The Pilgrims were a group of people from Babworth, East Retford, and Nottinghamshire, England who came together around 1600.
What brought them together?
An aversion to the Church of England. Lead by Parson Richard Clyfton, these Separatists thought the Church of England had lost its way, so much so that they believed the Church was beyond repair. (In contrast the Puritans, also unhappy with the Church of England, kept their membership and allegiance with the Church.)
The Pilgrims wanted a fresh start, but their desires were considerably problematic and dangerous. In England, it was illegal to attend any church other than the Church of England. Each missed Sunday and holy day brought about fines. Conducting services brought imprisonment and fines. Two other men of the time, Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood, who led other separatist groups were executed for sedition. Knowing that their very lives were in peril, the Pilgrims held secret church services at Scrooby manor house. However, it was obvious the group would have to leave England.
Now what do we do?
Leaving England proved difficult, as safe passage was denied by England. Resorting to bribery, the Pilgrims fled to Amsterdam, or at least they tried. English constables had set up a sting operation, and the passengers found themselves imprisoned for trying to leave the county. Those imprisoned were eventually released and made their way to Amsterdam. Another group of Pilgrims attempted to make their way to Amsterdam as well, however they met with defeat as well. Those caught were arrested and then released. In all 150 men, women and children were able to leave England and made a home in Leiden, Amsterdam.
We’re not in England anymore
Though the Pilgrims had found some success in Leiden, their leaders were very troubled too. William Bradford was discouraged, and felt life there was difficult. The language, culture, and customs were very different in Leiden. He worried that the children were being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses”. Indeed, some of their children had already moved away. Edward Winslow also saw the children becoming more and more Dutch, losing their English manner and culture.
America, America… After considerable deliberation, the Pilgrims decided to move again to the New World, and sent two delegates to secure a land patent from the London Company, on a condition from the King….the Pilgrims religion would not be officially recognized. Negotiating with the London Company was no easy task:
The London Company
“Because of the continued problems within the London Company, preparations stalled. The congregation was approached by competing Dutch companies, and the possibility of settling in the Hudson River area was discussed with them. These negotiations were broken off at the encouragement of another English merchant, Thomas Weston, who assured them that he could resolve the London Company delays. Weston did come back with a substantial change, telling the Leiden group that parties in England had obtained a land grant north of the existing Virginia territory, to be called New England. This was only partially true; the new grant would come to pass, but not until late in 1620 when the Plymouth Council for New England received its charter. It was expected that this area could be fished profitably, and it was not under the control of the existing Virginia government.
A second change was known only to parties in England who chose not to inform the larger group. New investors who had been brought into the venture wanted the terms altered so that at the end of the seven year contract, half of the settled land and property would revert to them; and that the provision for each settler to have two days per week to work on personal business was dropped.”
Time and money was tight, so the congregation of Pilgrims decided the younger, stronger members would settle the colony first. The others would make the journey later as they were able. Two ships were leased for the journey, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. The Speedwell would take the passengers from Amsterdam to England, then onto America, where the ship would remain. The Mayflower, a larger ship, was leased for transport and exploration.
Again, luck eluded the colonists. As the two ships set out to sea, the Speedwell began to take on water. Some repairs were made, yet upon returning to sea, the Speedwell took on water again. It was obvious the Speedwell was not seaworthy, and the ship was sold. “It would later be learned that crew members had deliberately caused the ship to leak, allowing them to abandon their year-long commitments. The ship’s master and some of the crew transferred to Mayflower for the trip.” Unfortunately, the combined passengers from the Speedwell and the Mayflower totaled 121, too many to travel on one ship. When the Mayflower embarked in September of 1620, 102 passengers were on board. Only 28 adults were actually members of the congregation.
At first the seas were calm, but as with every other plan of the Pilgrims, nearly tragedy struck. A fierce storm caused the main beam to crack, thus bringing the journey to a near halt. The Pilgrims managed to save the voyage by way of an iron screw to repair the beam enough to complete the trip.
Rough weather, and a broken beam were not the only events of the voyage. One unlucky passenger was washed overboard, but was able to catch a rope and be rescued. One crew member and passenger died, and a baby boy aptly named Oceanus was born before reaching landfall. November 10 through November 20, 1620 land was sited – the area was Cape Cod, within the New England territory recommended by Weston. They attempted to sail the ship around the cape towards the Hudson River, also within the New England grant area, but encountered shoals and treacherous currents. The ship was turned around and came to be anchored in present day Provincetown Harbor.
The charter for the Plymouth Council for New England was not completed by the time the colonists left for American, and therefore they would arrive without a patent; the older Wincob patent was from their abandoned dealings with the London Company. Some of the passengers, aware of the situation, suggested that without a patent in place, they were free to do as they chose upon landing and ignore the contract with the investors. Obviously this presented quite a problem. A contract was created to insure the cooperation among the settlers. This document came to be known as the Mayflower Compact (link at top of page), “for the general good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” It was ratified by majority rule, with 41 adult male passengers signing. John Carver was chosen to act as the colony’s first governor.
A new home…
Exploration of the area was delayed for over two weeks, though small groups waded to the beach to gather firewood and attend to personal hygiene. Myles Standish—a Manx soldier the colonists had met while in Leiden—and Christopher Jones led the exploration of the area. They found several old buildings, European and Native built, and some recently cultivated fields.
An artificial mound was found near the dunes. The search party uncovered part of the mound and found a Native grave. They found another mound near by. This mound contained a grave and provisions. The colonists feared starvation, and rightly so, as they were settling in late November, the beginning of a long, cold winter. They decided to take provisions which had been placed in the grave, including some baskets of maize. Nearby they found an iron kettle and used it as well. They reburied the remaining corn, intending to use the borrowed corn as seed for planting.
A grim winter
December was terrible for the Pilgrims. Plagued by illness, most of the passengers and crew coughed violently and suffering from scurvy. Ice and snow severely hampering exploration efforts.
The local native people “were already familiar with the English, who had intermittently visited the area for fishing and trade before Mayflower arrived. In the Cape Cod area, relations were poor following a visit several years earlier by Thomas Hunt. Hunt kidnapped twenty people from Patuxet (the place that would become New Plymouth) and another seven from Nausett, and he attempted to sell them as slaves in Europe. One of the Patuxet abductees was Tisquantum, who would become an ally of the Plymouth colony. The Pokanoket, who also lived nearby, had developed a particular dislike for the English after one group came in, captured numerous people, and shot them aboard their ship. There had by this time already been reciprocal killings at Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.”
Finally the settlers found a “cleared village, known as Patuxet to the Wampanoag people, was abandoned about three years earlier following a plague that killed all of its residents. Because the disease involved hemorrhaging, the “Indian fever” is assumed to have been fulminating smallpox introduced by European traders. The outbreak had been severe enough that the colonists discovered unburied skeletons in abandoned dwellings. With the local population in such a weakened state, the colonists faced no resistance to settling there.
The exploratory party returned to Mayflower, which was then brought to the harbor on in mid to late December. Only nearby sites were evaluated, with a hill in Plymouth.
Home Sweet Home
“Construction commenced immediately, with the first common house nearly completed in January. At this point, single men were ordered to join with families. Each extended family was assigned a plot and built its own dwelling. Supplies were brought ashore, and the settlement was mostly complete by early February.
Between the landing and March, only 47 colonists had survived the diseases they contracted on the ship. During the worst of the sickness, only six or seven of the group were able and willing to feed and care for the rest. In this time, half the Mayflower crew also died.
William Bradford became governor in 1621 upon the death of Carver, served for eleven consecutive years, and was elected to various other terms until his death in 1657. The patent of Plymouth Colony was surrendered by Bradford to the freemen in 1640, minus a small reserve of three tracts of land. On March 22, 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony signed a peace treaty with Massasoit of the Wampanoags. The colony contained roughly what is now Bristol County, Plymouth County, and Barnstable County, Massachusetts. When the Massachusetts Bay Colony was reorganized and issued a new charter as the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691, Plymouth ended its history as a separate colony.”