Plymouth-Colony_map

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

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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.

Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England arrive in the New World

Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England arrive 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.

Mayflower Compact, 1620

Mayflower Compact, 1620

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 docking until December 18. After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag.

Samuel de Champlain’s 1605 map of Plymouth Harbor, showing Wampanoag village Patuxet, with some modern place names added for reference. The star is the approximate location of the 1620 English settlement

Samuel de Champlain’s 1605 map of Plymouth Harbor, showing Wampanoag village Patuxet, with some modern place names added for reference. The star is the approximate location of the 1620 English settlement

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.

Wampanoag2

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.

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2 responses

  1. Janine says:

    I just love your posts. It’s a fun way to learn about things I’d forgotten, without having to go to the library!

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