Jeremy Bangs is a leading expert on the lives of the Pilgrims who lived in Leiden in the early 17th century, before going on to found the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. Originally from Oregon, Jeremy has lived in Leiden for more than 30 years. He served as curator of the Leiden Pilgrim Documents Center of the Leiden Municipal Archives and chief curator of Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts before founding the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in 1997. The museum is located in the oldest house in Leiden, which dates from the mid-14th century. Jeremy, 72, lives in Leiden with his wife.
“I moved to Leiden in 1969 and did my studies here. When I was working in the archives as a historian, they said ‘well, you’re an American. What do you know about the Pilgrims?’ And I said ‘nothing.’ It was a new topic for me. They said ‘do it anyway.’ So I took charge of an exhibit about the Pilgrims’ [at the Leiden Pilgrim Documents Center]. That was in the early 1980s … In 1986 I became chief curator of a place called Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.”
“Then I came back [to Leiden] and discovered that the exhibit about the pilgrims had been closed and there was nothing replacing it … there was some sentiment that nobody was interested, but I kept being accosted by people asking where’s the exhibit … so we started looking for a place to revive the topic. And at the same time my friends who own this building had discovered that it’s the oldest datable house in Leiden. They were looking for a way to open it to the public, and so together we got this started.
The owners of the house in which the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is located, at Beschuitsteeg 9 near the Hooglandskerk, live next door and above the museum and also own an antiques shop around the corner from the museum. “It’s their house … their generosity is astounding.”
The Pilgrim Museum opened in 1997. “We now charge a 5 EURO entry, and that’s basically our only income source … about half the visitors are American or English. And a quarter are Dutch. Their interests vary from the topic of the Pilgrims to the house itself. People come here from all over the world.”
When colleagues at the Leiden Municipal Archives asked Jeremy to head the Leiden Pilgrim Documents Center in 1980,“they also said ‘don’t do any further research. It’s all been done.’” But it wasn’t long before Jeremy began identifying new Pilgrim-related documents from the 17th century.
Although Jeremy’s field of study at Leiden University was history and art history of the 15th and 16th centuries, he developed a keen interest in the Pilgrims of the early 17th century. “It’s an interesting topic and reflects on anybody’s daily life at the time. How did these people live at that time? It’s not so much about the Pilgrims, but how did anybody live. I view it as a bigger topic than that.”
Jeremy takes pride in the collection of artefacts on exhibit at the Pilgrim Museum. “It’s quite satisfying to be able to get together this collection which is really very high quality, and to make use of historical objects in a way to illustrate the story.”
“It helps to have a friend who’s an antique dealer. He knows what we’re looking for. For example, he brought in this fire bucket which is dated 1608. It’s very rare.”
“The exhibited material is unquestionably as good as anything anywhere. We’re not presenting second-rate material.”
The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is located at Beschuitsteeg 9 in Leiden, near the Hooglandskerk. Information about the museum is available at www.leidenamericanpilgrimmuseum.org. Jeremy Bangs has published several books and many articles about the Pilgrims. His 2009 book, “Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners - Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation,” can be ordered from the publisher. Information is available on the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum website.