Pilgrims to America

– and the Limits of Freedom

June 02, 2020
End:  September 13, 2020
Genre:  Cultural
Museum De Lakenhal
Oude Singel 32
2312 RA Leiden
pilgrim departure from delfshaven

'Pilgrims in America - and the Limits of Freedom' examines the limits of freedom. The exhibition is an account of the extraordinary journey of the Pilgrims early in the 17th century. They started out from England and spent 11 years in voluntary exile in Leiden, before going on to colonise the world of the Native Americans. What were the limits that the Pilgrims encountered in their search for freedom, and how did they deal with these limits? And what does the historical account of the Pilgrims have to say about our present-day boundless liberty?

2020 will commemorate the departure of a group of migrants on the Mayflower 400 years ago, travelling from Europe to America to establish Plymouth Colony. These colonists, who came to Holland as refugees, are now known to us as the Pilgrims. Upon arriving in what they regarded as the New World, the Pilgrims behaved as if the land were uninhabited and they could assert their rights there, despite the presence of indigenous tribes. After their first hard winter, which cost more than half of the 102 colonists their lives, they built up a prosperous colony with the help of some Native American intermediaries. Due to the success of this land annexation, hundreds of European colonists followed in subsequent decades. This led to bloody wars in which the original inhabitants were virtually eradicated and their environment destroyed.

This exhibition focuses on the decisions the Pilgrims made during their journey, with the emphasis on a historical, factual representation of their story. This deliberately challenges and refutes the adventurous, romanticised version constructed in the 19th century. When you visit this exhibition, you’ll follow the Pilgrims’ journey from England to the Netherlands (Leiden), and then on to America. Paintings, maps, prints, drawings, weapons, books, goods and everyday objects are used to illustrate the impact of the choices they made during their journey. Inspired by the Pilgrims’ journey, we also invite you during the exhibition to share your views interactively on the theme of boundless liberty.

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