is being created.

The school days lasted around 11 hours with lessons in Latin, Rhetoric, History, Geography, Mythology and Music.

When breaks in learning were allowed by the Masters, pupils would walk around the Cloisters where they had to be ‘of a gentle manly appearance and free from all lowness.’

When Edward Winslow left King’s Worcester, he became a Printers Apprentice in London, where he began to help a religious group called the Separatists. This group thought the Church of England was still too Catholic, and their views eventually made them leave Great Britain for Leiden in Holland.

After several years struggling to settle, this group of Pilgrims decided to arrange a journey to America. Edward Winslow’s education allowed him to help make the necessary arrangements.

Two ships were hired to take them to the New World - The Speedwell, which ‘leaked like a sieve’, and the Mayflower, which ended up making the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic alone, and overcrowded!

When they arrived in America in November 1620, Edward became the third person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which laid out how the Colony would govern. He went on to link with the Native People and created treaties over fishing, hunting and trading rights. When the local Wampanoog Chief was seriously ill, Edward nursed him back to health using chicken soup too.

Edward Winslow also helped with the documentation of the first Thanksgiving celebration the following year. ‘Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together.’

He is still remembered across the county with a a statue of him on display in Droitwich. His portrait hangs in the council chamber at the town hall. Edward Winslow is the only Pilgrim who was actually painted in real life at the time.

The Science Block located in the King’s School also has a plaque remembering one of the many great scholars at the school.

Discover History will deliver walking tours called ‘Worcester- the City Edward Winslow knew’ and schools can book a workshop detailing the life and times of this county’s pilgrim.