Mayflower lands at Plymouth Harbor


Updated:
Original:
Year
1620
Month Day
December 18

On December 18, 1620, the British ship Mayflower lands at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, and its passengers prepared to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony.

The famous Mayflower story began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, founded their own church, separate from the state-sanctioned Church of England. Accused of treason, they were forced to leave the country and settle in the more tolerant Netherlands. After 12 years of struggling to adapt and make a decent living, the group sought financial backing from some London merchants to set up a colony in America. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers–dubbed Pilgrims by William Bradford, a passenger who would become the first governor of Plymouth Colony–crowded on the Mayflower to begin the long, hard journey to a new life in the New World.

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod. Before going ashore, 41 male passengers–heads of families, single men and three male servants–signed the famous Mayflower Compact, agreeing to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey all laws made for the good of the colony. Over the next month, several small scouting groups were sent ashore to collect firewood and scout out a good place to build a settlement. Around December 10, one of these groups found a harbor they liked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They returned to the Mayflower to tell the other passengers, but bad weather prevented them from landing until December 18. 

READ MORE: How the Mayflower Compact Laid a Foundation for American Democracy

After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. The tribe had abandoned the village several years earlier, after an outbreak of European disease. That winter of 1620-1621 was brutal, as the Pilgrims struggled to build their settlement, find food and ward off sickness. By spring, 50 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers were dead. The remaining settlers made contact with returning members of the Wampanoag tribe and in March they signed a peace treaty with a tribal chief, Massasoit. Aided by the Wampanoag, especially the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrims were able to plant crops–especially corn and beans–that were vital to their survival. The Mayflower and its crew left Plymouth to return to England on April 5, 1621.

Over the next several decades, more and more settlers made the trek across the Atlantic to Plymouth, which gradually grew into a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing center. In 1691, Plymouth was incorporated into the new Massachusetts Bay Association, ending its history as an independent colony.

READ MORE: What’s the Difference Between Puritans and Pilgrims

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Mayflower departs England

Year
1620
Month Day
September 16

On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower sails from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers. The ship was headed for Virginia, where the colonists—half religious dissenters and half entrepreneurs—had been authorized to settle by the British crown. However, stormy weather and navigational errors forced the Mayflower off course, and on November 21 the “Pilgrims” reached Massachusetts, where they founded the first permanent European settlement in New England in late December.

READ MORE: What’s the Difference Between Puritans and Pilgrims? 

Thirty-five of the Pilgrims were members of the radical English Separatist Church, who traveled to America to escape the jurisdiction of the Church of England, which they found corrupt. Ten years earlier, English persecution had led a group of Separatists to flee to Holland in search of religious freedom. However, many were dissatisfied with economic opportunities in the Netherlands, and under the direction of William Bradford they decided to immigrate to Virginia, where an English colony had been founded at Jamestown in 1607.

The Separatists won financial backing from a group of investors called the London Adventurers, who were promised a sizable share of the colony’s profits. Three dozen church members made their way back to England, where they were joined by about 70 entrepreneurs–enlisted by the London stock company to ensure the success of the enterprise. In August 1620, the Mayflower left Southampton with a smaller vessel–the Speedwell–but the latter proved unseaworthy and twice was forced to return to port. On September 16, the Mayflower left for America alone from Plymouth.

In a difficult Atlantic crossing, the 90-foot Mayflower encountered rough seas and storms and was blown more than 500 miles off course. Along the way, the settlers formulated and signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement that bound the signatories into a “civil body politic.” Because it established constitutional law and the rule of the majority, the compact is regarded as an important precursor to American democracy. After a 66-day voyage, the ship landed on November 21 on the tip of Cape Cod at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.

READ MORE: How the Mayflower Compact Laid a Foundation for American Democracy

After coming to anchor in Provincetown harbor, a party of armed men under the command of Captain Myles Standish was sent out to explore the area and find a location suitable for settlement. While they were gone, Susanna White gave birth to a son, Peregrine, aboard the Mayflower. He was the first English child born in New England. In mid-December, the explorers went ashore at a location across Cape Cod Bay where they found cleared fields and plentiful running water and named the site Plymouth.

The expedition returned to Provincetown, and on December 21 the Mayflower came to anchor in Plymouth harbor. Just after Christmas, the pilgrims began work on dwellings that would shelter them through their difficult first winter in America.

In the first year of settlement, half the colonists died of disease. In 1621, the health and economic condition of the colonists improved, and that autumn Governor William Bradford invited neighboring Indians to Plymouth to celebrate the bounty of that year’s harvest season. Plymouth soon secured treaties with most local Indian tribes, and the economy steadily grew, and more colonists were attracted to the settlement. By the mid 1640s, Plymouth’s population numbered 3,000 people, but by then the settlement had been overshadowed by the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north, settled by Puritans in 1629.

The term “Pilgrim” was not used to describe the Plymouth colonists until the early 19th century and was derived from a manuscript in which Governor Bradford spoke of the “saints” who left Holland as “pilgrimes.” The orator Daniel Webster spoke of “Pilgrim Fathers” at a bicentennial celebration of Plymouth’s founding in 1820, and thereafter the term entered common usage.

READ MORE: Colonial America: New World Settlements

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Construction of Plymouth settlement begins


Updated:
Original:
Year
1620
Month Day
December 23

One week after the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth harbor in present-day Massachusetts, construction of the first permanent European settlement in New England begins.

On September 16, the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers. The ship was headed for Virginia, where the colonists–half religious dissenters and half entrepreneurs–had been authorized to settle by the British crown. In a difficult Atlantic crossing, the 90-foot Mayflower encountered rough seas and storms and was blown more than 500 miles off course.

Along the way, the settlers formulated and signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement that bound the signatories into a “civil body politic.” Because it established constitutional law and the rule of the majority, the compact is regarded as an important precursor to American democracy. After a 66-day voyage, the ship landed on November 21 at the tip of Cape Cod at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.

After coming to anchor in Provincetown harbor, a party of armed men under the command of Captain Myles Standish was sent out to explore the area and find a location suitable for settlement. While they were gone, Susanna White gave birth to a son, Peregrine, aboard the Mayflower. He was the first English child born in New England. In mid-December, the explorers went ashore at a location across Cape Cod Bay where they found cleared fields and plentiful running water, and they named the site Plymouth. The expedition returned to Provincetown, and on December 21 the Mayflower came to anchor in Plymouth harbor. Two days later, the pilgrims began work on dwellings that would shelter them through their difficult first winter in America.

In the first year of settlement, half the colonists died of disease. In 1621, the health and economic condition of the colonists improved, and that autumn Governor William Bradford invited neighboring Indians to Plymouth to celebrate the bounty of that year’s harvest season. Plymouth soon secured treaties with most local Indian tribes, and the economy steadily grew, and more colonists were attracted to the settlement. By the mid-1640s, Plymouth’s population numbered 3,000 people, but by then the settlement had been overshadowed by the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north, settled by Puritans in 1629.

The term “Pilgrim” was not used to describe the Plymouth colonists until the early 19th century and was derived from a manuscript in which Governor Bradford spoke of the “saints” who traveled to the New World as “pilgrimes.” In 1820, the orator Daniel Webster spoke of “Pilgrim Fathers” at a bicentennial celebration of Plymouth’s founding, and thereafter the term entered common usage.

READ MORE: Did the Pilgrims Intend to Land at Plymouth?

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