Pilgrims were separatists from the Anglican Church in England. They were protestants who did not recognize the authority of the Anglican Church and formed their own Puritan church. To escape persecution and possible imprisonment, they actually fled England for Holland in 1607. They lived in Holland for awhile before deciding to create their own colony in the New World. They received a land patent from the Virginia Company and created their own joint-stock company for the enterprise.
Aboard the Mayflower
The Pilgrims left aboard the Mayflower in 1620. There were 102 men, women, and children aboard including some non-puritan settlers including John Alden and Miles Standish. They were headed for Virginia but got blown off course and instead decided to found their colony in Cape Cod in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They called the colony Plymouth after the harbor in England from which they departed for the New World.
Since the new location for their colony was outside the areas claimed by the two chartered joint-stock companies, they considered themselves technically independent and created their own government under the Mayflower Compact.
Creating the Mayflower Compact
In basic terms, the Mayflower Compact was a social contract whereby the forty-one men who signed it agreed to abide by the new government's laws in exchange for shared protection. Unfortunately, the original document has been lost. William Bradford included a transcription of the document in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation. In part his transcription states:
"Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these present solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, 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."
The Mayflower Compact was the foundational document for the Plymouth Colony. The fact that it was a covenant whereby the settlers would subordinate their rights to follow laws passed by the government to ensure protection and survival made it a unique document. As previously stated, it set a precedent and was indeed an influential document for the founding fathers as they created the US Constitution.