Plymouth: Its History and People



Plymouth is a town in southeastern Massachusetts, on Plymouth Bay, about 34 miles southeast of Boston. The seat of Plymouth County, it was the site of the first permanent European settlement in New England; it is now a fishing and tourist center with ship-related industries and cranberry-packing houses.

Plymouth Rock, a tourist attraction, is on the shore under a granite canopy; recreations of Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower are also there. The pilgrims founded Plymouth on Dec. 21, 1620, establishing a settlement that became the seat of Plymouth Colony in 1633 and a part of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.



The Pilgrims were English Separatists who founded (1620) Plymouth Colony in New England. In the first years of the 17th century, small numbers of English Puritans broke away from the Church of England because they felt that it had not completed the work of the Reformation.

They committed themselves to a life based on the Bible. Most of these Separatists were farmers, poorly educated and without social or political standing. One of the Separatist congregations was led by William Brewster and the Rev. Richard Clifton in the village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. The Scrooby group emigrated to Amsterdam in 1608 to escape harassment and religious persecution.

The next year they moved to Leiden, where, enjoying full religious freedom, they remained for almost 12 years. In 1617, discouraged by economic difficulties, the pervasive Dutch influence on their children, and their inability to secure civil autonomy, the congregation voted to emigrate to America.

Through the Brewster family's friendship with Sir Edwin Sandys, treasurer of the London Company, the congregation secured two patents authorizing them to settle in the northern part of the company's jurisdiction. Unable to finance the costs of the emigration with their own meager resources, they negotiated a financial agreement with Thomas Weston, a prominent London iron merchant.

Fewer than half of the group's members elected to leave Leiden. A small ship, the Speedwell, carried them to Southampton, England, where they were to join another group of Separatists and pick up a second ship. After some delays and disputes, the voyagers regrouped at Plymouth aboard the 180-ton Mayflower. It began its historic voyage on Sept. 16, 1620, with about 102 passengers--fewer than half of them from Leiden.

After a 65-day journey, the Pilgrims sighted Cape Cod on November 19. Unable to reach the land they had contracted for, they anchored (November 21) at the site of Provincetown. Because they had no legal right to settle in the region, they drew up the Mayflower Compact, creating their own government.

The settlers soon discovered Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay and made their historic landing on December 21; the main body of settlers followed on December 26. The term Pilgrim was first used by William Bradford to describe the Leiden Separatists who were leaving Holland. The Mayflower's passengers were first described as the Pilgrim Fathers in 1799.



John Alden, b. 1599?, d. Sept. 12, 1687, was one of the Pilgrim Fathers who came to America in the Mayflower, signed the Mayflower Compact, and founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. Thereafter he held various public offices, including that of deputy governor of Massachusetts (1664-65, 1667). The unfounded details of his wooing of fellow Pilgrim Priscilla Mullens (or Molines)--whom he did marry--were the subject of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem "The Courtship of Miles Standish."



William Bradford was one of the leaders of the pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony. He was its governor for more than 30 years. His History of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, first printed in full in 1856, is a minor classic, reflecting the unusual qualities of the man and the values of the small group of English separatists who became known as Pilgrims.

Bradford was born in March 1590 in Austerfield, Yorkshire, the son of a yeoman farmer. He was self-taught. As a young man, he joined Puritan groups that met illegally in nearby Scrooby and was a member of that congregation when it separated from the Church of England in 1606. Bradford was among the 125 Scrooby separatists who sought (1608) religious sanctuary in Holland.

When the congregation decided (1617) to seek refuge in America, Bradford took major responsibility for arranging the details of the emigration. The term Pilgrim is derived from his description of himself and his coreligionists as they left Holland (July 22, 1620) for Southampton, where they joined another group of English separatists on the Mayflower.

Bradford was one of about a dozen original Scrooby church members who sailed for America on the Mayflower. When John Carver, Plymouth Colony's first governor, died suddenly in April 1621, Bradford was unanimously elected to replace him. He was reelected 30 times.

In 1640, Bradford and the group of original settlers known as the "old comers" turned over to the colony the proprietary rights to its lands, which had been granted (1630) to him by the Warwick Patent and then shared by him with the old comers.

During the period of his governorship, and especially during the first few years, Bradford provided the strong, steady leadership that kept the tiny community alive. He strove to sustain the religious ideals of the founders and to keep the colony's settlements compact and separate from the larger neighboring colonies. Bradford died on May 9 or 19, 1657.



William Brewster, b. 1567, d. Apr. 10, 1644, was a leader of the PILGRIMS, who established Plymouth Colony. In England he studied briefly at Cambridge, the only Pilgrim Father to have some university training. A member of the local gentry in Scrooby, Yorkshire, he helped organize a separatist religious congregation in 1606 and financed its move to Holland in 1608.

His influence was instrumental in winning the approval of the Virginia Company for the proposal to resettle the congregation in America, and he was one of the few original Scrooby separatists who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620.

As the church's ruling elder in Leyden and then in Plymouth, Brewster shared with William Bradford and Edward Winslow in the leadership of the Pilgrim enterprise.



John Carver, b. c. 1576, d. Apr. 5, 1621, one of the Pilgrim Fathers, was the first governor of Plymouth Colony. A wealthy merchant, he helped arrange the Pilgrims' emigration to America in 1620, chartering the Mayflower. He was governor for less than a year before his death.



Myles Standish, b. c.1584, d. Oct. 3, 1656, an English-born professional soldier, was hired by the Pilgrims as military advisor for their Plymouth colony in America; eventually he became a full member as well as a valued leader of the community.

Arriving on the Mayflower with the first settlers, he initially concentrated on colonial defense and Indian relations. Later, Standish represented (1625-26) Plymouth in England; he also served for many years as one of the governor's assistants and as the colony's treasurer (1644-49).

Standish was one of the founders (1632) of the town of Duxbury, Mass. Although one of the most influential figures in colonial New England, he is best remembered through US poet Henry Longfellow's 'The Courtship of Miles Standish' 1863.



Five Winslow Brothers came from England to Plymouth Colony between 1620 and 1633. Edward, the oldest of the five, had left England for Holland in order to freely practice his religion.

He was one of the 102 Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620. He was soon joined by his brothers: John (1621), Kenelm (1633) and Josiah (1631). Gilbert, who had arrived with Edward on the Mayflower, returned to England.

In the 1630s, the brothers and their wives settled in Marshfield and started families. All of the Brothers were active in their communities. Edward was one of Plymouth Colony's most trusted representatives.

He was sent to negotiate with the local Native People, the Wamponag. He also sailed to England several times times on colony business, bringing back the first cattle in 1624.



"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."

There followed the signatures of 41 of the 102 passengers, 37 of whom were members of the "Separatists" who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. This compact established the first basis in the new world for written laws. Half the colony failed to survive the first winter, but the remainder lived on and prospered.



The English ship the Mayflower carried the Separatist Puritans, later known as pilgrims, to Plymouth, Mass., in 1620. The 180-ton vessel was about 12 years old and had been in the wine trade. It was chartered by John Carver, a leader of the Separatist congregation at Leiden, Holland, who had gone to London to make arrangements for the voyage to America. The ship was made ready at Southampton with a passenger list that included English Separatists, hired help (among them Myles Standish, a professional soldier, and John Alden, a cooper), and other colonists who were to be taken along at the insistence of the London businessmen who were helping to finance the expedition.

In the meantime the Leiden Separatists, who had initiated the venture, sailed for Southampton on July 22, 1620, with 35 members of the congregation and their leaders William Bradford and William Brewster aboard the 60-ton Speedwell. Both the Speedwell and the Mayflower, carrying a total of about 120 passengers, sailed from Southampton on August 15, but they were twice forced back by dangerous leaks on the Speedwell. At the English port of Plymouth some of the Speedwell's passengers were regrouped on the Mayflower, and on September 16, the historic voyage began.

This time the Mayflower carried 102 passengers, only 37 of whom were from the Leiden congregation, in addition to the crew. The voyage took 65 days, during which two persons died. A boy, Oceanus Hopkins, was born at sea, and another, Peregrine White, was born as the ship lay at anchor off Cape Cod. The ship came in sight of Cape Cod on November 19 and sailed south. The colonists had been granted territory in Virginia but probably headed for a planned destination near the mouth of the Hudson River. The Mayflower turned back, however, and dropped anchor at Provincetown on November 21.

That day 41 men signed the so-called Mayflower Compact, a "plantation covenant" modeled after a Separatist church covenant, by which they agreed to establish a "Civil Body Politic" (a temporary government) and to be bound by its laws. This agreement was thought necessary because there were rumors that some of the non-Separatists, called "Strangers," among the passengers would defy the Pilgrims if they landed in a place other than that specified in the land grant they had received from the London Company. The compact became the basis of government in the Plymouth Colony. After it was signed, the Pilgrims elected John Carver their first governor.

After weeks of scouting for a suitable settlement area, the Mayflower's passengers finally landed at Plymouth on Dec. 26, 1620. Although the Mayflower's captain and part-owner, Christopher Jones, had threatened to leave the Pilgrims unless they quickly found a place to land, the ship remained at Plymouth during the first terrible winter of 1620-21, when half of the colonists died. The Mayflower left Plymouth on Apr. 15, 1621, and arrived back in England on May 16.

William Bradford's classic account of the Mayflower's voyage does not mention the ship by name, nor does it describe the vessel. In 1926, however, a model was constructed by R. C. Anderson from general information about late-16th-century merchant ships of its tonnage. This model, which is in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, gives the ship's dimensions as 90 ft (27.4 m) long, with a 64-ft (19.5-m) keel, 26-ft (7.9-m) beam,and a hold 11 ft (3.4 m) deep. In 1957 a close replica of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II, wasbuilt in 1957 by England as a gift to America and sailed from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth,Mass., where it is now on view. This is the only time that Mayflower II has sailed accross theAtlantic.

For nearly 38 years, this recreation of the Pilgrim's famous vessel has been little more than afloating museum confined to its pier near Plymouth Rock rarely leaving the dock, and when ithas, it has mainly reached its destination by tug.Modeled faithfuly after the slow andcumbersome 17th-century merchant vessels that sailed the waters between England andEurope, the Mayflower II lacks the most modern conveniences including an engine. It is hard tosteer and has an unsettling habit of rolling with sea.

In 1964 the ship went on a brief sail, and crews unfurled her sails briefly in 1990 and 1991, afterthe square-rigged ship went through major renovations to make her more seaworthy. In 1992, theMayflower II won approval to carry passengers after congress passed special legislation toloosen some of the Coast Guards strict certification guidelines. In 1992, the Mayflower II led aprocession of the Tall Ships through the Cape Cod Canal. In the end of that year, it left on a 4 month tour to Florida, however the ship was usually towed and very little sailing actually tookplace. The Plimoth Plantation which runs the Mayflower II as part of its living history exhibit hasadded radios, navigational equipment, electric bilge pumps and lifevests.

On July, 23, 1995, The Mayflower set sail again to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the original Mayflower's arrival to the new World.



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Caffrey, Kate, The Mayflower (1974);
Colloms, Brenda, The Mayflower Pilgrims (1977);
Dexter, Morton, The Story of the Pilgrims (1990);
Harris, John, Saga of the Pilgrims (1990);
Dillon, Francis, The Pilgrims (1975);
Gill, Crispin, Mayflower Remembered: A History of the Plymouth Pilgrims (1970);
Harris, J., Saga of the Pilgrims (1990);
Notson, A.W., and R.C., eds., Stepping Stones: The Pilgrim's Own Story (1987);
Plooij, D., Pilgrim Fathers from a Dutch Point of View (1932; repr. 1970);
Smith, Bradford, Bradford of Plymouth (1951);
Usher, R. G., Pilgrims and Their History (1918);
Willison, G. F., The Pilgrim Reader (1953) and Saints and Strangers:
Pilgrim Fathers, rev. ed. (1965); Langdon, G. D., Jr.,
Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691 (1966);
Morison, S. E., Plymouth Colony Beachhead (1986);
Stratton, E. A., Plymouth Colony (1987); Sherwood, M. B., Pilgrim (1982).