Brewster, William,1567–1644, English separatist and Plymouth colonist. After studying briefly at Cambridge he became the chief member of the congregation at Scrooby that broke away, or separated, from the Anglican Church in 1606; the members, after their migration to Holland in 1608, were known as Pilgrims. On his press at Leiden, Brewster printed a number of religious books and tracts that were distributed throughout England. Returning to England in 1617, he helped make arrangements for the Pilgrim migration to America and in 1620 embarked on the Mayflower with his wife, two sons, and two indentured boys. Brewster, an elder of the church from the time he lived in Leiden, was the sole religious leader of the Plymouth Colony until 1629, but because he was not ordained, he confined his ministry to services of prayer and praise only. Although he held no lay offices, he was very influential, being one of the eight who undertook (1627) to discharge the debt to the colony's backers.
See biographies by A. Steele (1857, repr. 1970) and D. Brewster (1970).