“You will say they deserved it,” wrote the Separatist pastor John Robinson in 1623, after he first heard about the killings. The recipient of this letter was Pilgrim leader William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony in America. Robinson had been a long-time spiritual mentor to the Pilgrims who had immigrated to the New World in 1620. Years earlier, he had served as their pastor in Scrooby, England. Harassed by the English government and the established church due to their religious non-conformity and their unwillingness to engage in worship they deemed corrupt, Robinson eventually accompanied his flock into exile in Holland.
Ironically, the generous religious freedom they enjoyed in the Netherlands could also be interpreted as alarming spiritual laxity, and so the plans for what would become the Mayflower voyage were first hatched in that Dutch refuge. Although Robinson never left Europe, he remained keenly interested in the lives of his friends in New England. However, as Robinson penned this particular letter in 1623, pastoral encouragement was not the order of the day. Instead, he had just been informed of a disturbing altercation between his former parishioners and a group of local Native Americans that left several Indians dead.