Name Origin: Brewster, Massachusetts

Brewster_MA_highlight_largeBrewster is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. The original Indian name for the area was Sawkattuckett (later Anglicized as Sawtucket) and the current town was settled in 1656 as the north parish of Harwich. The town split off from Harwich in 1811 and was renamed Brewster, in honor of the Pilgrim elder and Mayflower-passenger William Brewster (1567 – 1644).


William Brewster was a Pilgrim and passenger on the Mayflower, originally from Scrooby, England. In his youth, he attended the University of Cambridge and subsequently traveled to the Netherlands in 1585 while working for the English ambassador to that country. When the ambassador was subsequently made Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, William Brewster stayed on as an assistant until 1587. In 1590, he returned to and become Postmaster to Scrooby, a job he held until 1607. During this time, William’s brother, James Brewster, had become a prominent reformist priest, and using the family manor as base, they formed a separate church in 1606 and they sought to flee to the Netherlands where there was additional religious tolerance. From 1609 to 1619, William and his congregation were operating out of the Netherlands until pressure from England caused the Netherlands government to crack down on his group and he was effectively forced to flee to North America with the Pilgrims. On arriving in the New World, William Brewster became both the senior elder of the new colony, as well as its religious leader for many years. William Brewster is also the namesake for four islands in Boston harbor. Why the citizens of Harwich chose to honor William Brewster when they split from the elder town is unclear (to me) as Brewster had not settled in that area or had any obvious connection to the town.

The name Brewster originates with the Anglo-Saxons, from the Old English word “breowan”, meaning to brew, the same word which is the ancestor of our word “brewer”.

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