Life in England
William Brewster was born in 1568, most probably in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England. He was the son of William Brewster and he had a number of half-siblings. His paternal grandparents were William Brewster (1510–1558), and Maud Mann (1513–1558).
He studied briefly at Peterhouse, Cambridge, before entering the service of William Davison in 1584. Brewster was the only Pilgrim with political and diplomatic experience. With his mentor in prison, Brewster had returned home to Scrooby for a time, where he took up his father’s former position as postmaster. Cambridge was a centre of thought concerning religious reformism, but Brewster had spent time in the Netherlands in connection with Davison's work, giving him opportunity to hear and see more of reformed religion. While, in the 1550s, reformers had hoped to amend the Anglican church, by 1600, many were looking toward splitting from it. (See Brownist.)
An actor portrays Elder William Brewster in Plymouth Plantation.
Restrictions and pressures applied by the authorities convinced the congregation of a need to immigrate to the more sympathetic atmosphere of Holland, but leaving England without permission was illegal at the time, so that departure was a complex matter. On its first attempt, in 1607, the group was arrested at Scotia Creek, but in 1608, Brewster and others were successful in leaving from The Humber. In 1609, he was selected as ruling elder of the congregation.