The Mayflower and Plymouth Colony

Not all the English Separatists set out for the New World. The first group to leave England actually headed for the Dutch Netherlands in 1608. They became uneasy in their new land as their children spoke Dutch and abandoned English traditions. They were even more upset by the tolerance that the Dutch showed to many different faiths, the attention paid to worldly goods, and the presence of many "unholy" faiths.

The Separatists began to look for a purer place to build their society. Some headed for English islands in the Caribbean. Those who would be forever known to future Americans as the Pilgrims set out for the New World in 1620.

Over a hundred travelers were on the Mayflower. Less than one third were Separatists, while the rest were immigrants, adventurers, and speculators.

Their voyage took about two months, and the passengers enjoyed a happier experience than most trans-Atlantic trips. One person died and a child was born on board.

The Pilgrims were originally headed for Virginia to live north of Jamestown under the same charter granted to citizens of Jamestown. A storm blew them off course, and they arrived at a piece of land that would become known as Cape Cod. They set up camp not far from Plymouth Rock. They did not want to travel farther south because it was almost winter.

The Pilgrims had an important question to answer before they set ashore. Since they were not landing within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company, they had no charter to govern them. Who would rule their society?

In the Mayflower Compact of 1620, the Pilgrims decided that they would rule themselves, based on majority rule of the townsmen. They established a tradition of self-rule that would later lead to town meetings and elected legislatures in New England.

Like the Virginia House of Burgesses established the previous year, Plymouth colony began to lay the foundation for democracy in the American colonies.

Source: The Mayflower and Plymouth Colony
Copyright ©2008-2021 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.

Back to top